“That Which Waited There”

April 16

I am very sure that so long as we are caught in time, we will never be able to see heaven, which I believe is entirely and absolutely seeable. But having arrived at that statement (which, alas, I have discovered is the only definitive one I can actually make at this juncture), I immediately run up against the very core of the problem for me: namely, that I have had what is now euphemistically referred to as a near-death experience. In 1955 when I was having it, there were no easy terms for such, no almost jocular NDE abbreviations to lessen the outréness of the experience.

The whole thing was fairly straightforward, really. I was threatening to miscarry our first child; and the drug I was given, while hardly experimental, was nonetheless new and, as it turns out, highly toxic to some women. Six or seven of us died, in fact. I didn’t . . . Correction: I did, but I came back.

The second most vivid memory of my life is that of sitting, hunched up like a gargoyle, in the upper corner of my hospital room, watching Sam and the nurse beat on my body, trying to restart my heart. The most vivid memory is when the corner opened up and let me out of the room into a tunnel, pleasantly grassed even on its curved surfaces. Walking through it, I could see the light coming from the other end and I could know myself drawn without effort toward That Which Waited There.

I never left the tunnel, though I stood at the edging place where it ceased and the translucent goldenness began. We talked there, just on the brink of the entering, I saying I needed to go back, that there were children I wanted to have before I came . . . and the What Is saying, “Go,” and my soul breaking within me that I was leaving a greater love for a lesser one, but knowing that I must go . . . and knowing as well that I would return and that the What Is and I were, and would be, when I do return.

So it is—and for over fifty years has been—that I cannot, in any discussion of heaven, get beyond the verge where the end of the tunnel met the That Which Waits There. Neither my mind nor my necessity are ever sufficient to push beyond that place.

From “Sweet Reluctance” by Phyllis Tickle, in Heaven, edited by Roger Ferlo. A Seabury Book from Church Publishing. Copyright © 2007. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org

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