October 13, 2012

The Road Home

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Photograph by by Carles -Vilarrasa

Have the gates of death been opened unto thee? or hast thou seen the doors of the shadow of death? -- Job 38 17

When people find out I dropped dead on October 13 of 2011, they often ask me if I saw "the white light." They are disappointed when I tell them I did not. They’ve come to believe in the light, believe in it in a very literal way. They’ve heard it is seen and they’d like continuing confirmation of this sighting. My report always, as I said, disappoints. It would seem that even though I was dead, I was not dead enough. Still, I was dead and I am sorry to disappoint in not being able to report anything other than a timeless blank between two moments; a dark with no dimension or duration between a light and a light.

The light went in one instant as the light goes out when you flip the switch to "off." The light returned in the very next instant as if someone slowly turned up a dimmer switch in a small room. In one moment I was standing on my front porch looking at children running about in the playground across the street. The very next moment I was looking up from my bed at the sound-muffled ceiling of the ICU in Harbor View Hospital in Seattle. A voice like footsteps coming closer down a long hallway was repeating and repeating, “You are in Harbor View. You’ve had a heart attack. It’s daytime....” Thus, after being held in a coma for 13 days, I was returned to life. Thus, tick became tock.

Between those two moments I have no information to report since, to my mind and memory, there are no moments between those two. They are found side by side in my mind; an enjambment bracketing a caesura. The thirteen days between them have no duration at all. In a sense the only clue they provide in their utter nonexistence would be one to the true dimensions of eternity.

Some people seem to think that, with no light to report, my cut-rate resurrection is something rather modest, a common outcome of our enlightened, medically advanced age available to all. They express thanks that the 911 medical crew got to me as fast as it did and knew how to, in effect, jump start my heart. To those who don't get a comic book resurrection mine seems only a mundane report on a modern ability. They don’t find it miraculous. But that is only because they are deaf, dumb, and blind to the miraculous. I am not. It was my miracle. And a miracle it was.

The roots of my miracle go back many years and begin, as so many things do these days, online in a long correspondence that became, in time, a deep and abiding friendship and love. Part of that friendship entailed that, although we lived in separate towns, we spent some parts of each year visiting. In this particular autumn she was visiting me. And on this particular day she had -- for obscure reasons -- postponed her regular daily walk and, upon return, postponed her regular post-walk shower. This meant that during the time she would normally be either out of the house or under running water she just happened standing nearby when my heart stopped. The result was that she started the 911 response within seconds after I stopped breathing. Because of this the three units dispatched to help me came within minutes and returned me to life and transported me to the hospital where I spent the next 13 days suspended between a light and a light.

Some seem to feel that miracles only happen in the center of a bright light with a large boom and a loud voice out of a whirlwind; Imax miracles in Surroundsound. Perhaps they do. I’ve no experience with them. My experience has only been with the miracle of a long chain of small events, happenings, and abiding love that have given to me this extra year of being alive in the midst of the miracle of creation; creation as it is, both miraculous or mundane.

My formal birthday is the day after Christmas. I’ve never liked the 26th of December. It’s hard to try to have your birthday party on the day after the biggest birthday party of the year.

Today though, it strikes me that I have a new birthday -- a 'rebirth' day if you will. And that’s what I am going to celebrate for as many years as are left to me, my Rebirthday.

After a long, long string of dry sunny days this day, Saturday the 13th of October in the year of our Lord 2012, is overcast and raining. In previous years I would have shrugged and grumbled at the inclement weather. Today I am going out in my back yard and shower in it. Because today I know I am both blessed and, as we all are on every day in this mysterious life within the light, reborn within the miracle.

Posted by gerardvanderleun at October 13, 2012 3:48 PM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

You were out of space and out of time, Gerard. Both of which are irrelevant when you are dead. "Five miles north of the North Pole". "East of the Moon, West of the Sun".

October 13th. 13 Days. Your Birthday is the 26th. Of October and December.

I can't believe a year has passed. It seems an eternity ago. I'm glad you've come back to the playground.

I hope you have "A Very Merry Un-Birthday", today, Gerard. I'm sure the next 13 days will have a kind of magic to them.

Posted by: Cond0011 at October 13, 2012 10:13 AM

As I said before, she was... Nope... She is definitely your angel!

Posted by: newton at October 13, 2012 10:25 AM

Well said, Gerard. Happy Rebirth Day. May you be blessed with many more.

Posted by: John Venlet at October 13, 2012 11:01 AM

A baby born in Bethlehem is a miracle too small for some people. Those types want to outlaw the commemoration of it in the public square.
If is a small word. And in your case, 'if' saved your life. 'If' she'd been out walking, you'd be dead. 'If' she'd not come visiting. 'If' she'd taken her shower, instead. So small a miracle. For which we are very grateful.

Posted by: Jewel at October 13, 2012 11:05 AM

Happy Rebirthday, Gerard!

It is good to have you around.

Posted by: Sarah Rolph at October 13, 2012 11:44 AM

Very glad you're still with us.

Posted by: goldenwest at October 13, 2012 12:26 PM

Happy, happy Gerard!

Posted by: Leslie at October 13, 2012 12:29 PM

Did they go through your pockets looking for loose change? No? In that case you were only mostly dead.

Posted by: Alan Kellogg at October 13, 2012 1:55 PM

I liked your story. The true light only comes from the Son, who came down to earth long ago to save the world. This is the light that never goes out. God is often the still, small, voice. This verse below reminded me of your story. God bless.

1 Kings 19v.11-12 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.

Enjoy the rain.
Arlene

Posted by: juneslili at October 13, 2012 2:03 PM

Glad your still here with us. That was a fast year. I had a similar experience nine years ago on Oct 27, my rebirth day. I have life threatening ventricular tachycardia. I don't remember a white light, but my wife says I spoke about having seen a white light right after my incidents. Happy your still here to write and I'm still here to read it.

Posted by: John Connery at October 13, 2012 2:04 PM

Happy rebirthday Gerard. And a rebirth it is .. in so many ways...

God Bless

Bill Henry

Posted by: Bill Henry at October 13, 2012 2:11 PM

A miracle, indeed, Gerard, like life itself.

“…… For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” -- Romans 8

Posted by: LT at October 13, 2012 2:30 PM

Gerard didn't die because nothing bad ever happens to me.

Posted by: Sippican at October 13, 2012 2:54 PM

So glad the road home has a few more twists and turns in it for you! I am delighted that a torrent of Grace splashed over the edges of life itself and found you... even in the Valley of Death. As Sippican wisely notes, we are also the beneficiaries of that Grace extended to you.

Posted by: Joan of Argghh at October 13, 2012 4:08 PM

Lacking adequate eloquence, I'll just second everyone else.

Happy Rebirthday, Gerard.

Posted by: Julie at October 13, 2012 4:29 PM

You see? This is what champagne is for! Drink up! Life is good.

Peace be with you.

Posted by: Kerry at October 13, 2012 4:47 PM

wuzn't your time, apparently.... have a few more reburfdays!

Posted by: Cletus Socrates at October 13, 2012 5:50 PM

Happy Rebirthday. Too many people seem to take their meaning and expectations from movies, or other manufactured efforts. The wise man finds the meaning just from looking for it. But for many even wanting to find it is just too much for them to even start.

Truth will be confirmed by dozens of serendipitous witnesses. Alibis are only supported by a few meager known witnesses.

Thank you.

Posted by: Scott M at October 13, 2012 6:18 PM

Happy Rebirthday! :D
And many, many more!!!

Posted by: PeggyU at October 13, 2012 6:29 PM

Happy Rebirthday! :D
And many, many more!!!

Posted by: PeggyU at October 13, 2012 6:29 PM

Does anyone else remember where he was when he learned we almost lost Gerard? I do. My 59 year old father had passed away a few months earlier from cancer. Can't tell you the emptiness in learning what had happened ... and the joy in learning you were still with us!! A victory when I really need one. Who cares about white lights? We're just glad you're back.

Posted by: edaddy at October 13, 2012 6:34 PM

Happy Birthday.
Best wishes for many more.

Posted by: Grace at October 13, 2012 6:58 PM

All I can do is chime in. I'm very glad you got some extra innings.
Your writing, your humor, your insights into the great and small things of the world have enriched my life. They have become a significant part of my day. I would be a much poorer man without them.
Thank you.

JWM

Posted by: jwm at October 13, 2012 7:32 PM

Happy Rebirthday to you, sir.

The opportunity to go out one more time and get it right; what treasures we sometimes find.

Posted by: TmjUtah at October 13, 2012 7:32 PM

All I can do is chime in. I'm very glad you got some extra innings.
Your writing, your humor, your insights into the great and small things of the world have enriched my life. They have become a significant part of my day. I would be a much poorer man without them.
Thank you.

JWM

Posted by: jwm at October 13, 2012 7:33 PM

We live in an age of miracles. One, that Gerard has his Rebirthday and another, that we can all be here in cyberspace to celebrate it.

Posted by: M*A at October 13, 2012 7:35 PM

I hope you know how lucky you are. It's been 18 years sinch my peek down that deep dark hole and it made me a better man every day since.

Posted by: glenn at October 13, 2012 7:42 PM

I still remember when you were MIA and how I thought, "We may have to organize a search party for Gerald." We all were very worried about you, and prayed for the quickest recovery for you.

We are very glad you're still around, and wish for many, many more "Re-birthdays" for you!

(Have some cake. And take pictures!)

Posted by: newton at October 13, 2012 7:49 PM

We are all glad you still grace the planet with your light.

Stay well.

Posted by: R Daneel at October 13, 2012 8:50 PM

AD is my first stop in the morning. What Sippican said.

Posted by: james wilson at October 13, 2012 9:25 PM

May the Lord bless you and keep you.
May the Lord smile on you and be kind to you
May the Lord be with you and grant you peace, life, and healing.

And let us say:

Amen

Posted by: Fat Man at October 13, 2012 11:10 PM

Happy Rebirthday Gerard! May there be many more.

The world is filled with Miracles - the older I get, the more easily I recognize them for what they are. I'm glad you got the one you needed at the time you needed it,

Posted by: pdwalker at October 14, 2012 12:09 AM

wow.

yes: a miracle.

we are all lucky she was there!

Posted by: reliapundit at October 14, 2012 5:14 AM

Your story reminds me of the late Kerry Packer - Australian press baron. He too dropped dead and happened to be picked by an ambulance equipped with the paddles and he survived. He later endowed many ambulances with paddles. When asked about the light he said something like 'I've been there and believe me, mate, there's nothing out there.' Kerry was an honest atheist without pretense, and, as a believer, I have to respect him for it. He succumbed a few years after this incident and at his funeral the song he asked to have played was Kenny Rogers' The Gambler. It turns out that our Kerry was a press baron because his dad or granddad won a big bet on the horses and decided to buy a newspaper with it. As Cicero said: 'Time and chance, happenth to them all.' God bless.

Posted by: Lorenz Gude at October 14, 2012 6:45 AM

Gerard, I am so glad to hear of your extra gift of time. Your writing always touches me and I am pleased to be able to enjoy it even more. Events like you've experienced seem to always change us - for the better we all home.

You have many religious friends following your words, perhaps their prayers will continue to follow you. Mine will. Lord have mercy,
Dick Sherman

Posted by: Dick Sherman at October 14, 2012 6:53 AM

Best sudden-death overtime ever.

Posted by: Gagdad Bob at October 14, 2012 7:18 AM

I've experienced a number of miracles relative to my mortality, the most recent being only a second in eternity,and none remarkable for celestial lights or choirs of angels. Must go now. It is raining where I am too and time for my shower in divinity. I am thankful for finding americandigest.org this morning, in bed, with an ipod, via instapundit. God Bless, Gerard.

Posted by: Shaun Melarvie at October 14, 2012 9:54 AM

So glad you're still with us. It would be a lesser world without you.

Posted by: Uncle Mikey at October 14, 2012 10:11 AM

So glad you're still with us. It would be a lesser world without you.

Posted by: Uncle Mikey at October 14, 2012 10:11 AM

Someone sent me here that day to read and leave some kind words.
My life is much fuller now because of that. You've inspired, and influenced at least one person.
Enjoy your day, and all those that come after it.

Posted by: Cliff at October 14, 2012 11:30 AM

As an October 13ther, I would like to extend a sincere welcome to our little (1/365th of the population) club.
Greetings and well met.

Posted by: Greg Snow at October 14, 2012 12:28 PM

over......

Best sudden-death overtime ever.
Posted by Gagdad Bob at October 14, 2012 7:18 AM

Posted by: Cletus Socrates at October 14, 2012 1:26 PM

Big hugs and much love, Gerard.

Plus one or two items you might enjoy.

I hope you realize the profound effect you've had on so many people, especially fledgling writers. Your kind generosity and intelligent, bawdy wit are a rare commodity on the internet.

The whole place would dim without your unique presence.

Posted by: Daphne at October 14, 2012 2:15 PM

Enjoy your rebirthday in the rain Gerard.

Posted by: Terry at October 14, 2012 2:31 PM

It is not only you who is blessed by your extra time, but all of us who appreciate your writing. May we all be blessed with your having many more birthdays and re-birthdays. Thanks again.

John Connery- Try Hawthorne tea (not the berries) for the heartbeat issues.

Posted by: Roger Drew Williams at October 14, 2012 6:00 PM

Having a great time. Glad you are here. :)

Posted by: Maureen at October 14, 2012 8:28 PM


Your miracle is indeed one worth sharing.
Your perspective, appreciation and understanding of what happened are rare.

You and I have been in similar circumstaces.

Thank you for your story.

Posted by: Don at October 14, 2012 9:59 PM

My son too lay briefly in Death's bed. For him there was no bright light. There was nothing. One moment under a gray winter sky there was a rock strewn rutted road in the Konar Valley, a creeping gun truck, and then nothing. No fear, no pain, no sound, nothing. The blast threw him clear of the pressures that would have squeezed all life from him. He lay in a farmer's field surrounded by gun fire and more explosions. Then Life brought him back. He raised his head and to no one asked "What happened?" His medic yelled over the sounds of war, "Dude, You got blown-up." My son lay back down unaware of how close he came to death. Nearby Life could not bring Jeremy back. Of Jeremy the Doc would tell my son, "Too much came his way to fast."

Even with Saint Michael close to my son's heart, there was no light. Perhaps the light is only for those who can't return.

Posted by: Chipper at October 15, 2012 9:13 AM

We were born to wonder "What's next?"

Someday we will all find out.

Glad you're here with us still.

Every day vertical and above ground is good.

tom

Posted by: tomw at October 15, 2012 11:46 AM

Mr V:

I remember noting the absence of your posts last year and wondering why. I kept checking in and one of your friends posted you were in the hospital. I was dismayed to learn the reason for your absence and relieved at your return. Yours is a remarkable story.

Reading American Digest is a ritual; my reward at the end of my day. Thank you for enriching my life.

Happy rebirthday!

May God bless you.

Posted by: Linda at October 15, 2012 7:57 PM

A few weeks after my husband died young and unexpectedly I experienced what has been documented as a "near death." I think I was just missing my friend so much that it no longer mattered to me where we were as long as we were together. There were no drugs, no poisons involved. One moment I was awake and the next I was whooshing down a black-blue velvet tunnel, coming to rest before a majestic presence who spoke but didn't speak. Among the many things He, She, They told me, two things stand out as vital: To love and the be unafraid. Afterward it took five years before I felt truly comfortable walking around in a body that was too small for my soul and irritated like a hair shirt. I think something did happen to you, Gerard in that time. You see it as a miracle.

Posted by: AbigailAdams at October 16, 2012 8:49 AM

I, for one, am very glad you are still with us.

Posted by: Obi's Sister at October 16, 2012 1:32 PM