2013 has been for me, and those I love, an interesting year. Thanks to the good services of my surgeon, and the prayers and support of family, friends and people I did not know, I was able to visit my 77th year. It was a struggle, but it is over, and I remain alive – if not completely well. Not to worry, that will come.
Still, one can only go through these cliff-hanging experiences where one holds on to life with the slimmest strand of a web, so many times without seriously considering one’s life and mortality.
Like all men, my life has endured its share of failures and bad decisions, but somehow, my feet are still planted on the Rock that is Christ Jesus. I have come to understand like never before, that he alone is the Lens through which all of life and knowledge can be viewed, interpreted and experienced with authentic forgiveness, peace and effective love. I look forward now to the rest of my days on earth, however long that may be, with contentment and anticipation of good things. I especially look forward to giving as many of these days as I can to my family and friends.
When a person looks squarely into the face of death, utterly convinced of its certainty, as I did this past year, and then survives, it is sobering. I learned that when the time actually comes, all of us truly die alone. No matter how many supportive and prayerful loved ones surround you, the only thing that truly matters is, “what happens now?” Do I go somewhere? Heaven? Hell? Do I simply cease to exist and return to the oblivion of dust like so much roadkill? What kind of life have I lived? What kind of legacy will I leave?
Then something happens. All of these questions evaporate.
In my case, I saw a V-shaped tunnel similar to a valley with tear-shaped eyes along the sides of the V, moving in opposite directions, sad, accusing me of my failures and assorted sins. They were spread on fields of varying shades of green, which I interpret as my life, flowing like rivers or the rippling stripes of a flag in the wind. I felt an intense, evil force pulling at my legs, almost as if someone were gripping my ankles and straining fiercely. My abdomen was in excruciating pain – pain the like of which I have never experienced in life, even though I had in that lifetime, endured severe burns.
But then, I also felt a gentle but irresistible pressure on my wrists and hands, pulling in the opposite direction from the pressure on my lower extremities. And then powerful passages of scripture exploded in my mind; in particular from the shepherds psalm, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,” and other scriptures assuring me of God’s love and promise that I belonged to him and no power in the universe, seen or unseen, could snatch me out of his hand. And with that, I was comforted.
I learned later that my team of doctors – three surgeons – had concluded that I would probably not make it. My primary surgeon, leveling her hand and commenting on my condition observed, “When you came in, you were about here,” about chest-high with her hand, “after the first surgery you dropped down to here,” lowering her hand a few inches, “after the second surgery, you dropped down to here,” lowering her hand several more inches, “then after the third surgery, you dropped down to here,” lowering her hand even more. “That,” she said, “was about as low as you can go.”
Now you must realize that at 77, I have had many near misses with death in that time. Two near-fatal car wrecks, saved by a few seconds here, a few inches there, a brilliant ER doctor who knew the difference between angina and a Deep Vein Thrombosis; even as a child growing up without helmets for bicycles and seatbelts for cars, upon reflection, it seems a wonder that any of us survived our early years.
But these things were small, incidental to the events of 2013 -- three and a half weeks in acute care and another two and a half weeks in rehab. As I write this, I still have a ways to go before my stamina returns.
Now, my perspective has changed along with my expectations. I have no fear of death. None. I have seen it up close and personal. It is weak and ineffectual.
I love life, especially my life. I have three wonderful children and three wonderful step-children and a combined 10 grandkids. You think I’m not blessed? I have an incredibly nurturing, loving and supportive wife of more than 30 years. Add to this, three of the cutest Maltese puppies you have ever seen. One of them has adopted me and sleeps on my pillow with me every night just to make sure I am safe.
Up, over and above all of this is my relationship with Jesus, who fills my heart with joy, peace and love each moment of my days. He is the one who has sealed the fact that I will truly live forever. Think of that. Life does not end at death. The body may return to dust and is tossed out as you might toss out an old shoe, or the kitchen trash. But life continues, true life, empowered life, continues and continues, and continues . . .