Black Holes and White Lights

Last night, I watched “Captain Phillips” with my brother and his wife. At the end, when Phillips is saved and being treated for shock, something was jarred.

It “felt” exactly like my experience coming to at Cedars-Sinai when I was hit and killed in ’09.

The medical report gave an estimate of the time from when they believe my heart stopped to when the paramedics were able to jump-start it back into the land of the living. I tell my kids this story and they all ask about “the white light,” and I can see their disappointment when I explain that I didn’t see one.

“I’m not saying that there isn’t one,” I quickly qualify, “merely that it didn’t come for me. This may say much more about my fate and much less about the existence of the light than I care to ponder.”

(This normally provokes laughter from my students and some small, however not unsubstantial, bit of reflection for me.)

“Well what did you experience?,” they ask. “Nothing,” I respond honestly. “It was more like a black hole than a white light. Time, pain, everything just seemed to disappear in retrospect. I was just in one place at one point and then in another, only later.”

You can swim through the silence of the pause that typically comes after I mention that.

Once, a student asked, “Did you hear any music?” This may sound strange, particularly since I just mentioned the hole with nothing in it, but it makes sense to me. Nature abhors a vacuum and in the space of unknowing that I’m describing, my students probably reach into the only thing that they can access immediately and that’s television or movies.

In the movies, even death comes with a soundtrack.

I’ve thought about what my own brief flirtation with the undiscovered country might sound like. What would be playing on the radio in the brief moment when I went off the shoulder before I came to back on the road? My sister-in-law Deirdre sent me this song by James Blake to me this morning and I loved it so much, I think that this might be just the thing that would have, that could have, the maybe should have been playing when I died. I know that when it happens again, if I can, this will be what I request.