I’m not sure exactly what made me purchase Lee Strobel’s 2021 book, The Case for Heaven: A Journalist Investigates Evidence for Life After Death. I think it might have been an impulse buy after Bill and I had a talk about near death experiences. I have mentioned a few times in this blog that Bill had a near death experience in 1980, when he was 16 years old. He and his buddies were drinking beer somewhere near Houston, Texas, when one of his buddies’ girlfriends was having a teen girl hissy fit. She wanted to leave, so Bill’s friend, with whom he’d gotten a ride, mounted up his Subaru Brat– basically a car with a truck bed in the back. As it was 1980, it was legal for Bill to ride in the back. He went to climb in, but his friend hadn’t noticed and started to back up. Bill lost his footing and was soon under the car’s tires.
Fortunately, because he was so young when he had his accident, Bill’s injuries didn’t kill him. Save for a couple of scars and arthritis in his chest, as well as a couple of crushed disks in his back, he was mostly left with no physical ill effects. But he did have an experience that changed his life and, in my opinion, made him a different person than he might have been. He says he experienced a NDE that day and described it as being very peaceful and comforting. I had long ago read Life After Life, Dr. Raymond Moody’s 1975 book about NDEs, and found it fascinating. So, I probably bought Lee Strobel’s much newer book, because I figured it might be kind of like Raymond Moody’s book. But Strobel’s book isn’t like Moody’s book. It has a much more religious bent to it, which, for me, made it somewhat less of an enjoyable read.
Lee Strobel is a journalist who has a Master of Studies in Law degree from Yale University. For a good portion of his life, he was skeptical about religion. But then he found himself in a medical crisis. When he came to in an emergency room, the physician tending to him told him that he was a step away from a coma and two steps away from death. Mr. Strobel suffered from hyponatremia, which is a potentially lethal deficiency in blood sodium. I was immediately intrigued by that, since Bill also has chronic hyponatremia, as well as hypertension. He’s one of the few high blood pressure patients regularly advised to salt his food, since his blood is naturally low in sodium. If a person’s sodium is too low, their cells can swell, which can cause health problems that range from mild to severe. In Mr. Strobel’s case, the hyponatremia almost killed him, and during the episode that landed him in the hospital, he reportedly had a near death experience. It profoundly changed his life, and he went from being a skeptic about religion, to becoming a true believer.
Strobel writes well, which stands to reason, as he was once the award-winning legal editor for the Chicago Tribune. His work has put him in touch with many interesting people, some of whom he describes in The Case for Heaven. I mostly enjoyed reading his thoughts on what happens after we die, as well as some of the stories he includes about people’s NDEs. The book attempts to provide concrete that Heaven is for real, and for some people, it will succeed and be a great comfort.
However, for me, this book was kind of difficult to get through. The religious aspect of it was a bit of a turn off, especially since it’s really directed at Christians. I was raised a Christian, and don’t quite consider myself an atheist, but I’m not a very religious person. I was expecting this book to be more about the actual experience of having a NDE, but after a couple of chapters, it sort of veers away from that topic and delves into other areas that seemed less relevant to whether or not there’s really a Heaven, and more about Mr. Strobel’s beliefs about faith and religion.
I do remember reading some of Strobel’s thoughts on Hell, which were kind of surprising to me. He uses Bible verses to explain what Hell really is, and what it’s actually like. Most of us think of Hell as a lake of fire with never ending suffering and torment for those consigned to go there. Below is a video in which he discusses his thoughts on Hell with podcaster, Alisa Childers. Strobel’s thoughts on Hell did interest me, in fact, probably more than most of the rest of The Case for Heaven did. I might recommend this book simply for that part of it.
I notice that many Amazon reviewers were already fans of Mr. Strobel’s work. He wrote a well-received book called The Case for Christ, that I’ve seen many people referencing. Some write this book isn’t as good as that one is, while others opine that The Case for Heaven is a perfect companion to the earlier work. I haven’t read any of Strobel’s other books, so this is my first experience with his writing. I can tell that he has a gift for grabbing his readers. I was into the book when I first started reading it. But then, after a couple of chapters, continuing to read became a real struggle. I found myself rushing to finish it, skimming instead of really focusing on the writing. I’m a pretty experienced and enthusiastic reader, and I try hard to finish the books I start. I just found this book hard to finish, even though it’s well written and researched. Strobel does, for instance, include an extensive reference section for those who want to explore more.
So, I’m left with a mixed mind about The Case for Heaven. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it… and nothing really exciting sticks out for me about it, other than the fact that Mr. Strobel has had hyponatremia, like my husband has. But I’m sure that some people– particularly those who are very religious, and regularly read books about faith and Christianity– will enjoy this book and be comforted by it. For me, it was just kind of “meh”… and I much prefer Dr. Moody’s classic, Life After Life. I think I would prefer more of a scientific approach, complete with stories of experiences of NDEs, rather than discussion about the Bible or religion.
I think if I were rating this on a five star scale, I would give The Case for Heaven three stars. It’s probably best for people who enjoy religious books, especially from a protestant Christian perspective, and especially for those who have read Mr. Strobel’s other books. As for me, I’m happy to move on to my next title, which has already grabbed my attention.
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When I was a child, the old sitcom M*A*S*H was still airing on television. I remember the instrumental version of the show’s theme song, which was titled “Suicide Is Painless”. The song’s lyrics went:
Through early morning fog I see Visions of the things to be The pains that are withheld for me I realize and I can see
That suicide is painless It brings on many changes And I can take or leave it If I please
The game of life is hard to play I’m gonna lose it anyway The losing card I’ll someday lay So this is all I have to say
Suicide is painless (suicide) It brings on many changes And I can take or leave it If I please
The sword of time will pierce our skins It doesn’t hurt when it begins But as it works its way on in The pain grows stronger, watch it grin
Suicide is painless It brings on many changes And I can take or leave it If I please
A brave man once requested me To answer questions that are key “Is it to be or not to be?” And I replied, “Oh, why ask me?”
Suicide is painless It brings on many changes And I can take or leave it If I please
And you can do the same thing If you please
The story goes that this song was written for the 1970 film version of M*A*S*H, and in the film, the song was sung by The Ron Hicklin Singers. The song’s composer is Johnny Mandel, and the film’s director, Robert Altman, wanted it to be the “stupidest song ever written.” Altman, then in his mid 40s, attempted to come up with “stupid” lyrics, but found that he couldn’t come up with any that were “stupid enough”. So he asked his then 14 year old son, Mike, to write the words to the song, which Mike was able to do in just a few minutes. The funny thing is, Altman only earned about $70,000 for directing the movie, but his son has reportedly made over $1 million for co-writing the “stupidest” song ever written. Absurd, isn’t it?
My early 20s I could see Visions of my life to be. The costs that were laid out for me I realized what I can’t be…
Cuz’ parenthood is pricey! And the job market is dicey! And that is why my womb remains empty.
The game of life is full of chance. So much is left to circumstance. There’s so much that is up to fate. So childbirth, I’ll procrastinate.
Cuz’ parenthood is pricey! The job market is dicey! And that is why my womb remained empty.
Painful student loans will last… It doesn’t hurt ’til time has passed. By then, too many years have gone For me to take parenthood on…
Cuz’ parenthood is pricey! The job market is dicey! And that is why my womb is so empty.
A brave reporter once asked me “Why haven’t you made a mini me? Don’t you want your own family?” And I replied “How can it be?”
Cuz parenthood is pricey! The job market is dicey! And that is why my womb is still empty.
And my friends are mostly doing the same thing…
I remember the urge to make the parody popped into my head randomly. It was a flicker of inspiration that I decided to feed, after I wrote a blog post about reasons why people aren’t having so many kids these days. Of course, in 2018, we had no idea of the epic shitshow that awaited us in 2020, 2021, and 2022. I had written a lengthy and revelatory post about why Bill and I never sought reproductive assistance when it became apparent that his vasectomy reversal wasn’t going to be enough to make us parents. When I was still fertile, we were broke. We aren’t broke anymore, but I just turned 50 and pregnancy would probably either kill me or make me sick, if by some miracle it could even happen. And now, I don’t want kids anymore, because of the epic shitshow I mentioned. So maybe we were lucky things worked out how they did.
I’m not sure if the birth rate is still declining. That’s not really the point of this post. I just remembered the song, and how I rewrote the lyrics. I used to enjoy making song parodies, writing fiction, and engaging in other creative pursuits. But thanks to a former blog follower who mocked my efforts, I’ve lost a lot of the desire to do the funny, creative stuff I used to love doing. It’s like there’s a block there, because I really just want to get through this life with as few altercations as possible.
Ironically enough, that person is now dead, because she committed suicide. I don’t know why she took that action, and I don’t rejoice in her decision, especially since I have seen evidence that many people who were left behind are now hurting. She had two children who have now lost their mother forever, and will always have to deal with that huge loss for the rest of their lives. It will affect other people, too. People they’ve not even met yet, who will have to shoulder the baggage that came from that tragic decision. Suicide is definitely not painless for those who are left in the wake of it. I suspect it isn’t painless for the people who do it, either, even when it’s done quickly and violently.
A few months ago, I wrote about how several people in Bill’s and my world had made the choice to kill themselves. We weren’t particularly close to any of them– they were mainly just people on the peripheries of our lives. Still, we were affected by the fact that they made that choice and it was publicized. There’s always this sense of shock and wonder when someone takes their own life. What made them do it? What was the final straw that pushed them to make that decision? Bill was so shaken by it, he even searched Google for links about it while he was at work. That decision was discovered by the IT guys at his job, and he ended up getting a talking to by his boss, who was concerned that Bill might be contemplating suicide. See how suicide has ripple effects, even toward people who aren’t involved? The three people who ended their lives by suicide affected us enough to talk about it and search for information on the Internet. And then other people– completely uninvolved– felt compelled to talk to us about it, in case we were thinking of doing it ourselves.
A couple of days ago, I learned that yet another person in my sphere took their own life. Apparently, this person decided to exit life on their own terms because of a chronic illness that was causing them a lot of pain and disability. I looked at their most recent posts on social media, and realize that in the days before their exit, there weren’t really any obvious hints of what was coming. A couple of memes are there– they seem prescient now, but wouldn’t have seemed like that at the time they were posted. And now, there are so many tributes to this person about what a wonderful, kind, caring, awesome person they were, and how much they are already missed. I wonder how many of them said that before the suicide happened. I wonder what the point of saying it now is, although I know that many people believe in life after death, and assume that perhaps the person is looking down from Heaven… or maybe up from Hell? I don’t know.
My husband had a near death experience when he was a teenager. I know not everyone believes in those, but I have read enough books about people who have been clinically dead and came “back” from the beyond that I think there might be something to them. I think the experience changed Bill on many levels. Even if what he experienced was nothing but a massive discharge of endorphins as life briefly ebbed away from him, it still gives me comfort. A few months ago, an Epinions friend passed away from cancer, and I remember one of her last posts was that we shouldn’t fear dying. She said that it doesn’t hurt… you just slip away. But what if your death is unnatural? What if you weren’t meant to die? Is suicide that painless? Maybe after it happens, it’s painless. No one’s “home” anymore. It’s not painless for the people who remain in their Earthly existences. A lot of them are left with endless questions, guilt, and grief, as they try to make sense of what may seem senseless to them.
We really are all affected by each other. I used to love to write things that were “creative”. I lost the urge to write creative stuff after that huge mess caused by a woman who shamed me for doing it. That woman is now dead, because she decided to exit life on her own terms. I’m still left the aftereffects of her last words to me. They were her last words, because I blocked her from contacting me a few years before she died. Maybe all isn’t lost, though. That flicker could come back to life, as if it experienced a near death experience or resurrection.
The other day, when I was in the shower, thinking about the whole abortion debate, I had another flicker of inspiration as an idea for a satire piece came into my head. For a moment, I was excited about it. I thought maybe I’d sit down and write something. I wouldn’t be doing it for anything but satisfying my own urges to write and express myself in an interesting way. But then the doubt came back, put there by someone who couldn’t simply leave me alone, and I pushed it out of my head. Still, it was a flicker of inspiration… and maybe it’s time I got back down to business. Because I really do believe that expression can be one way to avoid committing suicide. Even if it’s just expressing oneself to someone who cares and might offer another perspective… one that offers a different reality that the person whose mind is muddied with thoughts of suicide can’t consider at the time.
And now, I am going to repost the article I wrote that birthed the song parody I wrote above. This was written on May 18, 2018, and I’m going to leave it “as/is”. Maybe the flicker will come back again.
My fat ass itches… (I’m sure this is one of the posts I wrote that the former “spy” disapproved of.)
Today’s blog post comes courtesy of my old buddy, Ken Turetzky, who wrote and sang a hilarious song of the same name. I “met” Ken online about ten years ago, when I wrote a review of a compilation album done by comedian/musician Red Peters. I discovered Red Peters when Bill and I went to a karaoke night at Fort Belvoir’s Officers’ Club and the hosts played Peters’ infamous “Closing Song” to finish the evening. I thought it was hilarious, so I bought Peters’ two available albums and became a fan.
Years later, Red Peters got into promoting other comedic musicians. Turetzky’s hit song, “Her Shit Don’t Stink” was among the songs on Peters’ compilation, which I purchased the last time we were living in Germany. To this day, I can’t listen to some songs on that album and not have idyllic memories of our first Germany tour. Anyway, Turetzky happened to find my Epinions review and engaged me in the comments section. Now we’re Facebook friends.
This morning, as I was waking up, I read a news article about how the U.S. Fertility Rate Fell to a Record Low for the Second Straight Year. Actually, the title of this article is misleading. It’s not that Americans are infertile. It’s that they aren’t having as many babies. Frankly, I think that’s a good thing. Our country is well and truly fucked right now and plenty of people are having trouble simply supporting themselves. The Trump administration seems to be doing its level best to erase any protections for American citizens. The whole country appears to be in a shambles. So I don’t blame young people for not wanting to reproduce right now. Besides, we’ve got PLENTY of people as it is.
But seriously, though. Think about what young people are up against. Young people today are leaving college saddled with massive student loans. Student loans can’t be discharged in a bankruptcy. And well paying jobs, which would make use of those hard won degrees, are in short supply. Now… one doesn’t necessarily have to go to college in order to make a good living. Some people are able to learn trades or are gifted athletes or musicians. Some people luck into money or are born into wealth. But, for a lot of people, college is the gateway to a decent career. There are a lot of jobs that require a degree and, in America, it’s expensive to get a degree. So lots of young folks start off their best fertility years ladened with debt. That makes it a lot less appealing for young people to make babies.
I will be turning 46 next month and by September, I expect to have my student loans completely paid. I will be accomplishing this goal about nine years ahead of schedule. When I think about it, it’s pretty amazing, especially since Bill and I started our marriage completely broke. That “broke” period lasted about five years, as Bill recovered from financial disasters wrought in his first marriage and paid massive child support. It finally turned around when Bill went to Iraq and started earning combat pay. I used the extra money to get rid of some debt and start paying ahead on my student loans. I started by paying an extra $20 a month and snowballed it for years.
For awhile, I got letters from my student loan service letting me know the extra money wasn’t necessary. Like hell it wasn’t. When I consolidated my loans, I owed $57,000 and that was before the interest. Of course, I have three degrees. However, I don’t currently use my college degrees to make a big paycheck. Life did not go in a direction where that would have been possible for me. I happened to marry a kind, generous man who was willing to help me. Not everyone is as lucky as I’ve been. Plenty of young people are now leaving college with as much debt as I once had, and they only have one degree.
When you have to pay a lot of money for your student loans and your job isn’t necessarily secure, it might make you think twice about buying a home. It might make you think twice about getting married or having children. And then, once you have those children, you have to worry about all of the things that come from having them… not the least of which is how much it costs. Kids are expensive. Even if your child is healthy, they cost a lot of money. If your child isn’t healthy, then there are other expenses to consider.
And then, as you have your kids– maybe when you’re in your thirties, prime earning years– your parents might start having medical issues. In my case, I was blessed with healthy, independent folks. My dad had full medical coverage courtesy of being a retired Air Force officer. My mom is very healthy and independent and has a good head for money. So she’s doing fine. Bill’s dad and stepmother, likewise, seem to be doing okay. Bill’s mom needs help, but Bill is lucky enough to make good money right now. At any point, that reality could change and screw things up. If your parents aren’t healthy and can’t afford to take care of themselves, then you might be tasked with helping them. And that takes money. Sure, you can tell your parents to bugger off if you’re really selfish or sociopathic, but most people aren’t like that.
So… I can see why a lot of younger folks are holding off on having children. Those who wait until they have money might have a harder time reproducing. Fertility declines as a person ages. Yes, there are women out there who can get pregnant naturally when they are in their mid 40s. Women who decide to wait for their kids until they’ve become settled in their careers might find themselves pondering spending thousands on fertility treatments. Some might decide to go to another country for cheaper fertility treatments. If anything goes wrong, though, their health insurance probably won’t pay for anything related to care they received out of the country. That’s if they can afford to have health insurance in the first place.
I have no idea how fertile I am, since our fertility issues were probably caused by Bill’s vasectomy and subsequent reversal. I never bothered to get thoroughly checked out because when I was in my 30s, we were still broke. Any kind of fertility treatment would have cost money we didn’t have, even if we could have gotten that treatment at a substantial discount, thanks to the military. I didn’t want to stay broke, so I focused on getting rid of debt instead of having children.
I was also influenced by a woman I met while living at Fort Belvoir. Like me, she had trouble conceiving. She got fertility treatments and eventually had a son. Sadly, he was born with multiple devastating birth defects. He needed round the clock care. She went from being a wife in a comfortable financial situation with two dogs, to a woman who spent all of her time trying to take care of her very medically fragile baby boy. I remember very clearly when she warned me that if I had fertility treatments, I could end up in the situation she was in. She seemed bitter about it. I have to admit that I had a lot of empathy for her. All she wanted was to simply be a mother. She was lucky, though, in that she had access to military healthcare and housing. Still, caring for her baby meant she needed extra help. And that also costs serious money.
These are just a few reasons why women aren’t having babies. I haven’t even touched on the fact that a lot of men who might be decent fathers are scared of commitment. Frankly, I can’t blame them for that. If a marriage fails, and many of them do, it can cost a lot of money. Men, more often often than women, wind up being on the hook for child support for years. It happened to Bill. It was a long stretch of being nearly broke while working his ass off, while his first wife denied him access to his daughters, and his second wife struggled to find work. Trust me, it’s not fun, although Bill and I were lucky enough to be able to survive and thrive. Not everyone is as lucky as we’ve been.
I also didn’t even get into people who are involved in religions that demand a lot of tithing. When I met Bill, he was still a Mormon and obliged to give ten percent of his gross income to the church. That was so he could be “temple worthy”… which meant he was allowed to wear the special underwear and enter the temple and participate in culty religious ordinances that were either very bizarre or very boring. Again, ten percent of one’s income, especially when the income isn’t quite enough, is a lot of money. It tends to discourage reproduction, even as church leaders are encouraging it.
Anyway, I posted the article by The New York Times on my Facebook page and it immediately attracted comments. A few comments came from my old online comedian friend, Ken Turetzky. I remembered his silly song, “My Fat Ass Itches” and its bluesy hooks. I suggested to Ken that maybe he ought to write a blues song inspired by the article I posted. But, you know what? Maybe I’ll do it myself. I have all day. I have no job. I have no other purpose other than to comment on the news. And, by some miracle, I managed to get to middle age without defaulting on any loans. But I have no descendants or dependents… and when I die, the mold will be broken. Maybe that’s a good thing.
Yeah… I’ll think about it. If I come up with a blues song, maybe I’ll post it later (see above). If I don’t come up with one or otherwise get distracted, I’ll just write another meaningless blog post about the state of life today.
Here’s a repost of a movie review I wrote in August 2015. It appears here as/is.
It may seem strange that I would review a 35 year old film. I’m not even one to watch a lot of movies these days. I decided to purchase a copy of Resurrection, a film made in 1980 starring Ellen Burstyn, Richard Farnsworth, and Sam Shepard, because I’ve had the soundtrack stuck in my head for what seems like ages. I used to watch Resurrection when HBO ran it all the time. Since I was a kid back then, I didn’t get all the nuances of the film as I did yesterday, when I watched it for the first time in probably 30 years.
Ellen Burstyn plays Edna Mae Macauley, a woman who had just bought her husband a new car. The two got in the car and went for a joyride along the Pacific coast, when a boy suddenly skateboarded in front of the car. Edna Mae’s husband swerved to avoid hitting the kid and they went over a cliff. Somehow, Edna Mae survived, despite the fact that neither of them wore seatbelts. Her husband died. I feel I should mention that there’s a pretty cheesy special effect when the car crashes. The screen goes black and we see shattering glass. It’s obviously very fabricated and fake, but gets the point across.
Edna Mae has a near death experience, where she sees friends and family who have passed on. Just as she’s getting comfortable going into the light, she gets sucked back to Earth.
Edna Mae wakes up in a hospital room. She is badly injured and winds up in a wheelchair. She moves back to her rural hometown in Kansas (actually Texas, which is where much of this movie was filmed). Her family takes care of her, though they are a bit reserved and God fearing. This is a stark contrast to Edna Mae’s warm, free spirited visage.
One day at a family picnic, one of the kids gets a bloody nose. Edna Mae takes the child in her arms and calms her down. The nosebleed miraculously stops. This is the first sign that Edna Mae now has healing powers. Eventually, she even heals herself and then starts to heal others. She has about a 70 percent success rate. Scientists want to study her.
She meets a man, the son of a Bible thumping zealot. They start a relationship, but he’s uncomfortable with her “powers”. Much of the movie is about their relationship, as well as the rocky one Edna Mae has with her father, who thinks of her as a whore. By the end of the film, we find out why he feels the way he does.
I think Resurrection is a really good movie and the ending is powerful. I’m surprised it took so long to become available on DVD, since it’s well-acted by people who have actual talent. Yes, if you buy this on DVD, you will get a published on demand copy, which carries some risks. I was pretty happy with the quality of the DVD I got.
I love watching films from the early 80s because they remind me of a time when life was simpler and we didn’t have so many stupid rules… and people weren’t always butting into other people’s business. Or, if they were, the whole world didn’t know about it. Besides that, I just think Resurrection is a gem of a film. And, while I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the concept of God or an afterlife, I do find the story kind of comforting.
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Last night, I read an article about elderly people who suddenly find themselves homeless since the advent of COVID-19. The piece, which appeared in The New York Times, featured the story of a man named Miles Oliver who lived in Phoenix, Arizona. Originally from Chicago, Oliver came to Arizona by way of the Army over thirty years ago, when he was a new recruit assigned to Fort Huachuca. He liked Arizona and decided to stay there once his stint with the Army was finished.
According to The New York Times article, Mr. Oliver had been able to make a life for himself in Arizona by working day labor jobs and delivering pizzas for Papa John’s. But then COVID-19 struck and Oliver was soon out of work. To make matters worse, work had already been slow in February, before things really started to get bleak in terms of the virus. Oliver was soon face with the difficult decision of either paying his rent or paying his car note, $230 for a 2007 Ford Fusion. He decided to pay the car note, since it was a source of shelter and transportation. By the end of April, he was kicked out of his home, forced to grab just a few necessary items– reading glasses, socks and underwear, and Metformin for his blood sugar, before he hit the streets in his car. By late June, his car quit working.
Oliver has an ex wife and two children. His older son is estranged and hasn’t spoken to him in years. His younger son is a student and in no position to help him. He doesn’t speak to his ex wife. He has diabetes and sleep apnea, and although he is a veteran and qualifies for some benefits, his future looks dim.
As I read about Mr. Oliver’s plight, it occurred to me that he’s about Bill’s age. Once again, I was reminded of how quickly and drastically things can change. I’ve been doing what I can to mitigate the risks that someday, I’ll find myself homeless. I looked at Bill and said, “You know what? I think if I were in that situation, I’d be tempted to just check out.” I said this mainly because although I am not necessarily estranged from my family, neither am I particularly close to them. I don’t have children, and although I am well-educated and privileged, I was never able to parlay that into a job that paid me enough to live on. If I couldn’t do it 20 years ago, how can I do it now? And why would I want to? Without Bill, I’m not sure why I’d stick around this hellhole we call Earth, which is swirling with plagues, natural disasters, and selfish, shitty politicians like Trump and Mitch McConnell.
Bill, who is eternally optimistic and has survived some pretty dim odds himself, gave me a pained look. Although he knows I suffer from depression and that makes me look on the dark side of things, I don’t think he’s ever gotten used to that unfailingly pragmatic aspect of my personality. It’s also kind of anti-American to “give up” on life. Bill has never felt the urge to off himself, despite his brush with death when he was a teenager. I, on the other hand, used to feel suicidal somewhat often. I’ve often felt ambivalent and apathetic about life. I was told more than once that I wasn’t wanted by the people who were responsible for creating me. They later came to appreciate me, but those comments left a deep scar that has affected my self-worth. And I just feel like if I were in a situation as an old woman without a home, family, or friends, I wouldn’t want to bother going on. But then I started thinking about it some more and realized that maybe I was wrong to think that way.
I thought about all of the challenges facing Mr. Oliver. He’s an older Black man, with no family able to help him and, it appears, few friends. He’s got health problems, but no money or resources to take care of them. There’s a pandemic raging, and we have a president who doesn’t care about people. And yet he is clearly a survivor. He has reached out for assistance. His story was told in The New York Times. Maybe I got the wrong message.
After I told Bill about why I felt it would be more expedient to “check out” than try to rebuild life as a homeless person, I looked behind me at Noizy. He’s still stuck in the corner of our living room, slowly getting braver by the day. I started to think about how he’d once been a homeless puppy, weaned too early from his mother, and left to die in a country where dogs aren’t appreciated. It’s kind of a miracle that he’s here with us in Germany. What are the odds?
Noizy was brought to his American rescuer, Meg, by a young man in Kosovo who had seen him in the street, screaming for help. He brought the puppy to Meg because he didn’t know where else to take him. Kosovo has a big problem with street dogs, but the culture doesn’t support animal rescue too well. Many people in Kosovo are Muslim and many Muslims consider dogs impure and unclean. Meg didn’t need another puppy to take care of, but she decided to keep Noizy anyway. She watched him grow from tiny puppy to gigantic adult. I’m sure she wondered what his future would hold.
And then, Bill and I came along, looking for a new canine friend. We had just tragically lost a dog we’d tried to adopt, one who was much closer to the type of dog we usually take into our home. It took some time for us to decide we really wanted another dog, and it was definitely not our plan to adopt a big dog– especially one as large as Noizy is. But once I saw Noizy’s face, I was hooked. There was something about his eyes that touched my heart. I have never been sorry when I’ve taken in a dog, and every single one we’ve adopted touched me through a photograph.
I started thinking about all of the people who came together to see that Noizy found a home. He spent 18 months living on a farm in Kosovo, one of many dogs living there, cared for by a farmer who has a soft spot for dogs and was willing to help Meg, who had moved from Kosovo to Germany and couldn’t take her rescues with her. She had paid for the dogs to be taken care of on the farm while she looked afar for potential rescuers. Most of these dogs haven’t lived as pets in a home.
I just happened to have a friend who knew Meg and introduced us. I met this friend in Stuttgart a few years ago, again by chance. We’ve only seen each other in person once, but our mutual friend is very involved in dog rescue herself and has a couple of exotic dogs from far flung countries like Thailand and Afghanistan. She told Meg that one of her dogs would be very lucky to be placed with us. It was like the stars aligned.
I just met Meg in person the other day. She is very impressive. Somehow, she has managed to develop a powerful network of people in Kosovo, Serbia, Slovenia, and Croatia who have helped her on her mission to save some street dogs. What are the odds that a tiny puppy like Noizy would end up in Meg’s care? What are the odds that she would be found by a local young man who cared about the puppy’s life enough to seek her out? It was much more likely that the noisy puppy would have languished and died.
Even once we’d decided when to pick up Noizy, there were challenges. First, there was the whole COVID-19 situation, which is causing countries to shut their borders again. Fortunately, that didn’t affect us during our trip, although it as definitely a concern. And then, when Meg was bringing Noizy and two other dogs up to Slovenia to hand off to Bill and me, her car broke down. Another American couple (younger and able to take another day to travel) drove an extra 400 kilometers to help Meg get the dogs to Slovenia. They drove all night, very slowly, to make it happen.
Soon Noizy was in the back of our Volvo, with our other dog, Arran, looking pissy in the back seat. On his first night in our home, Noizy was obsessed with going outside. It’s what he knew. He hugged the door to our yard, taking every opportunity to go out. He bumped his head on the glass, apparently because he’d never seen a glass door before. Within 24 hours, he clearly preferred being indoors rather than outdoors. He’s staked out a part of our living room and won’t venture beyond that area. But every time he sees me, he looks delighted and wags his tail excitedly. He rolls on his back for a belly rub. He’s learned how to drink from a water bowl and eat from a dish. He’s even been pretty good (but not perfect) with peeing and pooping outside. Noizy is clearly game for the challenge of learning how to be a pet.
A few days ago, Bill had an epiphany about Noizy. In 2012, when we were vacationing in Scotland in honor of our tenth wedding anniversary, we got the devastating news that our beagle/basset hound mix, MacGregor, had a spinal tumor. At the time, we lived in North Carolina. Vets had told us before we left for our trip that they thought MacGregor had disk disease. If we had known it was a tumor (which they only discovered after he had a MRI), we probably would have made other choices about our vacation.
The night we found out about the cancer and the vet’s suggestion that we euthanize MacGregor, Bill had a nightmare. He dreamt he was being chased by many dogs. He thought they wanted to hurt him, so he initially threw rocks at them. But then he realized they weren’t trying to attack him at all. They all needed help. One dog in particular was kind of eerie looking. He had gleaming eyes, but he wasn’t menacing.
The next morning, we got off the Hebridean Princess and took a taxi to Edinburgh. As we were passing the lovely town of Stirling, Bill considered his dream and what it meant. He knew it meant we were going to be helping dogs… perhaps even a lot of them. As he thought more about his dream while we rode toward Edinburgh, Bill came to assume that the gleaming eyed dog represented death, which will always be there whenever there’s a living creature involved in a situation. The dream has stuck with him almost eight years later. This past Sunday, as we were driving to Germany with Noizy and Arran, Bill said “You know what? That dog in my dream looked a lot like Noizy.”
Later, Bill told Meg about his dream. Meg, who studies Jungian psychology, offered her take on it. Then she told us about what Noizy meant to her and how he came to be in her care. I hope Meg doesn’t mind that I share this one bit from her explanation… because I have been thinking about it a lot over the past few days. She wrote that to her, Noizy represents hope for the future. He should have died on the street, but he screamed for help (hence his name). A young man, native to a country that doesn’t necessarily appreciate dogs, came to his rescue and gave him to Meg, a woman who rescues dogs.
Why did the young man give Noizy to Meg? Because he had hope that Meg could save the puppy and give him a future. The alternative was to let him die. Meg told us that a lot of the young people of Kosovo don’t have a lot of hope. They are in a country that isn’t recognized everywhere yet. Their country is troubled, and the young people wonder if anyone cares about them.
Why did Meg give Noizy to us? She said it was hard for her. I could tell she was very emotional when we took him. He’s a big, powerful dog, though, and Meg has many dogs who need homes. Meg is also retired and has physical and financial limitations that may preclude taking care of Noizy the way we can. Even though we’re doing fine so far, I wonder what the future holds for us. I’m no spring chicken myself. 😉 But I do have plenty of time, and Bill and I– at least for now– have a secure home and money for food, vet care, and anything else Noizy needs. So we’re going to do our best to make sure that young man’s hope for Noizy will not be unfulfilled.
And maybe I can learn a lesson from Noizy, too. Against all odds, he’s up here in Germany, about to live his best life… to the best of our ability to give it to him. We’re an unlikely match. Bill and I have always had beagle mixes, after all… and we’re renters with a somewhat nomadic lifestyle. But I think I can teach Noizy a thing or two, and he can teach me even more than that. At the very least, he can teach me that maybe “checking out” isn’t the best thing to do when one is suddenly homeless or facing another major adversity.
I hope Miles Oliver finds what he needs to start over and live his best life with whatever time he has left. And I thank him for his story, which affected me more than I realized when I read it last night.
No, I’m not referring to the 1986 pop song by Wham!, which I used to love when I was 14 years old. I’m referring to the place commonly referred to as Heaven. But if you’re curious about the song by Wham!, here’s a link.
Anyway, for those of you who don’t care about Wham! or already know this song, I’ll get on with today’s topic of near death experiences (NDEs).
Many years ago, I read a book called Life After Life. It was written by Raymond A. Moody Jr., MD. I don’t know who brought it into my parents’ house, but I found it in a handsome antique bookshelf my mom had. The book, which was originally published in 1975, is about near death experiences. Dr. Moody had noticed that he had many patients who had experienced “life after death”. They had seen themselves being operated on or watched as other people tended to them, as if they were witnesses in a room. They had floated above their physical bodies and, in many cases, drifted toward whatever waits for us after we die.
A lot of people don’t believe in NDEs. For instance, I have learned never to bring them up or respond to threads about NDEs on the Recovery from Mormonism message board, because there is a vocal, persistent, and obnoxious posse of people there who have no tolerance for discussion of life after death. Many of the people who are against NDEs are atheists. They don’t believe in God and don’t like discussions about what happens to a person who dies temporarily. They often dismiss these phenomenons as a release of endorphins that make dying more tolerable.
Honestly, I don’t know where the truth lies. I am not a particularly religious person myself. I do think I’m kind of spiritual. I’m not quite at the point at which I would call myself an atheist, though, because I have experienced some things that make me wonder if there really is a “hand of the almighty”.
For instance, about 21 years ago, I had an extremely close call while driving to work one afternoon. I was in my Toyota Corolla on a two lane road. I came upon an intersection where there was just a stop sign. Someone was at the stop sign and had pulled slightly out into the road. I had to swerve to miss the front end of the car at the stop sign. As I was swerving, another car approached in the opposite direction on the two lane road. I hadn’t seen the oncoming car because of some trees that obscured the view ahead.
Somehow, I managed to maneuver perfectly, with very precise timing, and missed the car at the intersection as well as the oncoming car. I could have very easily hit them head on, but somehow I didn’t. I think this might have been the day that John F. Kennedy Jr. died in a plane crash with his wife, Caroline Bessette Kennedy, and her sister. I seem to remember thinking about how they had so suddenly died on their way to a wedding.
I can’t explain how my reflexes worked so fast. I am certainly not a terrible driver, but I’ve never been particularly gifted physically. Still, I somehow managed to avoid what would have been a terrible accident. And yes, it really did seem like there was a guiding hand that did the steering for me. It just wasn’t time for me to have a car accident that took me or the other driver out of the world. I should also mention that in 1998 and 1999, I regularly considered suicide because I was crippled by depression and anxiety. I never made any truly serious attempts, but I did think about it a lot. I suppose that a head on collision would have been one way to end it, if I’d really wanted to or it was my time to go.
Bill, on the other hand, has experienced a car accident that could have killed him. I have written about this before, but here’s a repeat for those who missed the story the first time. In 1980, when Bill was about 16 years old, he was in Houston partying with some of his teenaged buddies. They were drinking beer in a parking lot.
One of Bill’s friends had a Subaru Brat. See today’s featured photo for reference to what they looked like. Basically, they were like a car mixed with a pickup truck, and they were really ugly. Back in the 1980s, we also had Pontiac El Caminos, which were equally ugly car/pickup truck hybrids kind of similar to Subaru Brats. I guess El Caminos were for people who liked that style of vehicle, but wanted to buy American. Just imagine! That Subaru Brat truly could have been the vehicle that literally delivered Bill to the edge of Heaven!
Anyway, the guy who owned the Brat had a girlfriend who was angsty about something, which is customary for most teenaged girls. She threw a tantrum of some sort and decided that she wanted to leave the beer drinking festivities. Bill had gotten a ride to the parking lot with them, so when he noticed his friend was about to drive off, he made a move to hop into the “bed” of the Subaru Brat. As he was mounting the car’s rear bumper, Bill’s completely oblivious and preoccupied pal started to back up the vehicle. He didn’t know that Bill was trying to get into the back of the car. Consequently, the teenaged brat driving the Subaru Brat backed over the sixteen year old version of my husband as if he was a speed bump.
Bill has told me the story about his car accident many times. He’s said he was extremely frightened as the car’s rear tire rolled over his chest, thankfully still somewhat protected by cartilage. He felt the gravel beneath him give slightly, which was probably one reason why he didn’t die. Then he blacked out and found himself in a very still expanse of nothingness that was absolutely peaceful and comforting. Bill said he somehow knew that if he gave into the peacefulness, he would be okay… but he would cease to exist. However, he was completely fine with no longer existing. He was in a place where there was no suffering or stress. It was just calm and devoid of any negativity.
Of course, Bill didn’t end up going toward the bright light at the end of the tunnel. He soon found himself back in his own body. He was terrified and racked with pain, and he had a collapsed lung and eyes filled with blood. He spent a week in the hospital and the doctor told him that he probably survived because he was so young and his chest cavity hadn’t yet hardened into bone. He also told him that he would have arthritis in his chest to look forward to as he aged. That prediction has, in fact, come to pass.
I have often marveled at how kind, mature, unselfish, and gentle Bill is. He doesn’t like religion, but he is very much in tune with God, in a way that isn’t annoying or obnoxious. One other thing I’ve noticed about Bill is that he has an amazing ability to find pain in me. When I have a sore muscle or painful trigger point, he can somehow find it within seconds. He knows exactly where to touch me to relieve the ache. It’s like he has a healing quality. I don’t know if that is related to his experience with near death, but I sometimes wonder if it is. All I know is that he’s a very unique and interesting person. I don’t know anyone else like him.
So why is this topic coming up today? It’s because this morning, as I was thinking about what to write about, I happened to see a video about a man who had a near death experience. This video is about Scott Drummond, who had a NDE when he was 28 years old.
And… sure enough, I looked up this video and see it’s associated with a LDS Web site… The channel affiliated with the above video only has two videos on it, but it has a lot of subscribers. Scott Drummond does mention skiing in Park City, Utah, but that doesn’t necessarily make a person LDS.
Well, whether or not Scott Drummond is Mormon, I am interested in hearing his story. Bill was not LDS when he had his experience, although he did later convert for awhile. He joined the church in 1997 and officially left it in 2006, so he was Mormon for nine years. I have read a lot of stories about NDEs and they seem to have a universal theme, regardless of a person’s religious beliefs. I find these stories fascinating. Even if there’s nothing once the brain and body are totally dead, it’s comforting to think that the process of dying isn’t horrible. Once the lights go out for good, you won’t know the difference, anyway. I don’t remember what it was like to be pre-born, after all.
Bill is the only person I have known personally who has experienced a near death event, although I first read about them sometime in the 1980s. I believe him when he tells me that he’s had a near death experience. I know him very well, and he doesn’t routinely lie about things. I consider all of the other difficult situations he’s been in that he’s survived, like being in the Pentagon on 9/11, having just had his office moved from the section that was hit… like being married to a hateful woman who once told him she should just “cut his throat” when she thought he was sleeping… like going to war with a narcissistic asswipe who took delight in playing head games with Soldiers while they were in a war zone… like having an abusive transgendered stepfather at a time when no one had any understanding of what being transgendered meant– a man who blew smoke in Bill’s face and told him that talking to him was like talking to a wall (it’s definitely not)… like being separated from his beloved children and knowing that they were told many lies about the kind of person he is… and even like meeting and marrying me. I could have been a lot more psycho than I am. I’m not a dangerous person, but I certainly could have been.
Despite all he’d been through before we met, he still chose to meet me offline and later marry me. It’s amazing how it’s all worked out so perfectly. There were many instances in which a wrench could have been thrown into the mix and completely fucked up everything. If I had chosen to go to grad school in Illinois instead of South Carolina… if he had not been sent to Virginia in 2001 instead of 2002, when he’d expected to go there… if he had not run into my aunt’s brother, Ralph, who assured me that Bill isn’t a psycho… if I had started grad school a different year or had done just one degree instead of two… if he hadn’t separated from his ex at the time I started school and we hadn’t both ventured to the same adult oriented site at the same time…
Any of those things would have derailed the conditions that have put us together for the last twenty years. Maybe it was just luck or kismet or whatever. But the longer I live with Bill, the more I think our life together was meant to happen. In fact, I think a lot of things we’ve encountered in life were meant to happen. Maybe there’s no real truth to that belief, but it does make the concept of life more intriguing for me.
It makes things more interesting to think that maybe there’s a reason I ran into abusive landladies who made outrageous and false claims against my character. Maybe it was a sign that I needed to fight back… and help Bill fight back against people who don’t treat him right. I did have that bad experience in Armenia before I met Bill. I was successful in my bid not to be ripped off by that woman. Sometimes, I think the world puts certain people in your life to teach you valuable lessons.
On the other hand… it’s just as likely that we’re all here as a cosmic accident and there’s really no meaning in anything. Perhaps we’ll learn the secret of life someday when we each inevitably perish. When I die, will I see a beautiful Alpine or Rocky Mountain landscape with vividly beautiful flowers and amazing trees? Or will there be a beautiful white light and silhouettes of my loved ones who have passed on before me? Personally, I think my idea of Heaven is being greeted by all of the wonderful pets I’ve had who have loved me unconditionally. I’d like to be in that place, with rolling fields, rainbows, brooks, and no need to clean up any residual piles of crap.
I guess I think that believing in a higher power is a good thing, if you don’t rely on the higher power to do specific things for you. I don’t think it’s a good thing to live life thinking that there’s a God above who watches and judges every single thing you do. I don’t think God cares if you curse, for instance. I don’t believe God, who is supposed to be perfect, gets offended by things like cuss words… or really by anything. Why would God be “offended”? That’s the emotion of an imperfect being, like man. But I do like to think there is something bigger out there… and that being is not concerned about trivial issues like whether or not your collarbone is visible when you wear your favorite shirt or how long your hair is… or even where you spend your Sundays, Saturdays, or Fridays.
Anyway, those are my deep thoughts for today. I felt kind of compelled to write them. Maybe someone out there can use them for something good. It beats my usual profanity laced snark, right?
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