I woke up from 40 minutes of unconsciousness to an alien sound. It took me a few seconds to understand that it was me making that sound, a vast empty sucking sound, the hollow of my chest pulling air in slowly a few times every minute in a chaotic, rhythmless gasp for life. In between, someone was pushing sickly sweet oxygen down into my belly through the purple ambu bag, and I remember trying to swallow it, or breathe it in. I was looking up into the eyes of a coworker from the University who still works in the ER, and she was calling my name through a long tunnel, her voice echoing off the walls as it bounced it's way down to where I lay in a cavern deep below the crowd who seemed to be working on my body. If there is an in-between, a place between alive and dead, I have been there. It is a platform suspended, invisible, where your soul perches like a frightened bird, too afraid to rejoin a quavering, hurting body, the glass ceiling that opens to heaven now shut above you, beat your wings against it as you would to get back to that dark warm firelight of something as light as air and as flowing as water, some element that doesn't exist here.
Brother, he’s suffered like a tree taken down
Wept as he witnessed his dreams carved out
And how can a man just keep walking around
With his heart full of holes
But oh, His bow is on the strings
And the tune resonates in the open space
To show us how emptiness sings:
Glory to God, Glory to God!
In fullness of wisdom,
He writes my story into his song,
My life for the glory of God.
I remember well the first time this happened. I was 17 and had played my last heart beat out on the stage at a dear friend's wedding. The last notes of the piano fading into the postlude, I wavered through the crowd to the bathroom, my smile wooden as friends complimented my playing. I collapsed there and waited for someone to come bring me my mother. I felt my soul leaving my body, and the sound in my ears was the rhythmic "whumph-whumph" of helicopter blades, helicopter blades hovering just over the water, and I could feel the ocean spray kicked up by the windstorm, only then I noticed it wasn't ocean water, it was ice water my mother was splashing on me, and I was on the cold tile floor of the bathroom and pinned there, motionless. Her voice came through a tunnel, too. On that ambulance ride, I flew away, and felt the warmth of heaven touch me even though I kept my eyes closed on purpose. But something pulled me back and I opened my eyes to look down at my naked self in an ER room and hear my mother calling me, frantically, through that tunnel.
It happened again when I was 22, just before I feel in love. And I think that time I almost made it there. I was so ready to be done. I had no idea what joy lay before me. I was so tired by the work He had me doing. I was so ready to go home. That time my heart stopped.
Then it was 11 years, and I almost forgot about the in-between, until I saw it again in August. And now again, suddenly, so quickly, on Saturday.
Four times. Four times I've almost made it all the way to heaven. If there is an in-between. And four times, He's comforted me, and then sent me back, said there is more for me to do here on this turning Earth. Sent me back to the chaos and the cold and the separateness.
Before Christ died, there was a place called Paradise, or Abraham's side, a place where believers went to await further vindication and ascent to heaven. But that was after they died. Is that an in-between? There is a powerful story I love in Luke, the story of the rich man and the beggar named Lazarus. This story tells me that it doesn't matter if I've seen the in-between. It doesn't matter if I've met my angel. It doesn't matter if I shout it from the rafters. It won't change anyone's mind, if the prophets and Moses cannot.
Paul speaks of a man who was caught up to the 3rd heavens and saw things he cannot even put into words. Is this the in-between? Are there those of us who are brought to the in-between for comfort rather than just to prophesy, like the author of Revelation, who was brought to heaven to describe it to us? My daughter Amy knows the in-between, I, too have seen it. It is a place I can't describe but I know well, and when I get there I know nothing else but thankfulness and peace. I am surrounded by powerful emotions and beings and other souls, and I forget all about the former life, and I am wordless and wise and only a whisper in a whole breathing current I've suddenly joined.
Coming back here is so hard. This world is cold and harsh and lonely. I cry for days and I can't tell anyone why. It is because I am separate again. Completely by myself. This life is so hard. It is not just because it is hard to recover. Yes, I am covered head to toe in bruises and my physical reserves are tapped out and all I can do is rest and wait for strength to return to these veins. But it is the harsh slam of the door to that welcome tide where I am at once joined again to Love and no longer lonely, no longer striving, no longer working, no longer suffering - that is what I mourn in these days of tears as I come back to life slowly and painfully from the in-between.
So tame my flesh
And fix my eyes
That tethered mind free from the lies
But I'll kneel down
Wait for now
I'll kneel down
Know my ground
Raise my hands
Paint my spirit gold
And bow my head
Keep my heart slow
Cause I will wait, I will wait for you
~I Will Wait, Mumford & Sons~