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I remember the weeks following my cardiac arrest where my experience of life was really quite different. I was much more present for each moment of each experience that I had. While my mind was much less cluttered with the thoughts that typically tumbled one after another like an endless line of circus clowns, I was much clearer about life.

It’s not that I knew what life was all about, as far as having it in a nice neat little pigeonhole; it was just that I wasn’t making up all of the extra crap that I had been used to making up about it. I was so much more sensitive to each individual experience, each individual person, and awe-inspired by each of them! It was really the simple things in life that were most amazing (love, connection, presence) and the absurdities that typically characterize human relationships were simply unintelligible gibberish that was easy for me to simply ignore. The precipice of death has this uniquely clarifying quality that is rather compelling. I have found myself drawn towards this space, wanting to return ever since. Secretly, I can even be defiant at times, taunting death in my own mind, pushing limits, rather unconcerned about my mortality and the temporary nature of this life (not that I put myself at mortal risk, really).

but, what a peculiar a thing to say!? To want to return to this edge between life and death!? What is this paradoxical attraction? No, I’m not afraid of death and no, I don’t want to leave this planet either. And yet I also long for this freedom from the absurdity that characterizes most human interactions! How is it, that we human beings have turned this precious and amazing existence into a funhouse hall of mirrors? Hiding from each other, posturing, and getting our highest priorities completely wrong!? How is it that I find myself entranced by this, yet again, after such a profound clarity? Swept up by utterly inconsequential interactions!?

A friend, a fellow SCA survivor, recently said, “I want to die again. Just so I can remember how unimportant all of these trivial day-to-day emotions/feelings/experiences really are. I mean, I don’t really want to die, but…” As someone who has been to this edge, I completely understand this compelling attraction, but unless one has stepped onto the precipice of death, it is difficult if not impossible to understand. Some of us (SCA survivors) remember having what could be called Near-Death Experiences. Others, like myself, don’t remember having such experiences. However, I have a sneaky suspicion that I nevertheless had such an experience, but simply don’t consciously remember it! Otherwise, why would I feel this way?

How do you explain to somebody, who has not been to this edge, the compelling nature of it? It would seem crazy to them, but to us it was so much more sane than the insanity of what everyone else seems to call “normal life.” To just about every SCA survivor that I have met, “normal” life is absurd and incomprehensible and even though most of us eventually, reluctantly, become re-entranced by its illusions and absurdities, we also remember the clarity of being beyond the fray. We long for that clarity again and worst of all, find ourselves perpetually in a neither-land, stuck between the two. We no longer live in the land of clarity of presence and yet we can no longer completely buy into being “normal.”  We are left with having a foot in each world and yet at are at home in neither. It’s a purgatory, of sorts, that we now live in. I don’t see how those who have never died could possibly understand the depth and breadth of this paradox that we live each day.

I have a special affinity for Daniel Ladinsky’s translations of Hafiz because of his ability to speak certain truths that resonate with me.

For your consideration:

“Listen: this world is the lunatic’s sphere,
Don’t always agree it’s real,

Even with my feet upon it
And the postman knowing my door

My address is somewhere else.”

~ Hafiz

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