Harley-Davidson motorcycle and rider, image by Salvatore Rubino, on Pixabay
THE DAY I REMEMBERED MY SOUL
When I was 24, I killed myself. I put it that bluntly because it was not an attempted suicide,
a cry for help, but a decision to self-murder. Yes, it was a desperate act, a last attempt to
escape what my mind feared as lifetime imprisonment in a mental asylum. They still did
that back in the early ‘70’s. It was even, in its own way, logical—to my then-agnostic mind
at least. I had been suffering a profound clinical depression—the kind where you stop eating, sleeping, emoting, desiring. In time your body begins to break down; I shook like
an old man with Parkinson’s instead of the once healthy and robust young man of just a
few weeks earlier.
I had decided as a teenager that there was no God, no soul, no heaven or hell—all just
fantasies for those, unlike myself, not brave enough to accept that death means extinction
of not only the body but the personality, consciousness itself. I know many people have
that view today, and it does not appear to bother them, Well, why would it, until they’re
faced with their own deaths?
Now what I’m about to relate will be believed by some, disbelieved by others, and the rest
will probably just shrug their shoulders and give it no more thought. Yet is there really any
question more important than the possibility of life after death—that you, your character,
personality, memories, your consciousness will continue, not for years or decades but
I had been attending the London Film School in Covent Garden, London. I have loved
movies almost as much as books since childhood. For some reason which I still do not fully
understand a half century later, I dropped out in my third and final term. Of course, if I had thought things through, I might have decided to become a screen writer. I have wanted to become a writer since I started thinking—really thinking—as a teenager.
But I didn’t think of it. And soon after I returned to the States I fell into a profound clinical depression. Day after day I would walk around the dining room table in my parents’ house, asking myself why I had abandoned my dream—a hard thing for anyone, is it not? Each day
I walked around that table, all day long, eating less, sleeping less each night, asking myself
why I had “run away” from my one chance—as I saw it then—to follow a childhood dream.
The more I did that the more I wished I could go back in time, back to London and the film school, and stop my foolish self from “running away.” That was part of the torment—seeking
a time machine to correct my near-fatal error as it turned out.
My parents were not very sophisticated and thought a camping trip to Vermont with a high school buddy would “snap me out of it.” But each day we were driving through the beauty
of that state, things just got worse. I had largely stopped sleeping and eating, my nerves
so shot that my hands shook with unceasing tremors. And while I knew that the mountains and valleys we drove through were very beautiful, I did not “feel” that beauty one iota. It was
the same when I saw a pretty woman: I knew I should feel an attraction, but I felt nothing.
It got worse. One day we drove up to a scene where a dog had been hit and killed by a car, and the woman who owned the dog was weeping profusely. I could not understand, at all, why she was so upset. I had no empathy, no feelings at all, it seemed, good or bad.
Depression does not just stop you from relating to other people, it cuts you off from yourself
as well—you feel hollow, empty, a walking shell, very much a living hell. Believing it was only going to continue to get worse until I lost complete control and was “put away” to suffer without hope, as I saw it then, it seemed logical to end my life as soon as possible. So,
one night when we stopped at a large campsite by Lake Champlain, I decided that after
my friend went to sleep I would walk into the lake and drown myself.
I wanted to leave my parents a goodbye note; I still had that much humanity left in me.
But my hands shook so hard that the pen just made scribbles, and at that moment these
words—these exact words—came into my head, Just let me write this. As soon as I had
uttered this “prayer” to God, the God I had stopped believing in as a teenager, my hands
became completely steady—and yes, I mean instantly. It was like going from 100 mph to standing still, without any deceleration whatsoever. Then I looked up from the camp table
I was sitting at and saw the stars of the Milky Way and “felt,” for the first time in weeks,
their beauty—and thought to myself, why would I want to die? So I went into the tent and
slept, the first good night’s sleep I had had in a long time.
The next morning, I woke up refreshed, happy to be alive. The depression seemed like
a bad dream, now over, and my vanity had returned: I would shave and shower. But as
I walked towards a large building where the showers were, I felt “something” come from behind me and into me, and before I got to that building I had begun shaking again,
like a dried leaf blowing in the autumn wind, soon to fall to the dirt. I tried to shave but
my hand shook so much I knew I would just cut myself.
Now I was desperate. I don’t know why I was so naive the night before when weeks of
suffering disappeared as soon as I sought help from the God I thought I had stopped
believing in. As we drove into Montpelier that morning I saw a bridge and, knowing I
had very little time left before losing control completely, I told my friend to go for breakfast
and I would join him after walking some to “calm down.” I walked to that bridge which
spanned the spring-swollen Winooski River and… hesitated.
Not because of fear—I still saw death as extinction and therefore preferable to the living
hell I didn’t seem able to escape. Twice I walked to the ledge to jump but something pulled me back: I interpret it as the “life force” many have alluded to, whatever it is in us (and it is not fear) that wants to keep us alive. But I knew as I walked away that if I did not do it then,
I would not be able to later, so I turned and ran to the ledge, and flung myself over.
I remember how pleasant it was to fall through the air. I don’t remember hitting the water, but
do see myself going feet first through some rock-strewn rapids. I went unconscious briefly again, it seems, because my next memory is of finding myself swimming in the river, and as I saw the shore I thought, why am I swimming, I want to die. And I put my arms straight up and sank.
The next part is hard. Not hard to recall—if only!—but hard to relive, hard to accept, I suppose. At some point I was conscious, not of having a body, just “pure” consciousness.
I have no doubt it’s hard, if not impossible, to believe if you’ve never experienced it. Even
in our dreams we have bodies. And I could see, but what I saw was an infinite darkness,
far blacker than the darkest night. I was utterly alone, and worst of all, in torment. I don’t
use that word lightly: it was beyond any imaginable pain and my consciousness was roiled by it. Again, I called out to God, not to end it, but with a question, “How long will it last?”
When I regained “this world” consciousness, I was on the bank of the river in a gurney being put into an ambulance, then I passed out again. I spent four weeks on the psych ward and had a series of electroshock treatments, which appear to have done the trick
in alleviating the depression. I began rebuilding my life, taking college courses for a new career and seeing a very good shrink for the next two years. He was a good man who helped me a great deal to explore my “unconscious” side. But I’m sure he rationalized
away the hellish experience of my unbodied consciousness, my soul, as I was drowning
in 12 feet of water.
The man who jumped into that river to save me was a Vietnam vet riding by on his Harley
when he saw me jump. There were about 50 people on the riverbank that day, I was told,
and nobody did anything, except for that ex-soldier who saved my life.
Mike, that Vietnam vet, saved my life, but it is God who saved my soul. And this is the lesson I would hope the world would see: you don't have to be dying or suicidal to call
on God. This is something that many “modern” people are forgetting, or worse, ignoring. Secularism and its disdain for faith appears to be spreading ever more. In the secular worldview there is no God, no soul, no good or evil, no light or darkness. There is only mortality, chance, and what is called “reason”.
I thought that way myself as a young man, but it did not save me from my worst enemy: myself. Atheism is an old idea, as old perhaps as any religion. It is not just a belief system, but a way of life. Until I was 24 and fell into that hell of my mind, depression, that lead me directly to the actual Hell where my soul “awakened,” I lived without God. I don't see how anyone can find joy, real happiness, without a sense of God and soul.
In the 50 years since, I have called on God many times, and the more I reach out to Him,
the more I see I need Him. I pray for myself a lot, yes, but I pray for others too—people
I know and care about, but strangers too—a cop who was shot, a nation fighting for its
freedom, a child seen on the news facing a deadly disease. I pray not because I think
I am a good person, but because I know I am broken—as I know we are all broken to
one degree or another. But I don't just ask for things—I thank God, thank Him every day, often more than once a day.
One way we know the truth of the Bible, and in particular the Gospel accounts of Jesus,
is that no punches are pulled—human nature is shown in all its ugly, unchanging reality.
I am always amazed on reading the story of how Jesus healed a group of lepers as they were passing by. Now you would think they would be overjoyed at being miraculously
cured of the most feared disease of the time, but no. Only one man turned back to thank Jesus for giving him a good life again—only one.
God came to us as a man, and we either ignored Him, or, finally, we murdered Him. But when you think on it, really think hard and long, the greatest miracle is not any Jesus performed, as great as they are—not even when He rose from the dead. It is not even
God creating this vast universe or a sole species in His image. No, the greatest, most
truly profound miracle, is that God is still with us.
He is there even when as individuals or as nations we ignore, or worse, disdain Him.
But then we are the ones who pay the price for our willful blindness to God and our souls
and good and evil and the need to choose between light and darkness. As individuals,
we pay the price in addiction, anxiety, depression, crime. And as nations, in the threat
of the destruction of all life in this world. I understand the love I have for God, but I am
utterly amazed at the love He has for us.
A Paean to God
Now I understand—
I can never be complete within myself.
Without You my emotions betray me,
my mind counteracts itself—
hope will flee me, despair will eat me...
unless I reach out for Your love
with a child’s open arms...
pink beach ball on shoreline, image by Dieter, on Pixabay
A Child and Eternity
When I was a child
Eternity scared me—
I was terrified when
I thought of it—a long
Line never ending,
On and on and on
It went till my mind
Felt like taffy being
Pulled through space.
Somehow I knew it
Was real, eternity, so I
Lacked the mercy of
doubt to ease me,
To lessen my fear of
That endless road—
(And now I know some
Grown-ups see it so, an
Unending line of time...)
But now I think time is
More like a ball, past
And present and future
Roll around together—
We call it a "moment"
In our world of clocks
And schedules to keep:
But that moment, that
Ghost called time is just
Eternity visiting the world.
Contemplating Time, God, and My Soul on My 75th Birthday
The time nears, be it days or years,
When my soul must fly and my feet
Shall trod the dusty earth no more,
And God says yes or God says no,
But go, my soul must go...
Nolo Segundo (his pen name) is 76 and he became published in the past 6 years
in nearly 150 literary magazines in the United States, England, Canada, Romania,
Scotland, Portugal, Australia, China, Sweden, Hungary, India, and Turkey. Three
poetry books by him have been published by Cyberwit.net: The Enormity of Existence,
Of Ether and Earth, and Soul Songs (all available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble).
The titles, like much of his work, reflect the awareness he’s had for over 50 years since having a near-death experience whilst almost drowning in a Vermont river. And no,
his near-death experience was not of the “white light” sort, far from it, but then his near drowning was not accidental—still, he is profoundly grateful to God for his rebirth.