Thursday, May 27, 2010

Not a Near-Death Experience, But Close

a champ at holding his breath

It occurs to me, no one seems to have near-death experiences anymore. Have you noticed that? I don't know if they've gone out of style, the bright light needs a replacement bulb, or we've gotten so good at resuscitation that people don't have a chance to notice they took an unexpected left at the corner of Hit and Run and Myocardial Infarction.

They used to be hot, especially in the late 70s. I don't know, maybe they were a carry-over from the 60s -- kind of like the ultimate acid flashback. And naturally, Hollywood snatched up the concept like my cat after a mouse. First, there was Ghost, a tear-jerker of a date flick if there ever was one (I needed three hankies myself) and then Frighteners, a great little Down-Under film with Michael J. Fox. I love Michael -- he reminds me of James Cagney with a 21st century attitude -- and Frighteners is well worth a peek, if you haven't seen it.

What continues to intrigue me about these experiences isn't the idea that something supernatural has occurred since, frankly, they're so idiosyncratic I doubt we'll ever know until it comes our time to "take the plunge." I'm interested in the changes that result in the lives of persons who've had them. They're kinder, more understanding, more eager to love. The knowledge that there's more to come sets them free to live with abandon.

You might think I'm off on a theological binge this morning, and I suppose it could be interpreted that way, but I'm really thinking about my classmates who graduated last Saturday. One of the things that I noticed about all of them, or at least those with whom I spent any time and I did that with as many as I could, was a quality of peacefulness. Now, they may argue that I must have slipped out during the ceremony for a visit with Cheech and Chong, but I'm serious.

Relief is one thing and there was plenty of that to go around, but they really seemed to have arrived at a place where they felt more themselves. The tension was gone from their faces and in its place was (exhaustion? Well, yes, that too) something I had never seen before. It was like running into someone you've known for years and yet, you feel as though you're meeting them for the first time. Maybe peace isn't quite the right word, but whatever they had, it was contagious and I received a double dose.

Medical school isn't a near-death experience, but it comes right close. Somehow the process of getting through, assuming one does so for the right reasons (see 5/26/10), sets a person free to live as though eternity was not only a reality, but it's dropped down into your lap and you've got all the time in the world. True, there's residency ahead, along with packing, moving, and saying goodbye, but four years of holding their breath is over and they've finally come up for air.

(Creative Commons image by Pfau via Flickr)
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