On March 11, 1983, I had an epiphany while waiting for a bus. I was a few months away from completing my second year of University, and I was miserable. Everything about the year had been a struggle, and I was just barely hanging on. Consequently, I was looking forward to the family dinner that I was on my way to attend. In fact, I had been looking forward to this dinner for several weeks.
“I’ve got to get out of school. School is killing me. I’ve got to get out of school.”
I only call this thought “random” because with all of my unhappiness, the idea of quitting hadn’t crossed my mind until that very moment. But, just like that, not only did I have the thought, I readily accepted it as truth and began to chant it out loud like a mantra. With each repetition, I began to feel noticeably better.
Sitting on the bus for the ten minute ride to my parent’s house, I thought about the words I had been chanting. Did I really have the courage to drop out of school before the semester was finished? The more I thought about it, the more I began to convince myself that not only could I do it, but I had to do it. I had to walk away from school and end my misery. It was such an obvious thing to do, I wondered why I hadn’t thought of it sooner.
Getting off the bus with a sudden bounce to my step, I walked two short blocks to my family home and climbed the front steps towards the porch and front door. One year earlier, my mother and sister, Anne had nervously waited for me on the porch before the three of us confronted our unwelcome ghostly intruder. Today, however, I was greeted at the front door by my other sister, Beth.
“It’s great to see you,” she said cheerfully as we embraced. “How are you?”
“I’m great,” I replied. And, suddenly a wave of emotion overwhelmed me. “I’m sorry,” I said, “but I think I’m going to cry.” And, with those words, I literally burst into tears.
Perhaps it was the sudden decision to leave school that unleashed a torrent of relief for the first time in months. I honestly don’t know. All I know for sure is, the look of concern on my sister’s face made me feel embarrassed. Stifling my tears, I told her I needed a few minutes to collect myself, assured her I was okay, then excused myself to my old bedroom on the second floor.
Entering my bedroom, it looked untouched since the day I left two years earlier. Not that my parents had expected me to return. It’s just that the house was spacious, and my parents had no need to reclaim my room for another purpose.
Closing the door behind me, no sooner did I sit down on the built-in cushioned window-seat, the tears began to flow again. Of course, I still had no idea why I was crying, but it felt good to let it out. But strangely, as the tears fell, a tingling sensation began to envelop my hands and soon advanced along to my arms to my shoulders. It felt kind of like my limbs had suddenly fallen asleep although I knew that wasn’t possible as I had only just sat down, and my circulation wasn’t impaired. Nevertheless, within a matter of seconds, my hands and arms began to vibrate with such extreme energy, I could literally hear the sound of buzzing in my ears. And, if that wasn’t strange enough, something even more bizarre began to happen. My arms suddenly began to rise up off the window seat under the direction of an unseen force. It was the weirdest thing. In fact, I watched with stunned fascination as my hands rose up to the front of my chest and came together in an obvious position of prayer, palm to palm, fingertip to fingertip. I then reacted by trying to pull my hands apart. But, I couldn’t. The force was so strong, it was like my hands were super-glued. Consequently, I sat there in shock, and wondered what I should do, and that’s when a feeling inside my chest urged me to get down on my knees and pray.
Although they ghost encounter a year earlier had left me with irrefutable evidence of an invisible dimension of spirit, I didn’t yet have the same resolute conviction concerning God. I had always rather smugly thought of God as something that organized religions used to keep the masses towing the line. And, I had continued to believe this even after I had logically reasoned God into existence a year earlier (a week after the ghost encounter), when I felt confident enough to move back to my apartment.
That first night back was tough. As I lay awake in my bed, alone and afraid of ghosts, I reasoned that an opposing force must exist that somehow prevented ghosts from running amok; that in order for ghosts to interact with living humans, they needed to first receive an invitation from said willing human otherwise they weren’t allowed to interfere. If such a theory wasn’t correct, it stood to reason that ghosts would be making unwanted appearances and attacks on human beings with far more frequency than was clearly the case. For instance, in 1983, with four billion people living on the planet, given the perpetual cycle of life and death that had occurred for tens of thousands of years, I reasoned there must have been uncountable billions of ghosts. So, why weren’t billions, millions or even hundreds of thousands of attacks being reported? The more I thought about it, the more I became convinced that my theory was correct. Thus, I was able to fall asleep that first night alone, and all the nights that followed, without continually being scared out of my wits.
Unfortunately, though, as days became weeks and weeks became months, my ghostly encounter soon became a distant memory, and I forgot all about the fear of ghosts that I once had. I also seemed to forget about the fact that I had reasoned an opposing force into existence.
One year later, back in my old bedroom with my hands mysteriously glued together in prayer, as much as I felt like something within me was urging me to get down on my knees and pray, I stubbornly refused. I had always considered myself a scientific person, and in my narrow range of experience, even if there was a possibility that God might exist, I didn’t understand why submission should be a necessary part of the human experience. God or no God, the thought of doing so was embarrassing and humiliating. I was a proud and intelligent being; surely I was above the need for submission. So, I refused to comply while I continued to try to pull my hands apart. And, suddenly, it occurred me that I was dying. Of course, it was a ridiculous thought. I was a healthy, active, 22 year old young man. However, as soon as that thought crossed my mind, the strange tingling in my hands and arms stopped, my hands dropped to my sides, and the buzzing in my ears immediately ceased. Needless to say, the timing of all three of those things occurring at the exact moment that ridiculous thought crossed my mind created a powerful correlation. And, well, rightly or wrongly so, I suddenly knew that I was dying.
A few minutes later, I found my mother in the kitchen and asked her to join me in the living room. I then sat down beside her on the couch while I recounted the strange events that had just occurred. When I got to the part where I knew that I was dying, my mother responded immediately with assurances that I wasn’t physically dying. According to my mother, part of me was spiritually dying in order to make way for something new that needed to be reborn. But I knew that she was wrong, and I told her as much. I was dying because I was told to get on my knees and I refused.
“So do it!” she exclaimed.
But I couldn’t, and I wouldn’t. And as much as I tried to explain my reasons, my mother didn’t understand. She then put her hand to my forehead and found that I had a fever.
“You see,” I said, “I told you I’m dying.”
“Honey, you’re NOT dying. You have your whole life ahead of you. Just lie down and try to relax. I’m going to get a thermometer.”
As it turned out, I had a temperature of 103.5 which climbed to 105 shortly after I swallowed some aspirin. And that’s when my mother brought my father into the mix and a decision was made to call a doctor. Whatever was wrong with me, my father and mother were sure it wasn’t helped by my poor eating habits. They asked if and what I had eaten that day, and unfortunately, I had a hard time remembering. In fact, from that point on, because of the high fever, my memory is somewhat fragmented.
That said, I can tell you with absolute certainty that I was in full control of my actions at all times, and although the flow of time was a bit jumbled in my memory after-the-fact, I remember most of the verbal interactions I had with those who were present, including the poor doctor who I ridiculed for doing his job (he claimed I was having an acute schizophrenic episode and left a prescription that I never agreed to have filled).
I also remember the gentle man from Subud named Dahlan who came over to help, just as he had a year earlier after my ghost encounter.
Furthermore, at the same time as my family was anxious to see my fever under control, I also remember “the man” who came to take me away. Although I was the only person in the room who could hear him, his voice was as clear and real to me as any one else who was there. For the purposes of this story, I have decided to call this man “The Reaper” because in the months and years that followed, I came to think of him as just that.
I am disappointed that I no longer remember how The Reaper first introduced himself. I only recall that in one moment I was laying on the couch contemplating my imminent demise, and in the next I was calmly conversing with this invisible man. I remember that initially I was curious and confused about his identity because I recall asking him if he was God. Unfortunately, however, although I can still hear his amusement at my question, for the life of me, I can’t remember his exact response. What I can remember, however, is that when he talked about himself, he referred to himself as “we” although his voice was clearly the voice of one man. I should also tell you that while our conversations were completely telepathic, the act of speaking telepathically with this spirit being felt immediately natural to me, like I had been doing it my whole life. I should also tell you that it was not a problem to carry on a telepathic conversation with The Reaper while at the same time monitoring and occasionally participating in the human conversations that were happening in the room.
The Reaper and I spent a few minutes making small talk and getting acquainted. Then, all of a sudden, he was all business. “Okay. Let’s go,” he says. At the time, I was on my back on the couch, and as he said those words, I suddenly felt a completely alarming and unpleasant physical sensation. Although it was unlike anything I had ever felt before, it was unmistakably clear to me what it was: my soul was being pulled from my body through the general region of my solar plexus.
Before that moment, I don’t think I ever once thought about the idea of a soul. In fact, even if I had believed that I had one, I certainly never imagined it was a physical thing that could be felt. I’ve since heard it said that if one were to record the weight of a dying person, at the precise moment of death there would be a measurable loss of weight. I don’t know if that’s a proven scientific fact, but if it is, a change in weight would seem to indicate that human beings have a soul and that soul has weight. That being the case, I guess it makes sense that I could feel my soul as The Reaper tried to pull it from my body.
Either way, my instinctive reaction to this pulling sensation was to resist by kicking my legs against the couch. Doing this, I soon discovered that as long as I could feel my legs striking the couch, I was somehow able to prevent The Reaper from taking my soul against my will. No doubt, for those who were there to see me doing this, I must have looked completely crazy. Nevertheless, it was an instinctive response, and it worked. And, after a few minutes of this, it became apparent to me that since I seemed to already have one foot on the other side, perhaps I could ask a few questions; nothing major, just a few simple questions that might be of some benefit to my loved ones. The Reaper responded by telling me that I was delaying the inevitable, that whatever I might ask wasn’t important, and that when I got to where I was going, I would know all the answers anyway.
“I don’t care,” I said. “If I don’t get some answers, I’m only going to carry on kicking and wasting more of your time.”
In spite of the rudeness of my tone, The Reaper responded with light-hearted laughter and I suddenly felt sorry for him; as if 22 years of life in the material world had honed my mind to such a degree, it had given me the upper hand. I interpreted his laughter as tolerant amusement.
“Okay,” he agreed, “but you know it doesn’t matter what I tell you because your family will all forget when it’s over anyway.”
“They’ll what?” I asked, as I struggled to understand the meaning of his words.
“They’ll forget,” he repeated, somehow clarifying through the repetition of those same two words.
“Oh no,” I cried, suddenly concerned. “That’s not fair! You can’t do that can you? Make them forget?”
Without waiting for a response, I answered myself. “I guess you probably can. You guys can do anything can’t you? Well, you’re really tricky,” I laughed. You guys are really funny…wipe their minds…you must have a lot of fun up there…God sure is a tricky guy isn’t he?”
At this, we both laughed. And I believe it was at this point that I imagined asking my sisters and my mother about this event sometime in the future, and they had absolutely no recollection of it; like it had never happened. As a result, I felt momentarily scared, though not enough to give up. “I don’t care,” I said. “I still want to know.”
The next thing I remember, I excitedly told my mother that I had just made a deal to have questions answered; questions that even science might not yet have the answers for. My mother didn’t seem to know how to respond to this, nor did my sister, Anne who was in the living room with her. They were both momentarily tongue-tied and soon affirmed that there was nothing they needed to know. My mother simply felt compelled to reinforce her belief that I was going to be okay. In fact, I got the distinct feeling that she didn’t want to indulge me with questions because she was certain my answers would be crazy. However, not being one to let a golden opportunity go to waste, I decided to ask my own questions.
Up until that moment in my life, I had no idea what it meant to believe in God. To me, believing in God meant behaving, thinking, and reasoning in a way that was completely foreign and undesirable to me. There was so much about my mother’s spiritual life that seemed weird to me. On the one hand, I knew Subud made her feel good about herself. On the other, some of the people I had met from Subud seemed a little airy-fairy and odd. Thus, I decided to ask a few questions about Subud.
“What’s the Latihan for?” I asked.
“The Latihan quiets the mind,” The Reaper said. “It prepares you for that moment when you are ready to die.” Surprised by his answer, I suddenly remembered how my mother always had a Latihan for a precise period of thirty minutes. Having a pre-determined time limit seemed odd to me.
“So, why do people only do it for only half an hour?” I asked.
“It’s not good to do anymore than that,” The Reaper replied, before saying something more about quieting the mind and dying.
“I see,” I said. “So, it would be possible to die in Latihan if you continued to do it for more than half an hour?” I don’t think he answered me, but I excitedly told this to my mother anyway.
“The Latihan is good mother,” I said. “Only, you know why you have to stop after a half an hour?”
“Why?” she asked, with a tone that suggested she wasn’t interested.
“If you don’t stop doing the Latihan, your mind will become so quiet, you’ll die.”
I no longer remember her response, however, I remember something pressing against my lips at that moment and I didn’t like it.
“What is that?” I asked.
“Soup,” my sister, Beth answered. “Would you like to try some?”
“No,” I said, emphatically.
“How about some juice? You really need to eat something.”
I politely declined. Clearly, my sister had no idea what I was up against.
A few moments later, an unusually sweet and tempting smell entered my awareness. I believe I might have been conversing with The Reaper at that time because it took me a few moments to register that the sweet smell was actually something being held up to my nose.
“What is that smell?” I asked.
“Apple juice,” Beth replied.
She’s so good, she just won’t give up, I thought.
“Do you want some?” she asked, and I started to laugh. The juice smelled so delicious. I felt unable to resist it, and I laughed out loud because I understood in that moment how Adam must have felt. Although I knew the circumstances were completely different – that in my particular case food would be of no consequence – I couldn’t help but laugh at the biblical parallel.
“Don’t you get it?” I said. “You’re offering me the apple!” I don’t remember if Beth responded. “Like Adam,” I continued, “you’re tempting me with the apple.” I laughed some more, and sensed the amusement of The Reaper. And although I knew next to nothing about the Bible, I knew enough to recall mankind’s earthly plight had begun with Eve’s temptation of Adam with the apple in the Garden of Eden. I suddenly understood the incredible power of a sweet smelling apple. I remember feeling frustrated that Beth didn’t understand what I was talking about. I decided to ask more questions.
“What happens in the next world?” I asked. “Will I know anyone, or will I be all alone?”
“Your grandfather will be waiting for you and he’ll be laughing.”
“Poppy!” I exclaimed, joyfully. “That’s really nice,” I said, “but why will he be laughing?”
“That’s what we do here,” he said, “we just laugh.”
“You laugh?” I didn’t understand at first, but then suddenly I thought I did. “Oh I get it. You guys up there are all laughing at us down here.”
I soon discovered that The Reaper had a limit to his patience. “That’s enough,” he said. “Let’s go!” Once again, he started to pull my soul from my body and I instantly responded by kicking.
“Wait,” I replied, “I’ve got more questions.”
“No. No more questions,” he said sternly. “You’ve had your fun. Now it’s time to go!”
“Yeah, well, I lied,” I said. I had no intention of going peacefully even though The Reaper had done his part by answering my questions. “I’m not going!” I said, and with that, The Reaper changed his approach.
“Let’s go or you won’t like what I’ll do if you keep at it,” he said.
In spite of the obvious threat, I was willing to take my chances. I had successfully thwarted his previous attempts at besting me. Consequently, now that he was taking a new harsh approach, I was feeling a bit cocky.
“Oh look, now you’re threatening me,” I said, defiantly.“LET’S GO!”“NO!”
“FINE, THEN STAY AND YOU”LL BE CRAZY!”
Crazy? I thought. What does he mean ‘crazy’? “Oh. I get it,” I said. “Their minds will be wiped. They won’t remember…so what…big deal!”
“And no one will ever understand you either,” he added. “You’ll go through life feeling miserable.”
“I don’t care,” I responded, and continued with words that surprised me, words that I didn’t understand, words that seemed to come from a part of me that knew more about my life and purpose than my conscious mind. “I’m not ready to die,” I said. “I have to make movies. I have to give myself to people. I have to be strong.” I started to hyperventilate. Somehow, I must have sensed The Reaper had gained the upper hand. “I’m too weak, don’t you see? I only thought I was strong, but I’m not. It’s all a mistake. I tricked God, and God felt sorry for me. He thought I was ready to die because I wasn’t afraid of death. I acted so cool all the time. I acted so strong. I…”
“THAT’S ENOUGH!” The Reaper interrupted, immediately pulling on my soul.
“NO!” I cried (telepathically) as I kicked with all my might. This time, however, I could feel the pulling sensation grow stronger in spite of my kicking. “OH GOD, I’M SORRY I LIED. CAN’T YOU SEE I LIED?!”
“FINE… STAY,” the Reaper said as he suddenly stopped pulling. And just like that, I instantly felt the most amazing flood of relief I have ever felt in my life. The ordeal was over, and I had won. Or so I thought.
“You stay, and we’ll take your father instead.”
My father was sitting in a chair beside me and I could see by the look on his face that he was worried about me. If only he knew the horrible choice that had just been put before me.
“WHAT? NO. YOU CAN’T… YOU WOULDN’T… OH MY GOD!”
“As sure as he’s sitting there, he’ll have a massive heart attack and die right there in that chair. I’ve come for someone and if it’s not going to be you, I’m not leaving empty-handed.”
My father and I didn’t have the best relationship, but there was no way I was going to put his life at risk. “You bastard,” I thought. “You could take my father’s life… and you would wouldn’t you?” I don’t remember an answer, only overwhelming feelings of sorrow and anguish.
“I’M DYING,” I gasped out loud as I realized there was no way I was escaping the situation. The helplessness and inevitability saddened me so deeply, especially because I suddenly realized that this was the very last time I would ever see my family again. I asked The Reaper if I could say goodbye to my family, and he agreed. I then asked my mother if the whole family could come into the living room. I recall telling them all one by one that I loved them as I kissed them each goodbye. Even though I knew my grandfather was waiting for me, the remorse and sadness I felt was too devastating for words.
“One last question and I’ll be ready,” I said to The Reaper. And, for some reason, he let me ask. “Will I ever see my family again?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t think so.” I suddenly felt worse for asking.
“No one? Not even my parents?”
“Well, I know you’ll meet (your brother-in-law) Greg up here one day,” he said. The tone of his voice was upbeat, like he was trying to cheer me up. “And you’ll both have a good laugh together.”
“Greg! Oh thank you,” I said to The Reaper, suddenly feeling a bit better about leaving. At least one day I’d see someone I knew. Greg was standing in the room at the time. “Greg!” I said, “We’re going to meet in heaven one day and have a good laugh. That’ll be good won’t it?” He laughed and said something pleasant, although I no longer remember what it was.
At last, having said my goodbyes, my family left the room and I closed my eyes and prepared to die. Dahlan, my mother’s friend from Subud had arrived at some point earlier and was now the only one sitting with me, the back of my head resting comfortably upon his lap. “You believe me,” I asked, as he gently stroked my head, “I mean about the Latihan…what it does…you understand me don’t you?
“I think I understand,” he said with sincere kindness although I later realized he wasn’t present when I had earlier talked to my mother about the Latihan.
Finally, feeling relaxed and quiet, I remember listening to the sound of my breathing, fully expecting it to stop. “Wait a second,” I thought. “I can’t die on my back.”
“I can’t die like this,” I said to Dahlan. “God won’t take me like this.” I rolled onto my side and curled up into a fetal position. Somehow it felt like the natural thing to do. As if I somehow knew that this was the way I needed to be positioned in order to be accepted into the next world. As I lay there, all curled up, I thought about Poppy and how I knew he was waiting for me. I thought about how The Reaper had tricked me and how the whole thing was so unfair. But I knew it was all my fault. My mind had taken over and created a Godless world. “It’s all my fault,” I thought. “Poppy. Poppy, I’m ready now.”
I expected to feel myself float up to heaven and I remember feeling impatient because nothing was happening. I was looking for a tunnel, a white light, something, but there was nothing but the blackness that lay behind my closed eyes. And then a voice suddenly spoke to me. But it wasn’t Dahlan and it wasn’t The Reaper, as The Reaper seemed to have slipped out of the room as I was saying my earthly goodbyes. It was a new voice; somehow different, deeper, with a resounding tone of finality.
“Sorry,” the voice said.
“Sorry? What do you mean sorry? What is sorry?” Without needing an answer, I knew exactly what it meant. I wasn’t going to die and I was suddenly \scared; more scared facing the life that now lay ahead of me than the finality of death. “But I’m ready,” I said. “I want to go. Don’t do this to me. Please. I don’t want to be crazy. I want to laugh. Poppy? Where are you, Poppy?” But there was no reply.
I think I started to fall, but I’m not exactly sure. Perhaps the only thing that began to fall was my fever.
“I can’t go back,” I pleaded. “Please, don’t do this to me. Don’t send me back.”
But there was no answer.
I began to think about the implications of everything that had just happened. How would it be to face my family? After all, they all knew that I wasn’t dying; I seemed to be the only one that believed I was. What would my life be like? Would I be crazy? Would my family really have their minds wiped?
In spite of these questions, I soon discovered that I was actually feeling quite calm, and quite relaxed. In fact, for the first time in my life I felt like I actually understood the meaning of life. My ordeal was over. I had survived. And better than that, I was alive and felt more peaceful than I had ever felt before. When I opened my eyes, Dahlan was no longer in the room, and I was by myself.
Sitting up on the couch, I cleared the tears from my eyes and then walked into the dining room where my family was seated around the dining room table. They greeted me as if nothing unusual had happened, and for a passing moment I wondered if their minds had been wiped. But I didn’t ask. I was so exhausted and hungry, I sat down and quietly joined them for dinner. But, I found it extremely odd when over the course of the rest of the evening, no one spoke a single word about the events of the preceding two hours. As a matter of fact, no one ever spoke of that night ever again.
Weeks later, in a sudden moment of panic, it occurred to me that I should ask my mother if she remembered the events of that fateful evening. When she said that she did, I decided not to question her further. Perhaps The Reaper had been bluffing after all.
One year later, as much as I thought I had understood my life, once again I would learn the hard way how completely wrong I had been about just about everything.
Please see this link for my continuing story.
(This link for the previous story.)
Featured Image Credit: Night of the Grim Reaper by Muroya