A funny thing happened to me on the road toward death.
I got sidetracked and wound up taking a detour.
These days, it seems, I am being courted, and my life, at least my professional life, appears to be heading in a new and unexpected direction. If this keeps up, it is even possible that I will have to put my death on hold.
The first thing that caused a change in my life in the last couple of months has to do with my archive. You may remember that I have already written about my archival agonies and how I wound up being stuck with more than fifty boxes of my stuff and had no idea what was to become of it, much less what was to become of me.
Well, at least I now know the answer to my first quandary.
In May, I received a most surprising letter from the archivist at the University of West Georgia to whom I had written in what I thought was probably a vain hope that she might be interested in my holdings. I had selected this university because I already knew that it had just the kind of archival resources I was looking for and was open to research dealing with the paranormal.
I had almost given up hearing back from the archivist after several weeks had passed since I had sent my letter of inquiry, but then I received this note, after speaking to the archivist at last:
“It was wonderful to speak to you today. I just read the August 28, 1988 New York Times interview. [She was referring to an article about me and my work.] It shows, as I have heard from listening to you, your curiosity about the human experience and your care for humans. I deeply appreciate that. I am also professionally thrilled to have your papers at UWG. They will be a tremendous research collection on near death and other anomalous experiences for years to come. Thank you!”
Lauren and I have spent the last month and more again inspecting the contents of my boxes, both at my home and at her art studio, labeling and then taping them up for pick-up by UPS, which is a whole other story, filled with inexplicable delays, misunderstandings, changed schedules and other hassles, but, finally, just last week, the last trove of boxes was shipped off to Georgia where they will be catalogued over the next few months and eventually be made available to scholars and researchers interested in NDEs.
What a relief to see those boxes on the way to Georgia.
But that is not the only event that has recently occurred in my life involving a university in Georgia. A few weeks ago, I learned that a woman named Lisa Smartt, who was apparently connected in some way to Raymond Moody, the man who coined the phrase, “near-death experiences,” was attempting to get in touch with me on Raymond’s behalf. However, what was peculiar about this overture was the improbable and circuitous route that this woman had followed in an effort to reach me.
She had taken the trouble to track down the Palestinian co-editor of a book I had published some years ago on the lives of contemporary Palestinians! My friend had written me simply to forward Lisa’s message to me. He could only wonder why she had had to go by way of Ramallah to find me in California!
Anyway, the message was simple: Raymond Moody does not use computers, but wanted to talk with me. Lisa was asking me to get in touch with her in order to make the connection between Raymond and me.
I sent Lisa a brief e-mail and said, in effect, “What’s up with this?” It was then I heard about that other university in Georgia.
But first, a little background is necessary to fill you in on my relationship with Raymond Moody. We first met at the University of Virginia in November, 1977, when a few of us early NDE researchers gathered in order to figure out how best to develop a field of study concerned with NDEs. Raymond, who was then in his early thirties, and who charmed us all with his humor and humility, was still pursuing work toward his M.D. (he had already obtained a Ph.D. in philosophy and been a professor of philosophy), and needed to get back to it. He was eager to “pass the torch,” as it were, to us pioneer researchers, and we were just as avid to grasp it and continue to light the way. A few years later, we had our organization, The International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS).
In those early years, I saw a lot of Raymond since we attended IANDS meetings together and often were featured speakers at conferences. It was always a delight to spend time with him; Raymond is enormously entertaining with an antic personality and a brilliant mind. But after a few years, we didn’t see each other as often as we followed quite divergent paths in our work. And since Raymond doesn’t do e-mail and hates to talk on the phone as much as I do, we hadn’t had any contact for about the last ten years or so.
But now in May of 2018 he wanted to speak with me. How come?
As Lisa explained it to me in an email, Raymond wanted to tell me about a new university he was starting up in Georgia. He was calling it “The University of Heaven.” Lisa said that the plan was to offer various courses on NDEs and other death-related phenomena, to publish various books on those subjects and to offer regular webinars for those interested in such subjects. Raymond wanted to interview me for one of those webinars, and, moreover, he wanted me to become, as it were, a member of the University of Heaven faculty.
Oh, brother! “The University of Heaven.” Give me a break. I immediately objected to Lisa about the name of this dubious enterprise. I started to call it “Woo Woo U,” and was sure satirists would have a field day making fun of it.
But Lisa herself was very charming, articulate and persuasive, and in a spate of e-mails that followed in short order, she began making me a series of offers I was finding it hard to resist. They would sell my books – not only my NDE books, but some of my other books as well. They would give me my own blog or column in which I could then published these essays. Because of Raymond’s celebrity I could then reach a very large audience. They would even publish my book of these essays once I had written enough of them. They would make me famous again!!
Other blandishments followed. I demurred for a time, but gradually softened and began to think that I might actually allow myself to be wooed.
After a month or so of these e-mails (I never did speak to Raymond), Lisa mentioned that since she had family in the Bay Area, she would be leaving Georgia soon to see them. We could meet. And just yesterday we did – for a riotous and highly enjoyable two hour lunch.
During that lunch, she pretty much won me over. And to seal the deal, she brought me a t-shirt. Here I am, wearing it.
Now at the same time I had been corresponding with Lisa, I had also been receiving a series of friendly letters from a woman named Tricia Barker who had had an NDE in 1992, and who in the last few years had been making a name for herself. I had first heard about Tricia from a good friend of mine interested in NDEs. He had met her and had become a good friend. He told me that she had written a marvelous book about her NDE and that she was already developing quite a following. He then sent me one of her YouTube videos, and I could see for myself why my friend had been so taken with her.
Now Tricia was writing to me, saying she, too, would be visiting California and was hoping to meet and interview me on YouTube. Oh, God, first Raymond, and now Tricia. I hate being interviewed and have steadfastly refused all comers in recent years. Lately, my excuse had been based on a dictum of the late Kenneth Clark, the famous art historian, who in one of his memoirs said that no man (his sexist language, not mine) over seventy should permit himself to appear in public.
Tricia was having none of it.
We left it open, but I agreed to meet her with her and her boyfriend who was in effect her cameraman. Prior to her visit, however, Tricia, too, sent me a number of letters about herself and her NDE work, and also e-mailed me the first three chapters of her book. They were riveting and very well written. (I later learned that she had taught courses in creative writing at a community college.) Tricia was also making another conquest of me – the woman could write.
We met just this week also, a couple of days before I had my lunch with Lisa. And the three of us had a really fabulous time together. For me, it was like old times being able to converse with an NDEr about her life and her NDE. However, I was too tired that day to consent to an interview – I will resort to any excuse to beg off – but we wound up doing a sort of interview, anyway, that will be posted on her website, where she also wanted to post some of my essays.
Now, here’s where it gets gnarly. In a loose moment some weeks ago, I had apparently agreed to give Lisa exclusive rights to publish these essays, but I had completely forgotten that promise. Oops! Now, these two women – who turn out to know each other and are friends – were contending for the rights to publish these essays. (Well, to be accurate, Tricia hadn’t known about my previous agreement with Lisa, so she wasn’t really aware of this.) But in a way, I felt I had to head off a kind of potential “bidding war” before a fractious feud broke out between friends.
So here I am, heading toward 83, and still being coveted by attractive women. Who has time to die? Why even bother? I have been deterred.
Addendum: The office manager of IANDS has called to tell me of an exciting new development. A wealthy Florida woman, a benefactor of IANDS, wants to build an NDE museum and library, and wants me involved.
“But,” I protested, “I haven’t had any formal involvement with IANDS for over thirty years. I’m just a has-been who wants to be left alone.”
“No, Ken,” she responded, “you’re an icon!”
This woman, too, apparently won’t take no for an answer. She has threatened to call me next week.
Stay tuned. This may turn out to be a longer detour than I had counted on. If people continue to pester me, my waiting for death may just have to wait.
Dr. Ring is Professor Emeritus of psychology at the University of Connecticut where he researched near-death experiences. He designed scientifically structured studies of 102 near-death survivors that further developed Dr. Raymond Moody's early NDE findings. He is well-known for his ground-breaking research of investigating NDEs among blind persons in his book Mindsight. Ken Ring is the co-founder and past president of the International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS) and is the founding editor of the Journal of Near-Death Studies. He has published several near-death experience related books, including Life at Death (1980), Heading Toward Omega (1984), The Omega Project: Near-Death Experiences, UFO Encounters, and Mind at Large (1992), and his most well-known and celebrated NDE book, Lessons from the Light (2000).
Here’s a direct link to Ken's new book: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1627876987ref_=pe_3052080_397514860