The surgeon stands beside me and gives the order to induce my coma.
The nurse injects into my IV tubing a measured dose of a barbiturate to induce deep unconsciousness.
As I go to sleep in this world, I awake in another, a place I learned was called the In Between.
I find myself resting on one knee, high up on the terraced rooftop of an abandoned apartment building. I’m bent over in stomach pain and with great effort look up. The amazing, panoramic skyline of a purgatorial city . . . gray buildings stacked upon gray buildings, stretching all the way back to a brooding skyline. Apocalyptic clouds hover over the metropolis, storm-heavy.
In this gothic world, there are no sounds.
Though I’ve been kneeling in its shadow all along, I suddenly notice to my left the only real thing of interest -- a large egg-shaped structure, an open latticework of gray metal, with many gears inside. Monolithic. Austere. And finely crafted -- the egg is four stories high, its intricate latticework constructed of a dull metal as gray as the world surrounding it. Another wave of nausea hits me.
I say out loud, “I don’t think I can stand this.”
Inside the egg, glimpsed through the gaps in the design, I see the whirring of sector gears -- the kind of partial arc gears you see in clock-like mechanisms. They move endlessly in a clock-like rhythm, a flash of silver and they make a clack-clack-clack sound like a roller coaster ratcheting up a hill.
I draw closer, rising with great effort, approaching the egg.
The conversation represented below was all telepathic and is a characterization of what was communicated.
Jim: What is this thing?
As I stand before the mighty mechanism -- clacking at full volume -- a disembodied VOICE responds (telepathically).
IN BETWEEN: This is the future birthing into the now.
I see that the gears -- though solid -- are passing through each other in a scientifically impossible manner. The otherworldly dance of the gears is complex -- a 4-D model of time.
I reach through a gap in the side of the egg.
IN BETWEEN: It is the process of Becoming.
My fingers hook around a gear. On its mirrored surface I see something like a video feed of haunting future events. As I touch the gear I double over in pain.
I rip the gear out and throw it wildly over my left shoulder. The machine responds by recalibrating; all the gears whisper with a light clacking sound into a new configuration.
JIM: What’s happening now?
IN BETWEEN: Each gear is the probability of a thought, word or action in your future. Your destiny is resetting itself around the now missing event.
JIM: How did I know I could do that? Pull that gear out, removing that future moment?
IN BETWEEN: Why else are you here?
JIM: I have no idea. I don’t even know what this place is. Where am I?
IN BETWEEN: You are in the In Between.
JIM: In between what?
IN BETWEEN: Everything. The Impossible Now between the past and the future.
JIM: That makes no sense whatsoever.
IN BETWEEN: It’s impossible in its short duration. Yet here you are, standing inside the eternity of a single moment. Do you remember who you are in the world to which your body belongs?
I look blankly into space, squinting with the effort to remember.
More gears appear. With some foreboding, I watch...
I see a montage of images like video clips play inside my head as I try to look at the gears moving by. Night becomes day becomes night, different people coming and going, images and experiences yet to come -- mostly mundane.
JIM: I have no idea. I can’t remember anything.
IN BETWEEN: You see the truth, in that the past is dust.
JIM: OK. Why do some of these gears -- these futures -- make me sick and not others?
IN BETWEEN: All choices have unintended consequences, some more unfortunate than others. The pain each brings is your guide.
JIM: Where are the gears that feel good?
IN BETWEEN: You’re not here to feel good.
More gears emerge within view, some passing through others, hard steel though they may be, bringing with them their images.
I keep pulling out one gear after another that I feel with my pain to be to my future detriment.
A new gear swings into view. On it I see a Ferris wheel and happy GRANDCHILDREN whizz by, fingers grasping the guardrail, LAUGHTER...they smile at me, or through me, looking off into their own world.
Obviously, I let that gear whiz by.
At one point I looked at the growing pile of gears.
JIM: It’s starting to look like if I don’t have a bad future then I have no future at all. Am I going to die sooner from doing all this?
IN BETWEEN: Your destiny has to reset itself from a future that isn't meant to be. Your number of breaths is already counted. I will worry about your last one.
IN BETWEEN: Eliminating bad choices doesn’t mean you won’t still make wrong ones. You won’t know they are wrong until after they pass. Since right and wrong are variables you have no control over, the answers to what comes tomorrow are a waste. Better is understanding the beauty of how everything fits and re-fits together.
JIM: So what am I missing here, in my lack of understanding?
IN BETWEEN: What is clearly before you. Grace. No one deserves heaven -- it can only be given by Grace. It is your birthright, but it must be chosen, at the expense of the world that separates us.
JIM: This fixing my future is painful. And I feel ashamed that I’m not doing it with some moral compass. I’m only guided by pain. I don’t even know where these futures happen.
IN BETWEEN: Where is no more important than what or when. Removing your enthusiasm to further chain yourself to the world isn’t as painful as carrying the crushing weight of those chains, once forged around you.
JIM: It's as if this place was made so I can only do one thing and one thing only with no chance to screw it up.
IN BETWEEN: If those with choices make poor use of them, then offering fewer possibilities could be called mercy.
I watch a gear disintegrate into dust as it passes out of view, from the present into the past.
IN BETWEEN: You can’t change the present. But you can alter the future. Pay more attention to your relationships. Be firm with some. And gentle with others, as I am gentle with you.
JIM: Gentle? What’s gentle about all this?
IN BETWEEN: You prayed for something for which being here is the answer. Now the man who fell from the sky is not the same one who flew up into it.
I look up into the stone gray sky and then out across the seemingly dead and abandoned city. I look back to the egg and reaching up, place my hand upon it.
(I say this out loud): I think I can live with this now.
That’s when I woke up back on this physical plane of existence and found out later I was out for a week. I can tell you that I did not stop the entire time in the In Between, yanking out those gears in order to feel less sick. But time didn’t seem to move at all there, and it’s not like I had a physical body that needed to rest, eat, sleep, etc.
I find it interesting that I spoke out loud only twice there -- once upon arriving (“I don’t think I can stand this,” referring to the pain), and “I think I can live with this now.” Honestly, I said that at the end because it was like torture to watch the machine’s gears spin around one more time, re-adjusting to a change in my future.
That’s my narrative of my experience. Since my return, people feel something different around and inside me. Some have said I have a healing ability. Some say I radiate “likeability” (funny, for an introvert). But everyone seems surprisingly moved and sometimes even changed by my sharing of this story.
In the end, I have learned that the In Between isn’t a place you go to or come from; it is simply a place you are.
I also realize it was like a boot camp. While there was no feeling of love, per se, neither is there in boot camp. But its purpose is to help you survive war and to make better decisions than you might otherwise make.
As a result, though I have had a fantastic and adventurous life, it may be that the best version of myself so far was on my knees and in terrible pain in the In Between. If I were called to go back and continue the work, I’d go in a heartbeat.