Between 1947 and 1952, 50,00 babies were blinded by excess oxygen, given to them in the newly developed air lock incubator. One of the clues to this tragedy was the discovery of the loss of peripheral vision among pilots breathing oxygen through air masks. I had been in the womb 22 weeks by December of 1950, when I was born at St. Luke Hospital in Pasadena, California. Weighing 3 pounds at birth, it was logical that I would be placed in one of the new incubators. Since then, for 43 years, I have seen no light, no shadows, nothing, the optic nerves to my eyes having been destroyed. When I dream, I dream with the same sensations I experience when I’m awake. There is no visual data, just other sensations such as touch and sound. But I have seen as you see. Twice I nearly died, and on those occasions, for the first time in my life, I saw. I left my body and saw. This is an account of my second near death experience.
On February 2, 1973 I was working as a singer and pianist at a restaurant in Seattle, Washington. It was 2 am. The owner, afraid of offending a drunk couple that had offered me a ride home, overruled my objections, and insisted that I accept their offer. He refused to open up his office so I could get change for the pay phone to call a cab. He left, and no one else was going my way. I reluctantly accepted the ride. As we drove along, the driver mentioned he was seeing double. The VW bus weaved through the streets. Near the base of Queen Anne hill there was a squealing of tires, and we spun out of control. The driver’s wife yelled “Oh my God, we’re crashing!” Everything became very slow. I screamed. That was my last conscious in-the-body awareness.
Dazed and disoriented I felt myself leave my body through my mouth. Time still seemed stretched and elongated. I was rising into the air, above the street, confused. I saw my body briefly. There was an uncertain moment when part of me wanted to go back into it, but another part of me felt so neat being out! Then I returned. It was like returning to your house when you forget something. I don’t remember the trip to Harbor View Hospital.
My first awareness in the emergency room was of being up near the ceiling. I could see again! Throughout this near death experience I was in a state of stunned awe from seeing. In fact, it was so foreign to me that it was a continuous complication in my efforts to cope. But it was also like a foreign language that you don’t understand, but that you ache to hear more of. Below me was a body on a cart I wasn’t sure was me. I was shocked and aghast. The hair length was mine, and a lot of it had been shaved off! This may not make sense, but it took me so long to grow, and I loved my hair!. It was like losing an important part of me. Blood caked the skull. Nearby I clearly saw a female member of the medical team. I felt drawn to her, and I can’t explain why. But I had a great need to get her to understand me. Then I heard a male voice say that there was blood on my left ear drum, and that I might be deaf. “I’m not deaf! I’m not deaf!” I was screaming at him. Maybe she could tell him. “Don’t you hear me? I’m right over here!” At this point while the visual impressions floored me, they were secondary to my desire to communicate verbally, because that’s the main way I’ve navigated through life. Then the female said, “We don’t know how much brain damage there is…and if she might be in a vegetative state.” I yelled at her, “I’m not in a vegetative state!” I was so frustrated and angry because I was yelling with every ounce of strength I had, and it was like I didn’t exist! I just wanted to get out of there. Almost immediately, as if in response to my thought, I was drawn up, sort of “Vooom!” right through the ceiling and then the hospital, rising through space.
I saw lights. I don’t know what they were from. But I didn’t care, because I felt so free! I was giddy with the ease of movement I felt as I rose. I felt like screaming and shouting with intoxication. This might sound crazy, but it reminds me of the feeling a puppy might have when it rolls all over the grass, and doesn’t even care where it’s rolling. In the distance I heard the most beautiful sound, like wind chimes. It contained every single note you could imagine, from the lowest to the highest, all blended together. As a musician I was intrigued. There were so many different tones that I didn’t know were possible! I was awed.
Sucked head first into a dark tunnel, I was drawn by the wind toward a distant light that grew. There was a whooshing airy feeling, as though great, big monstrous fans were drawing me. The tube was comfortably wide. Occasionally I passed what looked like vents or windows in the sides of the tube. Through these I could see other beings both ahead of me and behind me in parallel tubes. They seemed to be expressing the same amazement I was experiencing. Inside I felt warmth throughout my being.
As I neared the end of the tunnel, the light became brilliant. Just before I reached the end I could hear people singing. It was like all the hymns you’ve ever heard sung at once, and blending together harmoniously! I noticed there were no hymns about Jesus dying, or the sad songs of blood and pain. These were songs of praise and jubilation. As I listened I could pick out an individual piece. Somehow their combined singing was beautiful, not horrible! It was like what could be made in order there could not be made in order here. The jubilation filled me.
My exit from the tube can best be described as rolling out onto grass in a balmy, bright summerland scene of trees, where there were thousands of people singing, laughing and talking. Some played what sounded like string instruments. Flowers were everywhere in different varieties, and I still recall a near jasmine scent. Both the flowers, and the birds I observed in the trees seemed to have light around them. I also noticed that even among flowers and birds of the same kind, some had more light than others. At intervals ornate pillars supported what looked like roofs, creating park shelters. In the distance a huge gate glowed, the brightest object in my field of vision.
Then I saw Debby and Diane coming toward me from the right, and Mr. and Mrs. Zilk approaching from the left. I had been very close to Debby and Diane at the Oregon State School for the Blind. Debby had died from a hydrocephalic condition when I was 10. Diane had drowned in the bathtub next to my room from a muscle spasm four years earlier. Even blind kids can be cruel, and because Debby was quite overweight, moved ponderously and didn’t talk very well, and because Diane would curse frequently at people, they were both shunned and made fun of by the other kids. I felt sorry for both of them and reached out to them because of that. Mrs. Zilk had been an elderly next door neighbor who babysat me when my Grandmother had to work. She had been a real sweet woman who went along with a lot of my imaginative playtime stuff. Debby and Diane moved towards me gracefully. Both of them seemed to be healed inside, or somehow made better. I could feel them reaching out to me with love, Diane seeming to have an almost desperate desire to say something.
In a place where time may have no meaning, there was then an instant when I knew everything, when everything made sense. It was like this place was where I could find the answers to all the questions about life, about the planets, about God, about everything. Suddenly I intuitively understood math and science, and I don’t know beans about math and science. I hadn’t asked about calculus. Now I understood it. Languages became unimportant. I knew them. Even without asking questions, answers were imparted about things I’d always wondered about. I had always been troubled about the Trinity. Now I was aware that the Father was what you might call the Being/Source aspect of God, that the Son was the Doing aspect, and that the Holy Spirit was the Imparter, the Bringer of Knowledge. I was aware that these three aspects of God, while separate were also one, in the same way that a husband and wife are separate, yet one.
As Debby and Diane were approaching, now almost close enough to touch, I sensed a boundary across which I could not to go. Then Christ appeared. His light filled my vision. Holding out a raised right hand towards me, he said very definitely, “No!”, blocking me and them from coming closer to each other. It would be like someone preventing you from going over a cliff, or passing a certain point, beyond which you wouldn’t be able to return.
His face was strong and kind. He wore a beard and His hair was long. His gown, open at the chest, had a sash around the waist. I’m describing a form, but the incredible light He gave off outweighed it. Part of me could hardly stand to be around it, but yet I could stand it. It was like the light came out of His body directly, and He was made out of it. I was too, but my light was not nearly as intense as His. Debby and Diane also gave off light, but with Christ it was all around Him, especially around His head where the light was circular, and where He had arms or spokes of light extending, like those you might see from a star. Around the rest of His body the light was more uniform. His eyes were piercing, yet tender. You almost wanted to look away from them, but you couldn’t. He could see everything about me, clear beyond everything, even more than I could see or know. It was kind of scary to be so totally known, exposed, and yet accepted and loved. Yet I wanted nothing more than to be part of it. It’s kind of like songs about people being in love, where part of them wants to run away, and part of them doesn’t.
“Well, hello,” He said and embraced me. I didn’t ever want to be away from Him, ever, ever. I just wanted Him to envelope me somehow, and not to be separated from Him. I was so excited about the knowledge I’d just found, that I felt like I was burbling and tripping over myself trying to communicate it to Him with a kind of thought transference. And he said, “Isn’t it wonderful? Everything is beautiful here, and it fits together. And you’ll find that. But you can’t stay here now. It’s not your time yet. You have to go back.” Then He said, “Watch this.” And then I saw my whole life, from my birth to the current moment. I knew He was with me, but my awareness of everything else around me disappeared. In this process I actually observed myself, as well as being aware of the thoughts and feelings of myself and all others involved in every incident in my life. Christ left it to me to assess things, to arrive at conclusions myself. I became aware that I was being harder on myself than He was.
In one incident, when I was nine or ten, Sharon, my roommate at the school for the blind, showed me a new dress her mother had just made for her. When she left the room, I ripped all the buttons and the lace off. I was angry because I wanted to be cared about the way her mother cared about her. Now when we observed myself doing this in the life review, Christ said to me, “Yeh, that wasn’t too cool. But you made it right though.” And Christ laughed as we now observed myself apologizing to and hugging Sharon later. During this entire encounter with Christ I believe he employed my vernacular as a way of relating to me. His laughter was hearty and supportive. Thinking about His reaction to that incident has helped me be less somber and uptight about things my children have done wrong. Then He asked me, “What have you learned from your life?” I answered that I thought it was important to be honest.
Then Christ said to me, “You have to learn and teach more about loving and forgiving. Whether people deserve it or not is not the point. You shouldn’t try to select those who you think should be forgiven, and those who shouldn’t.” He was referring to a tendency in my past to forgive only those who had apologized to me. He also told me before I left that it was going to be hard, but to remember what I’d learned. Then there was absolutely nothing, for how long I have not idea. All of a sudden I felt heavy, and full of pain. I eventually awoke in the hospital to find that I had a skull fracture, a concussion, a neck injury, a back injury, and a leg injury.
The things I’ve been through since my second near death experience have been unbelievably hard. But I’ve learned a lot from them. I’m learning about separating the sin from the sinner. I’m learning about judging less and letting go of some of my past sense of smugness and superiority. Finally, I’m learning to care for myself enough that I no longer allow the negative thoughts of others to drag me down. As Christ said, the path has been hard, but in walking it I feel I’ve grown.