The blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up.
-- Matthew, 11:5
Death is no more than passing from one room into another. But there's a difference for me, you know. Because in that other room I shall be able to see.
-- Helen Keller
A middle-aged man, with a paunch, is sitting on a doctor’s examining table waiting anxiously for the doctor to return with the results of his latest examination.
The doctor comes in, looking solemn.
“I’m afraid it’s your body,” he intones.
I am that man. Surely Yeats did not have me or my body in mind when he wrote his immortal lines, “things fall apart, the center cannot hold,” but they are apposite, I’m afraid. Somatic entropy is icumen in.
I don’t want to bore you with a list of my various infirmities and debilities since I already regaled you with those woes in the very first essay in this series, which I wrote in December, 2017. I’m tempted just to write something along the lines of, “suffice it to say, they have all grown worse.” But I will resist that temptation if you will indulge me for a few moments in order to give you some specifics. Besides, as usual, I have an ulterior motive for mentioning some of them, which will shortly be revealed.
To begin with, I now list. That is, these days when standing or walking, I am no longer an orthogonal being. Instead, following my political proclivities, I tilt to the left. Generally, I am not aware of this...
— D. J. Enright or perhaps Julian Barnes, or was it Thomas Nagel? Possibly all three.
For me, death is the one appalling fact that defines life; unless you are constantly aware of it, you cannot begin to understand what life’s about. Only a couple of nights ago, there came again that alarmed and alarming moment, of being pitchforked back into consciousness, awake, alone, utterly alone, beating pillow with fist and shouting, “Oh no Oh no OH NO” in an endless wail, the horror of the moment. I say to myself, “Can’t you face down death?” Can’t you at least protest against it more interestingly than that? For God’s sake, you’re a writer; you do words. We know that extreme physical pain drives out language; it’s dispiriting to learn that mental pain does the same.
No, that’s not me talking. You should know that by now.
Any guesses? The title of this essay should give you a hint since it’s the title of a book he published about ten years ago.
OK, he’s English. Primarily known as a novelist. Winner of the Man Booker Prize and many other literary honors.
He’s Julian Barnes, and he has a dread of death.
The account above, which I’ve condensed from the original, is just one example of what Barnes, who is an avid Francophile, likes to call le réveil mortel – an awakening with a...
One of the things that makes waiting to die a somewhat bittersweet experience is my girlfriend Lauren, though I’m sure she would object to being called “a thing.” No, she is both my dream girl and the answer to this old man’s unspoken prayers. I don’t know how I would have survived these past few years without her loving care and all the many things she has done for me during this time to keep the ship of Ring afloat. So it sometimes makes me melancholy when I think that when I die, I will have to leave her behind since the practice of suttee does not seem to be in her repertoire. I will miss her dearly when the time comes for me to take up residence elsewhere.
Lauren and I met online in March, 2015, just as she was about to leave her home in Piedmont, California in order to join her son, Rob, a flight surgeon in the Navy, in Florida where he was to get his “wings.” Lauren is, like me, an e-mail junkie, and in the first month of our correspondence, before we had met, we exchanged no fewer than 200 messages, some quite lengthy. I had obviously met my match and the epistolary girl of my dreams. We fell in love writing to each other, but of course we didn’t even know each other — we were only words on a screen. All she knew about me by then was that I had apparently been married a dozen times and had had innumerable affairs. I feared this one would turn out to be an affair to dismember.
Lauren is a therapist and like all therapists she had been seeing one for years. Of course, it’s a game all therapists play...
This will be embarrassing, but at least it will be short.
The ancient Greeks looked down on anyone who was guilty of false modesty; they felt that if you were a superior person, you should flaunt it. But this ancient Jew feels the opposite, that his modesty is well deserved and any suggestion to the contrary normally makes him cringe. He’s the kind of guy who when a compliment is bestowed upon him looks over his shoulder to see who the intended recipient actually is.
All right, you can see where this is leading. Yes, I am going to devote this essay to some good things that have come my way lately, at least in regard to my professional work. My body is another story; it is always something that continues to need work as it is continuing to decay at a vertiginous rate. But you have heard me sing that plaint before and don’t need to listen to the mournful tune again. Instead, let me turn to some of the things that have made me forget my body for a while and have even cheered me up. They have made waiting to die worth the waiting, for now I’m glad my number hasn’t been called just yet.
And, by the way, in case you’re wondering about the title of this essay, it refers to the fact that I am writing it just as I have reached the venerable age of 82 and a half.
First, some necessary background. In 1981, two friends and I established the first professional organization to foster research on near-death experiences (NDEs) and to provide support services for those who had had such experiences. I named...
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What is the bane of an old man’s life? That’s obvious. Naturally, it is the body. But what is the bane of an old professor’s life? (No fair peeking ahead!)
Give up? I will tell you.
It’s his archive. Oy, what troubles it has caused me during this time of waiting for the end to come. Rumor has it that I will perish, but meanwhile I have been consumed with the effort to make sure that my archive survives my death. It’s paper immortality I am going for.
Let’s start at the beginning. What is an archive? In my case, it’s all the professional crap I had accumulated during my forty or so years as a professor and author that I had felt worth preserving in hopes that one day an enterprising biographer would find his or her delight in trawling through it. (If there are any takers out there, get in touch. I’m taking applications.) The contents of my particular archive consist mainly of records of my research, interview tapes with near-death experiencers, reprints of articles I’ve written, original copies of some of my books on NDEs, lecture and workshop notes, files of all the professional presentations I’ve given, professional correspondence, and tons of letters I’ve received from people of all sorts, mostly describing various kinds of unusual experiences they have had. In short, the paper...
[I actually wrote this last spring after my near near-death experience with the flu. But since another flu season will soon be upon us, perhaps this cautionary tale is timely after all. Its message is: Don’t fool around with the flu this year, particularly if you are of an age.]
I might have been a tad too glib when in the first installment of what clearly will be a terminal series having to do with my personal terminus, I observed that at least for me waiting to die was rather boring. [I was also too glib about writing off Tiger Woods; I guess I shoulda known better. O me of little faith…]
After this winter, I have had cause to change my mind. For a while there, I thought it might be more of a matter of life or death. I found myself thinking of the line Othello sings toward the end of Verdi’s opera as he contemplates his own death: “Ecco la fine del mio camin.” Colloquially, “This is the end of the line for me.”
You see, I was one of the millions who caught the flu bug or, rather, it caught me. And held me tight for a while in what seemed to be its death-like grip. It was really bad for a week or ten days there – it’s hard to remember how long. Even now, five weeks to the day after becoming sick, I am still hawking and spitting up gobs of sputum, and my voice now resembles that of your nearby frog. There were times when I considered whether the first piece I wrote in the series might well turn out to be my epitaph. And I admit there were moments, or...
Hello, I am Dr. Raymond Moody. I am best known for having coined the term “near-death experience” in my bestselling book Life After Life.
Welcome to Illuminating.
Illuminating is the blog of The University of Heaven, a new online platform for the rational exploration of the afterlife, launching September 20, 2018.
Illuminating will be published twice a month with articles from leading-edge researchers and thinkers in the field of consciousness studies.
Featured Columnist Dr. Kenneth Ring
We are honored to be joined by Dr. Kenneth Ring, highly esteemed near-death-experience researcher and author of the bestselling Lessons from the Light and The Omega Project. His book Mindsight is a groundbreaking inquiry into the near-death experiences of the blind.
Ken's monthly column Notes from the Ringdom features his new series of essays “Waiting to Die” that offer an enlightening and humorous perspective on life and death from a man who has fully investigated both. The column will debut this Wednesday September 5 with a short introduction from Ken on Tuesday September 4th. Keep your eyes open for what promises to be a compelling series of posts from a masterful writer and thoughtful researcher.
You can prepare for Ken’s column by reading more about him:
Remedies for Grief
On Thursday and Friday September 6-7 we will publish a two-part series by April Brader. April offers all of us a...