Every so often, I have to take a break from artistic activities and crazy theorizing, and absorb myself in something, like a good book, tv show or movie. They can be useful tools to help us see difficult matters in our lives from a new perspective.
Every so often, I have to take a break from artistic activities and crazy theorizing, and absorb myself in something, like a good book, tv show or movie. They can be useful tools to help us see difficult matters in our lives from a new perspective, or escape from them altogether. Being a writer myself, admittedly I’ve often been distracted by issues of style and it’s difficult to fully dive in with books especially. Rarely, a work manages to speak to me on some deeper level allowing my inner critic to shut up and enjoy the ride. I’m about to talk about just such a book.
Having dealt with loss in my family not all that long ago, the subject of the afterlife made its way back into my consciousness, forcing me to ask myself questions like: how much do I really believe in it? Am I just looking for ways to cope? And if there is an afterlife, would it really be anything like the traditional beliefs I grew up with? You know the ones… going to a wonderful city where the streets are paved with gold. Everyone joined together in song, forever worshiping. In my youth, the golden streets included golden railings and half pipe ramps my friends and I would ride our golden skateboards upon. Perhaps your own image of it is more like grassy rolling hills, sparkling springs of the purest water flowing like diamond, aromatic spring flowers and sycamore trees. Or maybe it’s nothing like that. Who’s to say we would even be in a form resembling humanity at all?
Well, a lot of people, that’s who. People who claim to have died and then returned in NDEs or “Near Death Experiences” often speak of details much like this. Meeting beings of light and love, in a form very much like our own. Not universally, but enough to raise an eyebrow. I haven’t ever explicitly had an NDE, though I can say that I’ve had enough unusual experiences in my life that when I was speaking to my mom on the phone a few years back and she mentioned the book Flight To Heaven, my interest was piqued. It had been a while since I read anything promising, and when she mentioned that it was a pilot who’d written his own account, I thought of the miniature obsession I’d had with Aircrash Investigation when I lived up in the Arctic Circle.
“I’ll have to order that on the internet”, I said. No, no, she insisted. She’d mail it to me since she’d read it from front to back two or three times. That good, eh? How could I pass that up? Once it arrived, as I remember, I tore through it in one afternoon.
At 187 pages, Flight To Heaven isn’t a long book, but then, it doesn’t need to be. The author, retired commercial airline pilot Captain Dale Black, gets straight to business in the first chapter. No fluffy background on his life or anything else prefaces the (physical) main event, and that’s good, because there’s a lot more to come in the aftermath of the crash itself and for the most part, the narrative remains focused. Minor spoilers follow, but I’ll try to keep them minimal. If you don’t want anything ruined, go buy Flight To Heaven now and read it for yourself before continuing.
Since Dale wrote his story, it’s obvious that he survived in the end (or came back to life, as the case may be) to share his supernatural tale of what happened directly following the crash, as well as during his recovery, which proves to be miraculous enough to confound the doctors. Dale’s account of the physical aspects of the crash are fairly visceral, but they soon begin to challenge the skeptic’s view of what is possible. Like many other NDE survivors, he claims to have found himself outside his body, viewing the action in the ER from above. His body slips into a coma, but “he” goes on a very different adventure.
This is about all the author tells us before the first teaser is over, and we learn a little about him. Before the crash, he’d been career oriented and an adventurous soul, looking to find his way in the world. Very practically and academically focused, he didn’t place much weight on spiritual things. All of that began to change during his recovery. His memory of the crash and everything after it is wiped. At first, he just had a sense that God had saved his life, and thus he began taking interest in the bible and church, and acting with faith in the healing of his body. Though the doctors insist, for example, that he will not regain any useful function in one eye, he chooses to run an odd experiment on himself forcing him to use only that eye, intent that he will see it healed fully.
In the meantime, he prays for his memory of what happened on the “other side” to be returned – It does. Over the course of the next few weeks, fragments return, first out of order, and then they all begin to fall into place. He recalls loading the plane, then his companion yelling as they try to pitch-correct the doomed craft. A bumpy ambulance ride. And then, things so wonderful and strange that they become more than just memories but permanently etched in his consciousness once they are recovered.
After being whisked off through the tunnel of light, Dale arrives: At the city of gold. It’s almost repellant at first, provoking a sort of world-worn knee-jerk reaction to something I perceive as too cheesy to be real. But in the telling, the author weaves details and flavors into his experience which strike me as too authentic to be made up. His recollections of the sights, colors, sounds and feelings have a quality to them which could be described as practically synesthesic. And although there is certainly a major religious theme to the events which unfold, they are told in a way that engage the mind, rather than coming off as tired fairytales.
Music is also a major theme of importance, as it seems that in this place, creation is always happening and it is musical on some level. Everyone is participating in one giant energy based orchestra, in harmony of purpose and simultaneously, complete creative flexibility. This struck me as a musician, and also since I’ve noticed that critics of Christian eschatology often complain that the idea of the sort of worshipful act alluded to here implies a certain loss of individualism. In truth, Dale’s account of heaven in the afterlife does not sound all that far removed from some humanist visions of what a paradise here on earth might be like.
Some of the author’s other comments also resonate with thoughts I’ve had on occasion.
“While in heaven, I somehow realized that knowledge is flawed and did not seem to be of great significance. Truth is what prevails and has supremacy in heaven. When I had questions or needed understanding it seemed to be imparted automatically and directly into my heart.”
I remember summer vacation in August of 2010, in the Norwegian mountains. I had taken a sauna several nights in a row, and one night, I grew very exhausted and my throat became raw. I went to bed, breaking out in a cold sweat and developing a high fever. I dreamed intensely. My brain was overheating… overclocking. Information and images suddenly flowed in with great speed. I was everywhere in the universe at once. I understood the mathematical formulas representing everything. I understood the meaning of everything. And then, just like that, it was gone. I woke up with only weak afterimages remaining. Was it just some slick trick of the brain? Or was it real? In any case, I could understand where Captain Dale Black was coming from when I read those lines. I only wished I could regain my wondrous memories as he did.
Thanks for the book, mom.
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