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The Road Home (Today October 13th Is My 6th 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.

Alert the Authorities!

{ 26 comments… add one }
  • 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

    Trippy.
    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.

    JWM

  • 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

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