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Stayin’ Alive- It Takes 2 Inches of Compression at 100 Beats Per Minute

Had I left this life when I fell out of it, I’d never have heard this variation on Beethoven — on Moonlight — played over there on this electric cello and then over here on that piano, played in this way, vamped with that vision and vogued in this variation far out on those vast Salt Flats of Utah…. even though I have walked those very flats in the searing light of midday– salt and sun sans cello and notes of moonlight spun into a sonnet.

If I’d left this life when I fell out of it, if I had not been buoyed up out of oblivion’s waters by electric shocks and hands compressing my chest 2 inches at a time to the beat of the BeeGees “Staying Alive”, I would not have been here for the last two new moons waxing full and passing through the vast shadow of the earth above the bridges that span the golden gates.

If I’d left this life when I fell out of it, kept on going towards unseen horizons, I would have missed my small Thanksgiving with dear friends and not been around to complain, yet again, about the over-commercialization of Christmas on the one hand and the war upon it on the other — not been around to care and not to care about the preening peacocks of our pathetic politics.

If I’d left this life when I fell out of it, I’d never have had the chance to learn the tempo of the slow road, the pace of the slow down; to learn the inner meaning of the poet’s counsel of patience formed from Milton’s lines:

“God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts. Who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly: thousands at his bidding speed,
And post o’er land and ocean without rest;
They also serve who only stand and wait.”

…. “Who only stand and wait.”….

I stand and wait a lot more these days than I did before I fell out of this life. Things do not roll by as fast and, because I must be mindful of how I move, how much, and at what pace, I do not roll by things as fast as I once did.

I’ve had to learn to go slow, much slower, to take things at the pace of prayer; to stand and to wait. And slowly, since things come slow, I’ve come to understand what the wait is about.   It is not “waiting for” anything. It is waiting in place, waiting in peace. It is waiting in the afterimage of grace — mindful of mortality; mindful that, even in this Seattle of highly advanced 911 response teams, out of every hundred people whose hearts, like mine, suddenly stop only seven are returned to life.

You can assume, as sometimes people I speak with about this strange state assume, that if you are returned to life you are waiting to find out what God has ordained for you to do with His gift regifted. Surely they assume, as — for a while — I assumed, that God would not have pulled me back into life after I fell out of it without a plan for me; that God had some need, some master plan that only I can fulfill. Like some many other things in these slow days — that thin assumption fades fast into falsity.

Repeat after Milton:

“God doth not need”

I need. You need. They need. We need.

…. “God. doth. not. need.” ….

Hard to understand that “not need” — but how could it be otherwise? Harder even to comprehend than the notion of an interventionist God; a God that has no needs but yet intervenes in the micro-level of His Creation. A God who can from His creation and without need form ….say…. a Beethoven. Form such a soul that Beethoven can — from somewhere inside himself — create, in a shadowplay of creatio ex nihilo, a Moonlight Sonata. And then later, if ‘later’ carries any meaning at all to God, God forms another man — centuries distant | perhaps intended ages before –previous, previous — who can see and comprehend black marks on a lined sheet of bleached wood pulp and cause the music, variegated, to bloom on a salt flat halfway around the angel-girdled globe; where above such sad and lowly plains they bend on hovering wing.

And if it was not, to my dim understanding, an angel-girdled globe at the beginning of this season, it is so now in the waiting wonder world of second life. The scientists of the continent Cynic would have this globe seen as a “demon-haunted world,” but that seems to me to be something they’ve seen in the fun-house mirrors of their own over-taxed and under-nourished intellects. Why would the world need to be haunted by demons when it is populated by men? At the very least it would seem for the sake of symmetry that any haunting must be done by angels. If only to smack down the smuggery. If only to thicken the plot.

If I had left this life when I fell out of it, I wouldn’t have heard, at the beginning of my 75th journey around our star, how

“It came upon the midnight clear, that glorious song of old
From angels bending near the earth to touch their harps of gold…”

Nor would I have felt the touch of such harps on my shoulder when I fell out of this life; felt the tap of gold on my chest, the tap of gold on my shoulder, the tapping that turned me around and guided me back into this

“World dimensional for those untwisted by a love of things irreconcilable…”

They tell me there are no angels in their world of one dimension, in their flatland, in their palaces of no positions, and I suppose if I could hear them clearly I might nod and tell them with Calderon, “Right you are if you think you are.”

Out here though, waiting in the world dimensional, I can see the shimmer of angels sliding in and out of human souls like solar winds riffling through the waterfalls of our lives.

When I fell out of life my angels came at the run with a siren and roar and restored me with two inches of compression at a hundred beats a minute to the tune of “Staying Alive.” My angels do 24-hour shifts over at Engine 8 on the top of Queen Anne Hill in Seattle. Six months after I died I shook their hands.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • WiscoDave October 14, 2018, 3:59 AM

    I am a blessed man. Truly, more so than I deserve.
    You have such a way with putting thoughts an feelings to words. Thank you for this. Many times I feel that what you write is beyond or above me. Yet I’m still the better for having read it.

  • John Venlet October 14, 2018, 5:32 AM

    Gerard, your line touching on the thought to “take things at the pace of prayer” is outstanding, and sound advice.

  • Mary Ann October 14, 2018, 7:19 AM


    At the end…tears of joy.

  • Anonymous October 14, 2018, 8:21 AM

    To “take things at the pace of prayer” is profound advice indeed—thank you. Perhaps another way to live the Bible’s command to “pray ceaselessly.”

  • None October 14, 2018, 10:32 AM

    Sometimes when you write I have to stand up, walk away, and breathe. I always come back.

  • Howard Nelson October 14, 2018, 11:57 AM

    Perhaps, also a pit stop to exchange what’s tired for new tires, a pause that refreshes attitude, a time-out to reconsider all and reset the guidance system with gift of Grace and gratitude.
    Well done!

  • Sam L. October 14, 2018, 12:46 PM

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

  • edaddy October 14, 2018, 12:57 PM

    Why are they called the Piano Guys when they are one cello guy and one piano guy?

    And, why am I always the one who has to point out the obvious?

    Fools, everywhere, fools!

  • Barnacastle October 14, 2018, 2:55 PM

    On the day before my attack in May 2015, I walked four miles and felt great. That morning, my wife and I arose and planned on loading our canoe and paddling away our Saturday. Within 30 minutes our lives were changed forever by the one they call “the widow maker”. But….by the mercy and grace of God, I returned to life. The doctors cautioned my family that my former life was gone….the paddling, hiking, mowing my grass, our western travels. But it was not so. As I said, by the mercy and grace of God. And as you, I thought for awhile there must still be something God plans for me to do. Going on four years, I still am clueless. But my beautiful wife and I are living this extended time together and with as much zeal as we can muster…..slower, much slower, but excited every day to be alive. Thank you, Gerard, for sharing your depths with us.

  • Charles Ruffner October 14, 2018, 4:16 PM

    Do you remember “The Man With the Dark Lantern?” I began to read you then. Thank you for what you do!

  • jwm October 14, 2018, 8:35 PM

    That got me all misty.
    Just breathtaking.

    I paid a visit to the cardiac ward in the fall of ’06. Nothing so dramatic as our host, but it was enough, thank you. Afterwords, Gagdad Bob told me, “Now you’re playing in extra innings. Every day after this is a gift.”
    Sometimes I need to be reminded.


  • Larry Geiger October 15, 2018, 6:52 AM

    It was a stent in the LAD. It wasn’t plugged or clogged, it was collapsed. I was gone in the ER. They rolled me into the cath lab and a doctor that was doing an elective stent came out of there and put one in me. Just in time. I woke up feeling fine. That was Thursday. I went home Saturday morning. It’s worked fine ever since. Now, the Myeloma that came along four years later is different. I’ve been able to participate consciously much more with that.

    I’m not very articulate but if I was going to choose some words to describe it I would use yours. Thanks.

  • Marica October 15, 2018, 9:15 AM

    IMHO, the cello is the finest instrument.
    Thanks for sharing that and your words.

  • Mushroom October 15, 2018, 7:40 PM

    We are glad you are here, brother.

  • Terry October 14, 2020, 7:22 AM

    Gerard, thank you for being here and making my life more joyful.

  • Joan Of Argghh! October 17, 2020, 7:04 AM

    “God does not need” is the beginning of understanding His love. Be we do need. And maybe God loves us, too, enough to give you back to us.

    This year saw my 39 year old son fall out of this life twice on his way to almost leaving it. A massive double-embolism hated him enough to kill him in the night. The angels descended from a mile away and cracked his ribs and punctured his legs and… then did it again in the ER. Everything after that has been a gift. An amazing gift to those who love him.

  • Anonymous October 17, 2020, 7:53 AM

    Zen “adept” for 50+ years, but am perfectly content with “take things at the pace of prayer”, wonderfully phrased. The contemplative phase of our lives (should we make it that far) is in the final account the best phase. You earned it!

  • Jack October 17, 2020, 10:08 AM

    Wonderful comment and video. So glad we’re all here!