Vital Signs

"I Had Always Been Skeptical…"

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  But my thinking about what happened that night does not stop there. Also included in the skeptic’s catalogue of difficulties is the possibility that I simply m i s r e m e m b e r what happened. That is very unlikely, however, since in the hours, days, and weeks following the event I was going over and over the details. Were I mistaken in my recalling of what happened, it would be a mistake without parallel in my experience. There is no rational excuse for crediting such a hypothetical possibility. So do I think it happened as I remember it happening? Yes. Is the interpretation I have placed upon the experience accurate? It seems to me the most plausible interpretation. It makes most sense of what happened. Am I glad it happened? Yes, glad and grateful. It is an abiding consolation, and in its remembrance, an ever recurring occasion to recognize that reality is ever so much more strange than we are inclined or able to imagine. Such a thing has not happened to me since. It is enough.

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We speak of death as an ending and as a transition to something else. It is the terror of destruction, and it is liberation. Death attacks from without and matures from within. It is both violent alien and a friend’s offer of peace beyond understanding. Death happens to us without our permission and invites our collaboration. It is the most natural of things and the destruction of everything that is natural and right. Little wonder that the poets never tire of the subject. In dictionaries of quotations, the number of entries on death is second only to the number of entries on love; the one, like the other, seeming to be everything and nothing, the more indescribable as it is the more described. . . .

Is it possible that death is part of life, after all, or even that death is not at all? Is it possible that, between this world and the next, we simply move from life to life? . . .I know what I understood by the announcement to me that night. If I chose to go with them, something would happen between here and where we were going, and that something is called death. I did not take that next step. Had I taken it, I sensed that I would be moving into the unknown, into what I could not anticipate in advance.

 

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