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The Road Home (Today October 13th Is My 8th Rebirthday)

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 the light is seen and they’d like continuing confirmations of this sighting. My report always, as I said, disappoints. It would seem for some, 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. In fact, there was not even the dark.

The light of life left me in one swift instant much as the light goes out when you flip the switch to “off.” The light of life returned to me in the very next instant as if someone slowly turned up a dimmer switch in a small room.

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 Hospital. You’ve had a heart attack. It’s daytime….

Thus, after being held in a coma for 11 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. Not one. They are found side by side in my mind; an enjambment bracketing a caesura. The 11 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. Something 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 I cannot satisfy with a comic book resurrection mine seems only a mundane report on a modern medical technique. 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 personal miracle. And a miracle it was. Returned to life by the unfathomable grace of God.

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 love entailed that, although we lived in separate towns on separate coasts, we spent some parts of each year visiting. In this particular autumn she was visiting me. She had been due to leave several days earlier but decided — for obscure reasons — to extend her stay another week. And on this particular October 13th 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 dead. The result was that she started the 911 response within seconds after I stopped breathing. Because of this the three units dispatched to save me came within minutes, returned me to life, and transported me to the hospital where I spent the next 11 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 these six years 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 ‘rebirthday’ 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, Friday the 13th of October in the year of our Lord 2017, is dry and sunny. The smoke from the fire that burned up to the borders of my town of Paradise lingers in the air. In previous years I would have grumbled at the smoke. Today I am going out in my back yard and breathe deep the smoke of this world without complaint, and let the light rain down upon me. Because today I know I am both blessed and, as we all are on every day in this mysterious life within the light, reborn as I am every day, reborn within the miracle. As are we all.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • WiscoDave October 13, 2017, 3:06 AM

    Having discovered you of late, I am glad you are still around.

  • ghostsniper October 13, 2017, 4:05 AM

    Glad you made it through it.

  • Julie October 13, 2017, 5:22 AM

    Happy happy rebirthday, Gerard!

  • Jaynie October 13, 2017, 5:35 AM

    Absolutely beautiful, Mr. Vanderleun. But, I hadn’t wanted to cry in my coffee this morning. All choked up now. Life is an outsized miracle, nature the icing on that. To that the creations of man can stagger our senses, appreciating the good that man creates as much as trashing the bad gives balance to my life. Missing my loved ones who are gone is something that highlights that I was blessed to be so loved. I never had a near death event, but for some odd reason, my appreciation for life is as intense as one who has had such. Gorgeous essay. Happy re-birthday!

  • Nori October 13, 2017, 7:28 AM

    Your gift with words is a Rebirthday present to us all, thanks, Gerard.
    Your choice of music video was perfect.

  • Cliff October 13, 2017, 7:30 AM

    Glad you’re here. I too have a blank moment followed by a renewed feeling of being graced.

  • Teri Pittman October 13, 2017, 9:07 AM

    never fails to amaze me that the day of your rebirth is the day my husband died in 2008. Life is fleeting and we need to be conscious of that every day.

  • Howard Nelson October 13, 2017, 9:26 AM

    Lazarus welcomes you to a very select group. And we welcome you back to ours as well.

  • Leslie October 13, 2017, 9:49 AM

    I remember when AD went silent, and a few of us asking “around” where you had gone. This post always moves me. Your journey speaks more than you know, in ways you know not.

  • Jim in Alaska October 13, 2017, 9:54 AM

    Not unexpectedly there’s a lot of saccharin here in the comments & I’m not faulting it, each and every one finds their own way to deal with life.
    You are an ugly old codger (Admittedly not quite as ugly nor as old as me), none the less, glad you’re still around, you write purdy, & I quite enjoy your company from up here on top of the world! 😉

  • Bunny October 13, 2017, 11:05 AM
  • MMinLamesa October 13, 2017, 11:16 AM

    Wasn’t your time. I thought when you’re having a heart attack that you’ll spend a number of very agonizing moments fully conscious. Glad you pulled through.

    What have you felt the need to change, if anything, with this gift of more time on this side of The Rainbow Bridge? Maybe a nice dinner at Palisades to celebrate? I used to come to Seattle every year on my BD and celebrate there.

    Or just maybe more chocolate?

  • Vanderleun October 13, 2017, 11:42 AM

    Ugly? Old? Me? Am I not the King of Denial?

  • Mushroom October 13, 2017, 12:57 PM

    Always glad to say we are glad you are still with us.

  • Donna October 13, 2017, 1:37 PM

    Hey, Leunie…we share a birthday! Your first b-day…Dec 26. Have to say, though, I’ve always loved being born the day after Christmas. My parents made sure I got my birthday present on my birthday, but they also gave me another birthday present and a party at the six-month mark in June. As a kid, it always made me feel very special being born the day after the Lord’s birthday, but in later years I realized it was my parents who were so special to make sure their daughter had a birthday party separate from the hustle and bustle of the Christmas holiday.

    Happy sixth rebirthday…what a blessing you have experienced. White light or not, it truly was a miracle (in my humble opinion!).

  • pbird October 13, 2017, 1:57 PM

    Made me cry, dang it. Love the song too.

  • Jimmy October 13, 2017, 2:53 PM

    ‘Nothing between the lights’ is the inverse of the Omega Function, which is something between two eternities.

    . . . __∩__ . . .

  • Casey Klahn October 13, 2017, 3:30 PM

    I don’t envy you your deathly experience; not for a moment. What I envy is your writing ability: it is the gong of a mustering bell. Like something I need.

    I can report to all that one’s life does pass before his eyes in a flashing instant when death is imminent and you witness your killer about to deal a blow. What happened to me? I’ll spare the Davy Crockett joke and just say the bear did not get me.

  • Monty James October 13, 2017, 4:37 PM

    Happy Re-Birthday. Good that you are still around. There is no other labyrinth where we could see something wonderful, or contemplate how much nuking the Japanese should have had.

  • Christopher Hunt October 13, 2017, 5:58 PM

    It’s the chain of small events that is the true miracle, if we think about it. How God weaves peoples’ lives together to create the opportunity for His grace to be seen, if you’re looking for it.

  • Walter October 13, 2017, 6:03 PM

    My tenth Re-Birthday is coming up next April the First.
    As you wrote: click/click and rebirth.
    The miracle doesn’t fade, Vanderleun.
    Glad you saw it and came back to add it to your true tales.

  • Hale Adams October 13, 2017, 6:40 PM

    Folks here have said “Glad you’re here” many times and many ways, so I can’t think of anything to say other than, “Thanks for being here, and may you be here for many more years”.

    Hale Adams
    Pikesville, People’s still-mostly-Democratic Republic of Maryland

  • Jane Mataczynski October 13, 2017, 7:11 PM

    I read your site regularly and this post every year. It is moving in multiple ways, for multiple reasons. My husband experienced the same event without the happy outcome. He died. Yes…it was extraordinarily unpleasant, to say the least. However, on the flip side, the experience taught me many things I would never have learned in any other context. All the secrets of the world. The effort to be grateful to God every day while rebuilding a life has been a gift. Not one I ever would have asked for. Not one that should be built on the death of another. But the ways of God are beyond my understanding. And at the hospital I heard God speak to me and give me a job to do, which I have assiduously pursued. So thank you for affirming to me the glory of God in the most trying circumstances.

  • jwm October 13, 2017, 7:52 PM

    Every day is a gift. For you and for all of us. Grateful for today, and glad we’re all here.


  • Terry October 13, 2017, 10:16 PM

    Sure happy you are still here Gerard.

  • Callmelennie October 15, 2017, 7:33 AM

    Having had a small taste of the CAD experience myself, I know that there’s something doubly extraordinary about your story. You mean to tell me you had no warning symptoms at all prior to just “winking out”? Doesn’t sound anything like the standard “widowmaker” occlusion of the LADA, where your body definitely lets you know “there’s something BAD going on!!”

    I’ve spent time on CAD discussion boards and the only other person to report the same experience was someone who experienced a block of his Right Coronary Artery which caused him to suddenly pass out at home, but even he said he was feeling a bit shitty before passing out

  • Dr. Jay October 13, 2018, 3:35 AM

    Here’s a Long Read for your birthday: a review of Bryan Burrough’s “Days of Rage” . . . read it; you won’t regret it. Plus, a hardy happy birthday to ya!


  • Phil in Englewood October 13, 2018, 3:59 AM

    Happy Day, Gerard. Thank you for the essay and all your posts, all year long. We are fortunate to have you here still, not gone west yet. Here’s to enjoying and appreciating each new day and every new American Digest post.

  • JoeDaddy October 13, 2018, 4:57 AM

    I would implore you to read Dr. Stephen Sinatra’s book “The Sinatra Solution: Metabolic Cardiology”. He relates data and info on 4 key supplements needed to prevent further cardiac issues. CoQ10 is the first. Go see. Please.

  • Andy October 13, 2018, 7:23 AM

    Happy Rebirth Day, Gerard.

  • Bill Jones October 13, 2018, 7:48 AM

    If one have to go, and rumour is that one must, no matter how many failure precede success the great Liverpool Poet Roger McGough knows how it should be done

    Let me die a youngman’s death
    not a clean and inbetween
    the sheets holywater death
    not a famous-last-words
    peaceful out of breath death

    When I’m 73
    and in constant good tumour
    may I be mown down at dawn
    by a bright red sports car
    on my way home
    from an allnight party

    Or when I’m 91
    with silver hair
    and sitting in a barber’s chair
    may rival gangsters
    with hamfisted tommyguns burst in
    and give me a short back and insides

    Or when I’m 104
    and banned from the Cavern
    may my mistress
    catching me in bed with her daughter
    and fearing for her son
    cut me up into little pieces
    and throw away every piece but one

    Let me die a youngman’s death
    not a free from sin tiptoe in
    candle wax and waning death
    not a curtains drawn by angels borne
    ‘what a nice way to go’ death

    Roger McGough

  • Sam L. October 13, 2018, 9:43 AM

    I am but one of many who are glad you made it back.

  • Terry October 13, 2018, 11:07 AM

    You are still here and better than ever. Rare combination for sure.

    Happy re-birthday Gerard

  • Monty James October 13, 2018, 11:47 AM

    All the best sentiments on the day, and gratitude that we get more of that Vanderleun style.

  • Jeff Brokaw October 13, 2018, 12:23 PM

    Happy Reburthday my friend and I’m so glad you’re still with us!!

  • Jeff Brokaw October 13, 2018, 12:25 PM


  • Andy Texan October 13, 2018, 6:01 PM

    God is good.

  • HH October 13, 2018, 7:49 PM

    Happy Happy, my friend.

  • Snakepit Kansas October 14, 2018, 3:58 PM

    I love reading your material. You share bits and pieces of yourself that have been rationed out over time. You have an interesting group of followers. I forget which, but a few years ago one of them welcomed me on one of my first posts after I was guided here by Michelle’s Mirror. Gerard, you have a gift. We appreciate you, sir.

  • Physics Geek October 15, 2018, 8:35 AM

    I am grateful each year that you get to celebrate your rebirth day.

  • SgtDad October 15, 2018, 10:45 AM

    FYI, it’s spelled “Harborview,” all one word.
    Glad I am that God was with you and to know y’all live in our neck of the woods.

  • Jason October 15, 2018, 11:56 AM

    Happy Rebirthday! What a great piece of writing, you truly have a gift. So glad you are here with us today.

  • Alpheus October 15, 2018, 2:52 PM

    I think it’s the tiny miracles — the ones that are a series of little coincidences, that sometimes take days or even years to play out — are the ones that are easiest to overlook.

    I have my own, that started with a little thought that I needed to join a group of friends visiting a fellow friend at her home in Palmyra, New York (at the time I was attending college in Salt Lake City, Utah) that ended in a marriage to someone I met in graduate school two years later.

    Well, that was one such miracle. I have several others as well. I’m happy your miracle resulted in a renewed lease in your life!

  • Steve D October 16, 2018, 5:59 AM

    I apologize. I have no idea who you are (but promise to remedy that). I clicked here from what surely must have been a significant spike in “instalanche” traffic and simply started reading. I do want to say that at 55 with a family history of heart troubles that your post has put me in “a very good place” for personal reasons too numerous to get into… and I’d just like to thank you for that. Every day is a gift. Thanks for the reminder.

  • Daniel K Day October 13, 2019, 4:31 AM

    Happy Rebirth Day, Gerard! Best wishes for many more uninterrupted years.
    And thank you for that poem, Bill Jones.

  • Sam L. October 13, 2019, 8:24 AM

    There are a lot of us who are glad you made it back!

  • Vanderleun October 13, 2019, 8:28 AM

    Thank you Sam and Daniel and everyone else. It is good to still be here. Good to be still standing.

  • Jeff Brokaw October 13, 2019, 11:00 AM

    A very Happy RebirthDay to you once again Gerard! What an amazing story.

    Eight “bonus” years and counting… and here’s to many many more!

  • Uncle Mikey October 13, 2019, 1:22 PM

    Gorgeous and lyrical, as always. Thank you

  • Phil in Englewood October 13, 2019, 3:23 PM

    So glad you are still here and writing outstanding posts. You enrich our lives. Thank you, Gerard. Death and resurrection, burned out of Paradise…. but still here.

    “Small wheel turning by the fire and rod
    Big wheel turning by the grace of God
    Every time that wheel turn ’round
    Bound to cover just a little more ground”

  • steve walsh October 13, 2019, 3:45 PM

    Happy ReBirthday Gerard!
    As you know, I don’t say much here but read often and very much appreciate your perspective and love your writing style. You frequently get me looking at something, an issue, or human activity, in a different and interesting way. So very glad you are still here to do so.

  • Flannelputz October 13, 2019, 5:00 PM

    An enjambment bracketing a caesuera….

  • Julie October 13, 2019, 5:00 PM

    Happy rebirthday, Gerard!

  • theduchessofkitty October 13, 2019, 5:21 PM

    Happy Re-Birthday, Gerard! May God bless you with many more years and a heart with the efficiency of a Timex watch: “It takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’.”

    Well, I’m going to need some prayer over the next few weeks. A close family member just began chemo on Thursday and is about to begin radiation therapy on Monday. I have to drive and care for all the appointments and everything else that comes with it. It has been consultations, diagnoses, all kinds of meetings for options, supportive care and preparations… all in a time frame of two months so far. Now the hard part begins. The treatment is supposed to end the day before Thanksgiving.

    So, please pray for us here at home. Thanks.

  • jwm October 13, 2019, 6:09 PM

    I guess the Higher Power that Be decided you had work yet to do.
    We have all been the beneficiaries.
    And we are all grateful.


  • Larry Geiger October 14, 2019, 6:06 AM

    Glad that you are still standing! I saw the white light when the AED they stuck on me went off. I saw a bright white light and then passed out. Woke up 2 hours later with a brand new shiney stent in my LAD (whatever that is). Cardiologist said that I was a goner but I woke up anyway. Went home the next day. Who knows what it all means?

  • captflee October 14, 2019, 12:23 PM

    Having recently played caregiver through several instances where, amidst the medical cacophony and tumult, the nearby flutter of Death’s raven feathered wings could be discerned, I think that I have gained a better appreciation for the tenuousness of the grasp with which any of us holds onto this world. My heartfelt congratulations and gratitude to you for enriching our world by remaining in it!

  • Pamela Schieber October 14, 2019, 3:18 PM

    Just as the Torah shows us life is a paradox. With every blessing comes a curse. We never apprciate the miracles we are blessed with daily. If people accepted your rebirth as miraculous then they’d have to change their whole worldview and belief system.Happy Rebirthday May you have many more. In addition, thank you for posting Trump’s speech. Very moving

  • Flea October 14, 2019, 10:53 PM

    You do know of course how significant 13 October is to adequately catechised Roman Catholics all over the world?

  • Gary October 15, 2019, 12:40 PM

    Thanks for writing about your ‘death,’ it reminded me of what is truly important, appreciation for each day, while loving God and family.

  • Rox October 15, 2019, 5:49 PM

    In early May 2004, my 48 year never sick a day husband,
    experienced the same. Sadly he was 15 minutes from shore
    fishing in Marathon, and couldn’t be revived. For 2 years I
    questioned why him, the love of my life, and finally settled on
    it was me my daughters needed more? Your Mom probably
    needed you too. I noticed the wine glass at the bottom of your
    page is almost empty. I think you should refill it, this time with
    a nice red ‘Federalist’ Cabernet, it’s better at preventing heart
    disease. Oh, and thanks too, to that smoke from Paradise, it’s
    how some of us discovered your rebirth. Cheers!