It Felt Like Death

Shauna - Seattle, Washington
Entered on July 25, 2005
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: carpe diem, death
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In the back of the ambulance, I kept falling out of consciousness. The medic shouted questions at me, to keep me from fading away. “What is your name?” The urgency in his voice cut through the fog.

I didn’t know my name.

I didn’t know much of anything.

I knew that my arms and legs felt useless. At the best trauma hospital in Seattle, the nurses piled on eight or ten emergency blankets. But nothing stopped the trembling at the core of me. Deep under, I heard the confusion, the fear, in the nurse’s voices, when they wondered why they couldn’t warm me up. From a great distance, a thought arose, “I’m dying.” But the thought vanished, along with any fear of it. My mind didn’t have the energy to care.

After having survived it, and studied up on it, I know that in deep shock, all the blood rushes from the extremities to protect the inner organs. That’s why my arms felt so foreign at my sides. That’s why my thinking nearly stopped. That’s why I can only remember it now in flashes of disconnected images.

But the studying hasn’t helped. It felt like death. How do I know? I don’t. But it feels like that’s what death will be like. I feel it deep in my core. And what did it feel like? Utterly anonymous. Everything that was individual, attached to the world, or what I identify as Shauna? It didn’t exist. It slipped away. And it was wonderfully easy.

There was no struggle. There was no great epiphany, no white light. I was simply fading out.

I’m here now, in vivid colors. But death has been sitting inside me ever since.

And in some ways, that has been scary. Difficult to convey. After all, every attempt with words is a failure.

But in other ways, it has been an enormous grace. This presence has meant that I can’t wrap myself in senseless fear or stress. I know that all those trivial details will slip away someday, so why waste my time with them now?

And there’s a comfort of having gone down to the core, knowing that I don’t have to struggle. Or try to control anything.

But most of all, I’m so grateful to have this life, as it is: complicated, quirky, and destined to fade away entirely. Because I know, now, what I am. Not words. Not my memories, my to-do list, or my accomplishments. And not my hopes for the future.

I’m not me.

What am I?

Just life. Breath. Consciousness. The ability to hear the din of noise in a restaurant, feel the heating pad on my back, smell the acrid cologne of that man passing me on a sunlit day, taste the burger with white cheddar in my mouth, or see the craggy Olympic mountains rising high in the pale blue sky.

A beating heart. An alive mind. This moment.

Right now.

And the joy that comes from knowing this is ineffable.