Near Death Experience

In an excerpt from her book, The Art of Death, Edwidge Danticat writes about the power of near death experiences (New Yorker blog, 7/10/17). Although Danticat hasn’t had such an experience, she says she has come close.

She describes an experience she once had while driving an old used car. Suddenly the car turned on its own and headed directly for a garbage truck coming in the opposite direction. She writes: There were only a few inches between us when both the truck and my car miraculously stopped. If the truck had hit me at the speed we were both going, I might have died.

On another occasion, she was standing on a landing of steps in front of a friend’s apartment. It was a snowy day, ice covered the steps, when she started slipping. “My arms flailed, and for a moment I felt as though I was flying.” Somehow, she managed to catch the railing before falling down those icy steps. Had she not, once again, she might have died or at least been brain dead.

She describes a somewhat similar near death experience that Montaigne had while riding his horse. One day he was thrown off his horse and was unconscious for several hours. Then, as he recovered from his accident, Montaigne realized that dying might not be so bad. He’d felt no pain, no fear.

I felt the same way when I had a near death experience one day in Florence. At breakfast several years ago I drank too much of the strong coffee they make around there and experienced what later was diagnosed as a vasovagal reaction, a mild form of fainting. I desperately wanted to lie down and sleep for a bit. Frankly, I thought it might be the end.

Luckily, I happened to be passing by the Palazzo Strozzi, a center of cultural events in Florence. The Palazzo is furnished on three of its sides with large stone benches originally intended as a shady resting place for servants and the motley assortment of characters the palace attracted long ago. The bench now gives everybody a welcome opportunity to rest for a moment and let their latest vasovagal reaction fade away.

I remember feeling at peace, a sense of serenity overcame me. I didn’t travel to heaven, have my past unfold before me or was not the least bit frightened. I realized then that dying wasn’t so bad after all. To feel such contentment at what I thought was the end was quite simply a perfect moment.

Although there are several ways to describe a near-death experience the dictionary defines it this way:

Noun: an unusual experience taking place on the brink of death and recounted by a person after recovery, typically an out-of-body experience or a vision of a tunnel of light.

Have you ever had a such an experience? If so, what was it like?


Linda said...

How very interesting! I've never had an experience like that, but I've read about many and they all sound similar - peace, contentment, a lack of fear.

I think about death more often, which I'm sure is normal and to be expected as one grows older. I hope it will be like the glimpse that you and others seem to have had. Could it be as simple as death being just another part of life, a natural part, the last part, and our brains move us to some kind of interior self-protective state of calm and contentment?

It is comforting to think so. I like Roger Ebert's comment regarding his impending death, "I was content before I was born, and have no reason to think I will be otherwise after my death." (or something to that effect)

Richard Katzev said...

I am much older than you, so I think of dying a great deal now.

But I do not want or intend that it end in a hospital or hospice.

I plan on controlling the end of life and I hope I will have the courage to do so.

Who wants to be hooked up to tubes or suffering in pain and every conceivable invention of modern medicine all for the sake of another day of marking time?

Linda said...

I agree with you, Richard - that is what I want as well. I too hope I can manage it and have the requisite courage.

Richard Katzev said...

Ian McEwan writes in his novel "Amsterdam:" They could manage your descent, but they couldn’t prevent it. Stay away then, monitor your own decline; then, when it was no longer possible to work, or to live with dignity, finish it yourself.

I believe you will have the courage to act upon your belief. You only need the means to carry it out and be able to control your life when the time comes.

A tricky business.

Linda said...

Yes, it is tricky. I must go back and re-read Amsterdam - excellent quote.

Richard Katzev said...

I am rereading the book for the second or third time.

Here's the blog about it several years ago: