“Every moment of light and dark is a miracle.”

Walt Whitman

Fact: if you’re reading this right now, you are living. . . but eventually, someday, will die.

It’s true. As “negative” as this statement sounds, it’s a great check-in: are you living life to the fullest, or are you just going through the motions like a zombie? There is a big majority of us that live in fear of trying something, ANYTHING new. Instead, we follow the “crowd” without question, never daring to follow through on that “niggle” of curiosity inside. Whether you get diagnosed with a life-threatening illness or get hit in a fatal car accident, no one is guaranteed a tomorrow.

When someone talks about death in general to me, or about someone recently they knew who passed away (saying “I just never saw it coming” or “why so-and-so? why?), the classic Emily Dickinson poem “Because I could not stop for Death” always pops into my mind . You may recall it from your English Literature classes. The poem personifies “Death” as a kind gentleman in a horse-and-carriage, taking the narrator to her grave like it’s a leisurely Sunday drive. I love the part where speaker says that Death the driver “knew no hast / And I had put away / My labor and my leisure too, / For His Civility”. You know how we promise ourselves we have our whole lives or “tomorrow” to get to our goals and dreams? The balance is off, you say. You plan to work more (or less), relax more (or less). The irony is that we think we have time. . .(more on this later!)

But question: have you ever experienced a near-death experience? I have, and my mom did a few weekends ago. . .

Many of us have, will at some point down the road, and/or know someone who has lived to tell their story. Let’s just say these near-death moments can feel like a swift slow-motion and blindingly painful camera flash. It’s this out-of-body experience, an unexplainable rush of the highest and lowest (or even ultra random) moments of your life flashing across your mind at a million miles per hour in your mind. It’s snapshots of fear and surrender. . .and your most candid vulnerability. . .captured.

My near-death experience story? It was a Sunday night in early March around 8 p.m., and I was returning home from one of my final Confirmation meetings I felt forced to do. While I am not religious, really, I do believe in have faith and believe in “some force” greater beyond this world. The irony of this night is that I that was randomly chosen and pulled out as the  “guinea pig” out of a big crowd. He wanted to show all the students how the blessed oil would be placed on our foreheads during the final ceremony He could sense the embarrassed resistance in eyes, and then beckoned the students to get back to their small circles to also practice. The priest good-naturedly laughed and said to me, “Well, Hannah, it looks like you’re going to be blessed twice tonight!  Lucky you, huh?” 

And was I ever on my drive back home that night. It was around 8 p.m. that Sunday night, and a crisp night in March.

The whole “life flashing before your eyes” cliche became a nightmare come true as I was suddenly staring into two beaming headlights at the top of a blind spot hill. . .and a car flying head-in in my lane at about 60 miles per hour.  I was about two seconds away from full-blown tragedy.

All I remember is screaming, my heart plunging like a dark into the absolute pit of my stomach, and somehow turning the wheel just hard enough to the right and off the road. With this miraculous maneuver (that I still cannot believe my hands reacted so quickly), he driver ended up clipping off my front right headlight, smashing in my back rear car door behind him, and sending the front tire closest to me flailing off. Time froze. The moment before the hit, a vision of my cousin Justin blasted into my mind; he had just been killed on-impact less than three years ago when a car crossed the median dead. I wondered, too, if he saw his death coming. Was it all a one-and-done flash? Did he experience fear? An epiphany? For me, felt like an eternity as I waited for a sense of blackness to overtake me –for life as I knew it to end now.

Instead, I hit down a mailbox to the left and spiraled 360-degrees a time or two in the middle of the lanes landing with my backend smack dab in a risen snow bank on the opposite side of this rural highway. The snow I always despised, that day, had probably saved my life. There were witnesses chasing this guy down who saw my hit and followed him down.  While more to the drunk driver fiasco here (who thankfully was caught), but I’ll spare you the extra details.

But flash-forward from this 2008 incident to just two weekends ago in November 2017. My mom was carjacked at gunpoint in a grocery store parking lot. It was my nephew’s Baptism the next day and she was making a five-minute stop at around 8 p.m. that Saturday to grab beans to bring along. She made her purchase, returned back to her SUV, which was parked in a well-lit area near the front. She proceeded to open the driver door and place her bag of beans and purse over in her empty passenger seat. A nano-second later? She turned around to shut her open car door. . .and instead, found a man standing inches next to her. . .and a gun touching her left temple.

At this second, she didn’t even think that he wanted her car; she just thought “he wants me dead.” What transpired is incredible. She instinctively pushed the gun away (practically like a pleading child), and moaned quietly, breathlessly, desperately, “Please don’t. Please don’t this to me. I beg you. Don’t.” The twist? She was looking directly into the gun holder’s eyes the entire time. She recounts the story, saying that while the gun sent her mind racing in fear, this man’s face and eyes were somehow not “scary” to her. In some sick, twisted way, she swore she saw “compassion” in his eyes. . .as though this criminal was really not a “criminal” underneath this powerful, violent act.  And let me tell you, my mom is NOT one to see “the good in everyone”; she’s a tough cookie who loves deeply, but trusts her gut and inner intuition when she feels bad intentions or character from someone.

At this split-second time, the carjacking aspect didn’t even come to mind; she simply knew there was a pistol pointed at her, and this could be it for her. The man then told her to “get out of the car right now”.  The culprit could have easily hit her, yet he never touched her or harmed her in any way, despite her having pushed his gun away AND proceeding to take her purse with her (!) while exiting the car. Then two other guys jumped in, my mom’s SUV screeched off along with another car nearby, and she was left stranded in the cold lot — confused, upset, and shaken. While her car and one of the culprits was found a few days later doesn’t even matter. I still feel drawn to the “eye-to-eye connection my mom and the offender shared.

I started thinking a lot of these “victim and offender” and “life and death” dualities we each encounter in life.  I felt inspired to head to the library the following week and finally read The Power of Now. In a rush, I accidentally grabbed this Eckhart Tolle book above (a guide, versus the full book of The Power of Now. Regardless, this book contained moving messages.

The fact that my mom felt this “ounce of understanding and compassion” in the gunman’s eyes, to me, is the TRUTH. As human beings, we either connect with those around us and choose love, or we can choose disconnection and fear. We can choose to be a product of our environments, or find the inner strength to find a different and brighter path. Not all find it, but the spark of potential is always there.

My mom’s deeper thoughts about her intruder are well exemplified in the last paragraph on pg. 112 (shown here) and pg. 113 of Practicing the Power of Now: Essential Teachings, Meditations, and Exercises from the Power of Now:

Coming from Being, you will perceive another person’s body and mind as just a screen, as it were, behind which you can feel their true reality, as you feel yours. So, when confronted with someone else’s suffering or unconscious behavior, you stay present and in touch with Being and are thus able to look beyond form and feel the other person’s radiant and pure Being through your own.”

~Eckhart Tolle

It’s like beaming a bright flashlight or headlights into the fog before you. A stream of bright light cuts through the outer “self”, the ego, that is, in a sense, always in a “fog”. . .on a search to “find oneself” the search to “find oneself” throughout the entirety of his or her life.  Seeing behind “this screen” is truly SEEING  a person beyond the surface, the clothes, the personality. While facts are facts (which do not excuse horrific actions whatsoever), keeping this ego/soul thought in mind can help you make “peace” in your heart for this person, who is inflicting suffering to others and holds suffering inside (and out). 

A near-death experience is a cosmic reminder that us all that life is short, precious, and moves more quickly than we could imagine. How many times does it take us to say “where did the time go?” There are people we don’t connect with for years on end (even though it feels like yesterday). We keep making excuses for *goals* we want to achieve “in the future,” which is not even real, not yet, maybe never. No amount of prediction can ever be accurate. All that’s real is today — this moment, right here, right now.

So how will you live mindfully, like today is your last? Start creating moments that MATTER to you. Three simple tips to take you there:

(1) Connect with people (in a real, authentic, NON-DIGITAL way) more

(2) Do some sort of gratitude or appreciation practice on a daily basis

(3) Take time to do something every day that LIGHTS YOU UP.

I also believe that any incident or person that has brought us into a major flight-or-flight response (i.e., being a victim of rape) has a burden to carry. No matter how strong or positive of a person you are, the body contains those feelings and memories INSIDE. There can be external “triggers” that can set off what seems like automatic psychological and psychological reactions.  The body-mind-spirit system is complexly interconnected, especially when it comes to stress or trauma. It‘s up to us to find compassion for ourselves and be a participant in life again. Find creative and physical activities that start to unravel and release these tight physical and psychological pains inside. Think yoga…running…boxing…writing…singing…a walk in nature…anything that brings liberation to the moment.

Thank you for staying with me if you’ve read this far (I promise future posts won’t always be this long!) I’m closing with one of my favorite mentors of all time, Marie Forleo, speaking with Bronnie Ware on her book The Top Five Regrets of The Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing and LIFE-changing advice. This one and precious life is a gift — please treasure it. 💎 💖

Has there been a pivotal life-or-death moment in your life? Whether “yes” or “no”, how do you slow down? What actions do you take to stop ruminating about the past or future, and instead live in “the now”?  Share the love below in the Comments. 

 


Hannah Fredenberg

I'm Hannah - happy to meet you! I live in the (frequently chilly) Midwest city of Milwaukee, yet keep a sunny disposition year-round. I’m a corporate copywriter by day, creative blog writer by night (or morning). I light up my life with writing, reading, running, yoga & soaking in the Great Outdoors as often as possible. I'm here to help YOU dig deep and uncover your real roots (who you authentically are) so you can start to align your inner & outer worlds -- one step at a time.

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