I think of small deaths, a sneeze, an orgasm; how close such seizures are at once to vacancy and to the utter concentration of black holes, pure gravity. At once experience past will, past memory or thought; and an absence too, a non-experience. Comatose, the epileptic fit; no chance to dream. And yet like dreams, I hear reports of near-death experiences. My mother, after a worst of worsening episodes of heart failure, “They threw me back, like an undersized fish.” Or on the talk shows, or in movies, survivors reporting, as if abducted by aliens. “I rose up out of my body, weightless, and was looking down at myself as the surgeons kept working on my open heart.” Or before airplanes, let alone manned space flight, the poet’s vision of Troilus slayn: “His lighte ghost ful blisfully is went / Up to the holownesse of the seventh sphere . . . And down from thennes faste he gan advise / This litel spot or erthe, that with the sea embraced is.” I think of weight, of burdens, of things we carry; of freedom birds carrying us home. Of Walden Pond, the poet’s fact; still waters I wade into this midlife summer’s day, the sudden drop from shallow shelf to cliff-steep depths, buoyed up, treading and paddling; impulse, then, to plummet, deep breath, feet together pointing down, and arms outstretched, lifting to push down, again, again, the downward glide from surface, greenish light and body temperature, to cold, dark, and colder, and pressure’s crush, one body’s length, one fathom, two at most, blood’s beat and thunder, nothing below, all depth and fathomless, and could go deeper, could stand more, but panicking and choosing to rise, as if below would be some point beyond return, past choice. The desperate rising then, the scramble, craving surface, air, as if beyond my reach, flutter kicks and climbing strokes, faster, nearer, out, and breaking into air, and light, gasping, sunlit world of other waders, parents, children, youths, and swimming in, first touch of bottom, standing, eyes and nose and mouth above the water, while checking on the shore, the languid eyes of strangers, oiled shoulders, tummies, and bikinied breasts. Then out, and down again, again, but each time rising, having touched in emptiness some point of dread.
. . . (To Be Continued)
[From Safe Suicide, by DeWitt Henry]