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Death Comes Calling|
Samuel Johnson once said the prospect of being hanged concentrates a man's mind wonderfully. I can testify that the prospect, extended over an hour or two, of dying in a gasoline fireball does much the same. It dissolves your more commonplace troubles—money, divorce—and shows you what you really want to live for.
At one point I saw Death. He made no gesture, but he opened his mouth, and I looked right down his throat, which distended to become a tunnel. He expected me to yield, to go in. This filled me with abhorrence, a hatred of nonbeing. In that moment I realized that there is nothing, nothing whatsoever, outside of the life we have; that the 'meaning of life' is nothing other than life itself, obstinately asserting itself against emptiness. Life was so powerful, so demanding, and in my concussion and delirium, even as my systems were shutting down, I wanted it so much....
Such narratives...seem a long way from the nice, uplifting sort of near-death experience that religious writers like to effuse about. But perhaps the simple truth is that near death, you have visions of what most preoccupies you in life. I am a skeptic to whom the idea that a benign God created us and watches over us is somewhere between a fairy story and a poor joke. People of a religious bent are apt, under such conditions, to see the familiar images of near-death experience—the tunnel of white light with Jesus beckoning at the end, as featured in the memoirs of a score of American K-Mart mystics. Jesus must have been busy when my turn came: he didn't show. There was, as far as I could tell, absolutely nothing divine on the other side.
Citation: Robert Hughes, "In Death's Throat," Time (10-11-99); submitted by Rich Tatum, Carol Stream, Illinois