In 2010 I nearly died. Rare complications from a routine medical procedure, some so rare that my medical team suggested that had never experienced. I had managed somehow to join a number of “special” groups. You know how doctors tend to say only 1%, or 3%, or 4% of patients experience certain negative side effects or complications? I made it into that rarified air at least four times. And towards the end of my six month ordeal those percentages brought me to death’s door; or more accurately death rather rudely exploded into my room without knocking. Admittedly, there was more than once when I asked myself the question, “Why me?”
I was shocked and surprised. Not so much by the fact that he, death, was close in (I knew I was really really sick), but by my reaction. I was terribly distressed and not at all a peace with it as I would have imagined. In fact, I was terrified. My experience was so surprising because I have been very close to dying a good number of times throughout my life. What I had experienced in those previous near-death moments had been a sense of peace, if not euphoria. Not this time. Despite what I knew, had learned, done, experienced, practiced, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually, I had fallen flat on my face and I couldn’t get up. Every coping mechanism that I had developed over a lifetime, like loyal soldiers came to my rescue, for a while, but because of the length of the challenge and the cycling from worse to better to worse to better and back, they weren’t strong enough to help me get up. One by one these management tools, like soldiers on the battle field, were ‘picked off’. I remember promising myself that if I survived I would do what I had to discover what was missing because I want my next personal appointment with “him” to be different.
What did I need? I didn’t know, but I did know I didn’t need some more of what I already had. The answer wasn’t more religion, spirituality, joining a religious community, meditation, yoga, money, prestige, power, write another book, change jobs, get more friends, a different car, another house, a geographical move, more information (at least more information about what I already knew), therapy (at least the kind that I knew of, and I know a lot about a lot of the different modes out there). So I was faced with the choice of just lying there and continue to slowly die some kind of a spiritual/emotional/psychic death or doing something.
Being face down on the ground and unable to get up (in a figurative way); I opened my eyes to what was before me. There was life all around me. I gradually became aware of others who had had the same experience as I. I was taught by them things I might do as I lay there. I learned that the earth was soft and that as I began gently digging in the dirt I found treasures. That process and all the components are a story itself. Suffice to say that as a result of the last five years of digging, the space where I fell has opened up large enough for me to stand up and then begin walking around in. Instead of getting back up into the world I fell from, I entered another part of the world. Now, it seems I have head, shoulders and torso in the world I fell from with my feet firmly planted in the part of the world I’ve been excavating. My roots, my “self”. It’s good. It’s rich.
Maybe one could say “Now you can see that’s why you experienced all the pain and despair.” And if that was all, that would be worth having gone through all of that.
But an even bigger gift has been given me. I’ve been able to share the experience of my fall (to others who have fallen) and share the tools of what feels like my redemption with others.
Elder-hood, mentorship, parenting are common terms, with a myriad of meanings. This last weekend, because of my “fall” five years ago, the resulting relentless effort to live life from there and find a new way to live, I knew exactly how to be with my son in his very own “fall face down, everything I know to do isn’t working” moment. What an extraordinary gift to be able to offer. What an extraordinary gift it was to be asked.
Perhaps you have your own “why me” story?