A single incident imprinted my life and changed it forever
The most significant moment of my life arrived one night many years ago when I was in my house alone. It arrived abruptly, unexpectedly. I was compelled to make an immediate yes or no decision. Yes for trust in something new, irrational – or no to stay hunkered down with the roots of my reality. I was twenty nine one years old.
A Little History
At the time, I lived in Santa Cruz, California. I had been arrested for drunk driving a while back – for the second time – and appeared before the same judge. As you might imagine, he was very unhappy to see me again and further inflamed that my companion had wound up in the hospital with a broken leg. Still, he offered me a choice: jail, or a twelve month program that consisted of various meetings, conversations, lectures and oversight. I didn't much care for the cost that went along with the program, but I had been in both civilian and military jail a few times before, and I cared for incarceration less.
I was a bit surprised I had been caught a second time. One night, before my second arrest but after several beers and a few heavy cups of Jack Daniels, I went out and tried to get caught. I no longer remember why, but I must have had a good reason. Whatever it was, I drove all over town for two hours. Each time I came to a stop sign or a red light, I kept going. At least if there no cars in the immediate vicinity of the intersection. I wanted to get arrested, not crumple the car. When Live Oak, Capitola, and Portola Drive produced no results, I went downtown to Center Street in front of the police station to try my luck. But none would have me and I finally gave up, went home, called it a night. Never a cop around when you want one.
The night of the most significant moment of my life was a Tuesday. I was sporadically employed and frequently loafed around until all hours. I didn’t have a television, but I had a lot of books. I had a typewriter. I had a drawing pad. I wasn’t extremely adept with my drawings, but they were recognizable and I enjoyed the activity.
I sat at my desk and drew a deep, wide canyon as viewed from one side. The bottom of the abyss wasn’t visible, but the far side was in view, distant and impossible to cross without help. The sides were vertical. A crude sketch, but it accurately conveyed my state of mind.
The drawing had a small sign pounded into the dirt on my side of the canyon, something like the announcement at the edge a vista point. But instead of saying Welcome to Texas or The Great Migration Route, it read: The End. Next to the sign, in roughly sketched coils, lay a rope.
Despite my feeling that I had reached the end of the line, I still harbored a hope, represented by the rope, to cross the void that lay in front of my life. To continue. But I had no idea how I could approach the task. The signs were there, as were the tools, but I didn’t know how to employ them.
Something had triggered my desire to draw that night. I was exposed, vulnerable and rejected by some now unimportant desire. I had quite a few of them in those days, hard to keep track, but my reaction this time was different. I sat balanced between gratitude and discontent.
Most of my discontent when I was younger stemmed from my inability to accept the world for what it was. I still don’t to some extent, but it was stronger then and I looked for ways to rebel. Sometimes my energy wasn’t focused and my rebellion didn’t have a well defined target. There was something to lash out at, but I couldn’t pin it down with a high degree of precision. Whatever it was, it was out there, not in the mirror. Of that I was certain.
But my certainty was soon to be shattered. Although I didn't know it when the night started out, I had arrived at the most important crossroads of my life.
The moment I laid my drawing pencil down, an intense fear fell upon me. Like an angry bear, it clawed me viciously. My body began to roast. My breathing became labored, sharp, and rapid. My heart pounded as a man pounds on the wood when he awakes in a coffin. I opened a window for air, hurried to the kitchen to drink juice, reached for the telephone to call for help. I needed an ambulance. It must be a heart attack, I thought.
Before I could dial, a voice appeared. Not only in the usual sense – acoustic vibrations of the air that reached my ears – but simultaneously as a sharp beam of light. I both saw and heard the sound. It came from above me and to my left, briefly illuminating the room. Put the phone down, it said, and trust.
I did – and with that, a horrible struggle began. A dark, opaque, immensely strong force pulled me, wrenched my arm down a dark path. Another distinctly different force, seemingly made of light, the voice that had spoken, did the same, but toward another path. Each claimed title over me, and each was determined to dominate the tournament to which, at this point, I was merely a spectator.
I knew what it was like to be out of control. I’d taken mountain curves on heated screaming tires, watched highway asphalt chewing my arm, been mashed inside a Volkswagen by a semi truck on the autobahn, been in furious street fights, and scraped my knees horizontal on sidewalks. In all of those, I could do something. Get up. Steer the wheel. At least scream. This was different. I was helpless. I had been completely taken over. I no longer owned my will. I was unable to offer resistance – or aid.
For the next several hours, my heart pounded with vicious intensity. My breaths stabbed me with their knifes. My body convulsed. I was bursting with energy, but it was not physical. It was wildly psychic and disconnected from any line of touchable activity. I laid myself down on my bed. Shadows entered the room, were pushed back. I spread my arms and felt my shoulder sockets tearing. My eyes burned and my throat was raw.
My fear intensified, withdrew, grew stronger again. I lay in some purgatory between worlds, could hear, or at least sense, arguments from both sides. Give him up, said one. He comes with me, said the other. I could do nothing but try feverishly to remember to trust.
Gradually, very gradually, as the hours trudged toward dawn, the dark, opaque force weakened. Not smoothly. It would weaken, but then return in wrath from its setback with almost, but not quite, the strength it had before. Slowly, very slowly, it wound down.
The View From Below
Eventually, the voice that had spoken to me at the onset took my hand. I don’t know how a voice could take my hand. It sounds almost impossible all these years later, but it did.
I was still afraid, perhaps more afraid than I had ever been, but the fear was at a buffered distance, and the voice assured me that the struggle was all but won. It was time to show me where I might have forever fallen. It was time to show me the bottom of the abyss I had subconsciously sketched.
We descended into a dusty underworld and walked through corridors crowded with standing corpses. Some wore Roman helmets, but there was nothing left of their faces. Their eyes – or rather, where their eyes might have been – looked across the hallways at other rows of death faces as we passed. They seemed to accuse, as if we had adjudicated their fate. Everything was covered in a fine patina of gray. I looked down and saw how our feet raised small cushioned clouds that drifted slowly over our ankles. There was not a single sound.
My chest hurt for a week. It was achingly sore, as if I had been battered with socks of rocks. At the next meeting of my mandated program, I told my counselor what had happened. He didn’t believe me, tried to brush it off.
I watched his face, watched him submit to the intractable weight of logical conclusions. I took a deep breath, got up, scraped my wooden chair on the wooden floor as I rose, walked out.
When I left the building and stood outside with a tree dancing its shades of light over my face in the light breeze, I knew I had walked out of more than a physical structure. I had walked out of my old life.
The Way Forward
Since that time, I find my way through the world with common sense and caution, but without fear. Or rather, with fear and uncertainty at times, but I push on anyway. I know that something looks out for me. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a super hero. I don’t have delusions of invincibility. My wounds bleed the same as everyone. But something looks out for me.
I’ve given it various names over the years, but only for convenience of communication, not as an adherence to a particular belief. Mostly I think of it as trust.
I know some people have continual spiritual experiences spread out little by little over a lifetime. Daily reminders. Sometimes I wish that could follow that road, but my path was to consume a single titanic dose of revelation in a single, extraordinary night. My life has never been the same. Something much bigger than me seized the very essence of my being and said: here is the real power of life, and don’t you ever, ever forget it.
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