Sunday, January 06, 2008

The mighty peanut, found here in its natural habitat.

Near Death Experiences

It's funny what they say about 'em. Your life "flashes before your eyes", or you reach some "deeper meaning" or "enlightenment" about the world around you. Your perspective shifts somehow, perhaps like the Earth turning on its axis--but in a sudden kind of way.

I just got the most beautiful email from a dear friend in Los Angeles. It was a group email, wishing everyone a Happy New Year. I didn't think it would be anything other than a standard well-wishing or greeting...until I got around to reading it. My friend had nearly lost her life, having lost control of her vehicle on the freeway and, flying across two lanes of traffic, wound up hitting the center divider.

She said she didn't have a moment of flashes or anything that comprehensive. All she could think about in that moment was how badly she didn't want to die. And how sad it would be not to see any of her loved ones again. In the end, she wanted her email to let everyone know that she had realized how foolish it was to take life, and the people in it, for granted. She had been depressed for the last few months, and her near-death experience had taught her not to waste time like that again.

Her email reminded me of another very special email I had received from my friend Irina, sent to me about eight years ago. I've purposefully saved it and reread it a few times. Irina M, then a philosophy major in Berkeley, was also an extraordinary painter and we acted in plays together in high school. In her email, she described--at great length--how quietly frantic she became on a flight, for no apparent reason, about the prospect of a crash. She explained how a collection of obsessive, instinctual feelings of doom manifested into an inner stillness and sublime sense of one's place in the universe. And it all started with a peanut:

I felt stillness, and I wondered if I was being prepared for death somehow. Everyone dies, I thought, and if there is any justice in this world then there must be more to it than this.

And in that moment I noticed a little peanut on the cushion on my left. Perhaps I had noticed it before, perhaps I had even thought something of it.

All I know is that the peanut, a broken bit of fat and protein of some imperfect whole, became the center of my little universe. There was something pathetically profound about its quiet asymmetry; lying there, not quite in the center, not quite facing forward. Its stillness provoked me to thought. How calm it seemed! Like it knew the answer before i could have formulated the question and it was fine--just fine. The answer must not have been too severe. And I knew that I could not move the peanut, because I would disturb a balance in life that might only be in my own mind. But even given that, the peanut was the key to the stasis I was in, if I moved it or touched it, something would happen to break the thin film holding me in and I would dissolve.

Of that I was sure. And for one brief moment I was audience to a great mysetery revealed--through an airline peanut!

Epilogue: The plane landed and I gave the peanut to the flight attendant along with my discarded bag of raisins and a small plastic cup with half melted ice cubes.

Here's to not taking anything for granted in life, especially peanuts.


Curtis said...

I had a car accident a few years ago. About 6 years precisely. I was driving home after a sad and kind of pathetic Valentine's date when I began to grow tired of the Dave Mathews cycling in my CD player. I ejected the disc and looked up to see a pit of gravel in the road ahead.

The car hit, I lost control, did about 4 or 5 spins into the median before I did a triple mid air barrel roll and came resting upside down.

I was shirtless because I smelled and had slept in my clothes the night before. The people who found me must have thought the shirt was torn from my body.

I was able to escape the vehicle of my own volition and began picking my things up off the highway. When two off duty nurses found me they tackled me to the ground and asked me if I was alright.

I responded, jokingly, that I was merely upset because I had just filled the tank.

There were some nervous laughs.

I remember that when the car was spinning through the air I didn't think about death or have any life affirming moments. Instead I thought about what a great fucking ride it was. My adrenaline was pumping so hard I didn't have time to be scared.

When I calmed down all I could think about was how my mom was going to kill me.

amityb said...

Thanks Curtis. I think that if I nearly--or even if I actually did--die, the best last thoughts would be, "What a great fucking ride."