By Sarah Braasch
When I was about seven years old I almost died. It wasn’t the only time I almost died, but it was one of my most colorful near death experiences. I had acquired some sort of flu bug or food poisoning or I don’t know what, but my mother, in her either infinite ignorance or indifference, failed to procure anything in the way of medical attention for her ailing child. In all fairness, at first, I attempted to minimize my illness in order to be able to participate in a planned trip to a local amusement park.
I know it sounds silly to say that I almost died from a flu bug in the US during the later part of the 20th century, and, yet, my story is true. I hadn’t eaten anything solid for about two weeks, and I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been able to hold down water. It seemed like I was either vomiting or dry heaving non-stop. I was parched and too weak to lift my head off of my pillow. I hadn’t realized it at the time, but my mother later told me that I looked like a little concentration camp survivor, I had lost so much weight.
I remember that there was an old black and white movie on the tiny television on the dresser at the foot of the bed. I remember that the movie took place in a faux harem in a faux Middle Eastern palace in a faux Arabia. I think Gregory Peck may have been involved.
I wasn’t scared. I just remember how I wanted nothing more than for the overwhelming waves of pain and nausea rolling through my body to stop. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t drink. I couldn’t move. All I could think about was the pain. I didn’t have the strength to dry heave anymore, but I kept dry heaving while lying on my back. I didn’t even have the strength to turn onto my side or even turn my head. My body was convulsing involuntarily. Then, the convulsions started to fade. My body no longer possessed the ability to exercise its involuntary impulses. The ripples in my stomach waned. Everything slowed down. My heartbeat. My breathing. I felt nothing so much as relief. I just didn’t want to feel anything anymore. I lost the will to live.
It was so strange how everything came into such clear focus at that moment. I remember the bizarre brown and gold patterned wallpaper. I remember these tiny clip on cabbage patch dolls I had purchased at the local five and dime. I remember the huge yellow plastic bowl I had been throwing up in, when I still had something inside of me to vomit. I remember the bedroom furniture and the way the bedspread draped over my legs and feet. I remember the light in the room.
I was completely still. My little legs began to rise. Actually, my entire body began to rise, but flat as a board, as if someone was lifting me by the feet, but my head was secured to my pillow. I watched this with great curiosity. I realized that my legs remained swathed in my nightgown, even as my legs were lifted higher and higher, until my feet were directly overhead. Then I watched as my body swung back down, in the same manner, towards the bed. As I watched my legs and feet return to the bed, I discovered that my body was also still on the bed, covered in the bedspread, completely still. This occurred multiple times. My head never left my pillow. I didn’t feel fear, only intrigue, and, even, amusement.
At that time, death was not particularly terrifying. I had no fear of hell, not because I thought I was without sin, but because I didn’t think hell existed. I was a little Jehovah’s Witness girl, and Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe in hell. But, I was confused. It seemed to me as if a version of me, a spirit, a soul had left or was trying to leave my physical body. But, I had been taught that I was a living human soul, but that I didn’t have a soul, which survived the death of my physical self.
My feet were directly overhead again. It felt final. It felt like I was being asked to make a choice, like I was on the edge of a precipice, about to jump. It felt like my feet were being tugged on, but something inside of me was resisting. My head remained securely on my pillow, as if it were attached. Not exactly terror, because I wasn’t afraid, but determination, and, maybe, panic washed over me, almost instantaneously. Then, I chose. I wasn’t ready. But, I wasn’t sure how to get back inside myself. I didn’t know what to do. I wasn’t sure I had the strength to do anything.
With everything and anything I had left inside of myself to give, I screamed for my mother. It came out as a barely audible, raspy plea. I tried again. Louder. Again. Then, she was beside me, looking down at me.
“What is it?” she asked, seemingly unable to see that which I could see.
“Mommy, why are my feet up there?” I asked.
“What are you talking about?”
“My feet are up there, in the sky.”
“No they aren’t. They’re right here.” My mother sat on the bed, placing her hands on my lifeless limbs under the bed covers. It was the strangest sensation. It was like I fell back into myself. My mother looked terrified. She called the doctor.
I guess it would be pretty easy to chalk up the entire experience to an illness induced hallucination, but I’ve never forgotten it, and I’ve never stopped feeling as if there was something more to it than just dehydration or religious fervor induced psychosis. It was hardly my only mystical experience as a child, or even as an adult.
I’ve had tons of mystical and spiritual (i.e. allegedly nonmaterial, supernatural) experiences. I was able to conjure up transcendental experiences at will as a child, which could probably best be described as astral projection, although I wouldn’t have understood that term at the time, of course. But, somehow, I knew that I had separated from my ostensible physical self. All I had to do was contemplate the unfathomable idea that nothing would have ever existed if Jehovah God hadn’t chosen to create everything, including existence itself. I would float around in outer space, amongst the planets and stars. It was the strangest feeling. It made me feel high, even after I’d returned to my body. I became addicted to it, and it became more and more difficult for me as I got older. I would spend hours alone in my room trying to recreate the sensation. As I grew older, it also got scarier. I had been raised to believe that anything even remotely attributable to spiritism and the occult was the product of demonic influence. I became obsessed with the notion that I was inviting demons into my life.
I’ve seen what would commonly be referred to as ghosts, demons, and angels, not to mention the future. I practically have a mystical experience once a day. None of these experiences, past or present, compel me to believe in God, certainly not the God as typically conceived by any of the major mainstream religions. There are lots of things in the world, which I neither understand nor can explain, starting with my personal existence. This doesn’t presume a divine source. This doesn’t even presume a supernatural or metaphysical cause.
The very act of employing the term supernatural is rather arrogant when we understand so little of our natural world. How do we know that these mystical experiences aren’t the result of interacting with alternate dimensions or alternate universes or alternate versions of ourselves? As our perception of reality approaches our wildest science fiction fantasies, we realize just how disappointing, prosaic, and mundane the world’s religions’ gods are, seemingly endlessly fascinated and preoccupied by the quotidian sexual exploits of my next door neighbor.
With the ever exponentially telescoping expansion of knowledge, especially scientific knowledge, I believe that we are moving closer and closer to answering those most difficult ontological and teleological existential questions. We will know the nature of God, and we will discover that God is nature. General relativity, special relativity, quantum mechanics, string theory, M theory, supersymmetry, the multiverse. We just keep getting closer and closer.
I am not troubled at the thought of losing life’s zest and purpose once the mystery is gone. First of all, that point is far, far away, still, despite our amazing progress. Second, just imagine the possibilities. The infinite universes to explore, the infinite selves with whom to acquaint oneself. Ultimately, we will harness our ability to shape our myriad existences and universes. Time and materiality will be of little consequence. We will become gods with the ability to determine our own destinies, our own realities. And I, for one, unlike Jehovah, Yahweh, Jesus, and Allah, will not be much bothered with the sexual goings-on of my neighbors.