Tuesday, June 18, 2019

How Are You?

How are you? That loaded question in my life requires more of an answer from me these days than a simple formulaic reply. I have never found much appeal in the pat reply -I'm fine thanks. And these days when people who haven't seen me for a while ask that polite question they are actually trying to elicit a real response. They follow up with -How are your legs? Well, they are still attached I want to say. Sometimes I offer my party piece and squeeze out an unsupported squat. I'm fine, I'll tell them.
Yes indeed the bionic man walks. He walks his dog and stretches his legs and goes to work and drives a car and rides a scooter when it's not raining.  He wonders why he is alive at all, and in wondering about that he he is forced to accept that there is no escaping it: life goes on. 
I have been reading about near death experiences lately and I am struck by the search for scientific rigor in pursuit of the unknowable.  Everyone would like proof of life after death it seems and travel to the edge of  existence is supposed to offer tantalizing hope of proving that which cannot be proved. My own experience proves nothing, as I failed utterly to find anything other than a profound detachment from the here and now. I did not go down a tunnel of light, I did not see life forms or people from my past though I was hoping to meet my previous dogs as I lay there and wandered away from the scene of the accident. I felt a great detachment, an annoyance that I had run out of time, and a feeling of lassitude in a silence that was not part of the busy scene of disaster I left behind.
I spoke recently to a woman who suffered a sudden and acute loss of blood after childbirth and found herself fading away to her own near death experience. She saw darkness encroaching as the hospital room around her faded and went silent, so in fact we shared many similar symptoms. For both of us there was a sense of serenity and silence, an abstraction of self in her case from the doctors trying to "save" her, and also like my own experience she found dying to be physically comfortable and easy. Neither of us floated out of our bodies nor did we follow a light down a  tunnel but we were both aware of the death we were floating towards. My conversation with this woman gave me a fresh insight into  what happened on the highway last August. I felt less alone.
I have had strange glimpses of similar experiences among police officers at work, sturdy men (only men as I spoke to no women police officers about this); they are men who suffered physical torment in previous jobs, military men shot on the battlefield who in unguarded moments talked to me about  those near death visions they usually feel unable to share. I found myself accepted among them only by virtue of what was essentially an accident, not a willful act on my part, certainly not a pursuit of heroism or a distinction gained on a battlefield. They opened up for a little while, a  momentary twitch of a curtain that they pulled back briefly offering an admission of what they see as weakness to a fellow traveler. I find myself unexpectedly sympathetic to the travails of PTSD sufferers. I have always noticed handicapped access or lack thereof since my Catastrophe but these conversations have opened me up to other forms of shared pain. Obviously I am reminded frequently of my time spent in a wheelchair living on faith that I would walk again, but I  have never expected to find myself led into the world of post trauma stress as suffered so privately by true uniformed heroes. Yes indeed when you ask how I am I barely know how to answer.
Webb Chiles wrote on his web page words that have stirred my thoughts:
"  I have written that April 29, 2019, ended the ‘being’ part of my life.  Whatever value and meaning my life has is already established by what I have done and written in the past forty-four years.  I expect that I will do more, but it ill be incremental, not determining.
One cannot, in the world in which the rest of us live, plan out a life the way he has, yet the simplicity of the sentiment, the narrow and focused determination to do from a young age, resembles only the life lived by extraordinary people. The rest of us need not be concerned that we live our modest lives at random. For my own part I never did see a grand plan to my life. I responded to stimuli and when life with my family grew unbearable I high tailed it to California only as a place to catch my breath far outside the scope of my insular European family members. That I settled in the Golden State was a fluke and when the opportunity presented itself I married a woman (not my current wife!) and settled down with no great plan of action in mind. Yet I suppose that's how most of us live, with occasional bursts of planning and forethought thrown in.
My Catastrophe has forced me to put a big bold period in the middle of my life. There is the before and there is the after and I am struggling to come to terms with what this means. Like the act of dying itself which I found as I said to be serene and peaceful, physically comfortable and devoid of pain, the act of living now has to be carried out with a certain serenity. I frequently tell myself I am living on borrowed time as it seems to me my physical destruction was such I could not reasonably have been expected to live. When the paramedics brought me back to Earth and I came to myself  on a  stretcher being asked necessary but annoying questions I don't think neither they nor I expected me to see another sunrise. The nurse at the hospital told my wife to brace herself for the worst. Which leaves me wondering what to do with this allocation of extra time in my life.
In conversations with a particular doctor in Intensive Care I pointed out my family has a history on my mother's side of dying young, that in fact I have outlived generations of my Italian ancestors. The doctor told me to be prepared to live for a while as I am apparently endowed with physical strength. I think he meant it by way of encouragement but instead I have managed to take those words and mix them up with Webb's thoughts on living an intentional life and I wonder what the hell am I supposed to do now? Should I engage in intentional living even though it seems a bit late in my life to do that, and yet the point here is that if I do have years ahead, far more than expected, nothing in life need be "too late."
I wish I had a more colorful story to tell of seeing visions or encountering angels or devils but the facts are bald and simple while the feelings left behind are not. I find my physical return to normal isn't matched by an ability to leave behind the memories and feelings that swirl through my mind. There was never a question in mind that others could benefit from my experiences in the hospital and the long process of physical recovery but I have seen why it is that so many people prefer not to speak about the mental changes brought about by near death. The funny thing is I remember my own feelings of  evasion when faced by a person who had been mangled by some accident in life, civilian or military. I don't apportion blame for others not wanting to confront my own descent into introspection. The more time passes the more I seek solitude and  I wonder if that is the correct path forward. Perhaps it is, as every civilization needs its hermits.
Rusty doesn't care what I think about as we walk, though I wonder what he would think if he kew I have every intention of taking him travelling with us when we retire. He likes coming home and checking things out after he has been away for even a few days. I can't imagine what he will think of spending weeks away in a camper van. I do know that since I returned from the hospital he has been much closer to me than previously.  When we go for walks he checks in on me and makes sure I'm okay on the trail. He is much more inclined to be near me at home as though he is aware of my close shave and doesn't want to lose sight of me. He isn't clingy but when I call him he comes bounding and is happy to share a couch or an excessively large share of the bed for at least a little while before he goes off to do his thing out of my sight.
So how am I doing? On the whole I would say well enough. I walk with a slight limp but I am gaining strength and flexibility all the time as one would expect after so many classes at the gym, so many hours of Broga  pretzels. That's the easy part, getting back the physical strength I had before the motorcycle wreck. The hard part is figuring out how to live well in the wake of that blaze of consciousness that reminded me  how short and uncertain our time really is.
I'm doing pretty well at faking it in public. I answer questions about my time in the hospital and in rehab, I try to reassure the timid that I am not at death's door still, and I am not scarred by the experience, but I do refrain from talking about that other thing that sits silently picking at my mind. Now I have this extra time, am I using it well? Am I living intentionally? Am I being as Webb might say? Is this borrowed time being borrowed to good effect? What could I do better is a constant refrain.
It's hard to convince people in real life that any good can come of such a wreck as I lived through. Yet to me there are good things that happened  all the way along.  I learned what hospitals are like from the inside so when the time comes for me to return to a hospital I shall be better equipped than ever to cope. I have  attained  a level of serenity regarding my mortality, even if I have not come to terms exactly with the immediate prospect of my death. I now know I should have not freaked some people out with the notion that good can come from bad, but I don't regret sending back reports of my life changing hospital stay, an experience not often talked about in polite society. I value my own opinion more than I used to and trust my instincts with more assurance than before. I still think of Nikki with gratitude for her kindness at the accident scene even though I cannot remember her presence at my side as I was off exploring other realms at the time- and I might add conversing with her  while I was away. How I did that I have no idea. If my musings have helped you I am glad; if they have confused you I apologize, the fault is mine not yours. My only word of advice is not to fear death, for as far as I can tell the experience itself is not at all unpleasant. I wish I could say with certainty what happens to those of us who do not come back but I have no idea based in experience.
Meanwhile life has to be lived and we all have to navigate amongst people who confuse us and misunderstand us and fail to trust us. The trick I am finding is to try not to worry too much and keep on keeping on. In answer to the original question: fine thanks and I hope you are too.