So Close I Can Feel God's Breath
- 2006 30 May
Life on the Edge
Thin places are not only extraordinary places. They are also ordinarily found just this side of the other side.
I long to live life on the edge, braving new frontiers to the very end – as long as on the other side there is a beginning. That's where our story begins: on just an ordinary day in April – at the very end of it all, just this side of the other side.
As a vibrant Florida sun reached its apex in the deep blue sky, I bent over my mother's lifeless body. "Is she dead?" I whispered to myself. I probably should have asked her, but I didn't want to worry her – just in case she really was.
I touched her shoulder. She didn't move. "Oh, dear God, she is dead!" I screamed loudly enough to wake the dead. But not her. "Mom, please don't be dead!" I begged, as if she could control such things. She didn't comment, dramatically increasing the possibility that she was. When it comes to Jewish mothers, death is usually the only explanation for silence.
I placed my hand over her mouth to feel for breath and thought I detected a wisp of air. Or was it just the breeze rattling the shades protecting her from the scorching Florida sun? If only she could have been shielded as easily from the vicissitudes of life.
Frantically, I checked for a pulse. My heart pounded. Hers didn't. Her body grew rigid; her gaze became fixed and glassy. I stared into the faded blue-gray eyes that had once overflowed with love, filled with compassion, sparkled when she laughed, grown intense when she spouted pearls of Yiddish wisdom. I had so often chosen to see life through my mother's eyes because they were so full of life. Now all I could see in them was death. My body froze while my mind raced.
Only minutes before, my mother had awakened me from sound sleep. "I don't feel well." That was all she'd said. I helped her back to her bedroom before she collapsed onto the bed, took several labored breaths, and fell silent.
"Breathe, Mom, breathe!" I shouted over and over again. But she wasn't deaf, just dead. Finally, in resignation, I whispered, "I love you, Mom. I love you." I thought they would be my last words to her.
Then I had an insight. I placed my mouth over hers and blew a stream of air into her lungs. Suddenly she stirred to life. It wasn't long before she took advantage of her newfound breath to speak. "I was floating. It was so nice and peaceful. Then I heard you say 'I love you,' and I decided to come back." From the dead, Mom?' I wondered. But I dared not ask.
The paramedics finally arrived to rush her to the emergency room. She was long settled in her hospital bed when I found myself sitting on a bench on the local boardwalk, trying to calm myself down. The death scene may have been over, but the dreadful reruns played on in my mind.
I removed my shoes and headed for the shoreline, laboring hard in the soft sand to make it to the water. It was the same route I had taken so many times before. But this time was different – I could hardly walk. The symptoms that would later be diagnosed as an incurable neuromuscular disease had overtaken my thirty-something body, leaving me practically bedridden, unemployed, and living with my parents.
Whether or not I could walk, I needed to flee to a place of refuge – to a familiar place of transcendence, where I could be lifted up when the trials of life were getting me down. For years I had made tracks in the moist, packed sand along the edge of that beach, feeling the grains settle comfortably between my toes. It was always to marvel to me how sand, so thoroughly infused by the rising sea, had not yet been claimed by it. Borders are like that. They impart a unique strength and hope, somehow managing to hold a tension between here and there while retaining a distinct place between places for themselves.
One minute she was here and the next, where? My mother's body lay whole on the bed, minus my mother. It was as if she had planned a dinner party, furnishings freshly polished, dinner on the table, then slipped out the back door, leaving a cadre of expectant guests waiting. A hospitable hostess such as my mother could never abide such a lack of courtesy. Besides, the fallout from some of our less than gracious relatives would kill any nice Jewish mother – that is, if she weren't already dead. My mother would have even come back from the dead just to make a socially acceptable exit and save face.
I had to face it. One minute her eyes were vibrant; the next, vacant. One moment they were valuable agents of sight; the next, obsolete orbs. In those eyes, I saw her leave and then return as if she had never left. Somewhere in between, I caught a fleeting glimpse of the person who was my mother. She was not the body she was in – and out of – and in again. She was far more.
I was not much of a believer in the afterlife, having been raised in the Jewish religion, which doesn't take an official stance on such matters. Some Jews choose to believe in heaven; others don't. My statement of faith was best expressed by a postcard I had taped to my wall after a particularly enjoyable trip to California many years before. Underneath a drawing of the Golden Gate Bridge was the caption, "There may not be a heaven, but at least there is a San Francisco."
Even I doubted that in the split second between life and death my mother had gone to "the City by the Bay." But where did she go? I wondered – and how had she managed to come back? I knew it was biologically possible to revive a dead person. But for a dead person to travel somewhere and then return because she had heard me say "I love you"? I thought my words had fallen on deaf ears.
Mysteriously, I had experienced a body without a person, while my mother claimed to have been a person without a body. It was as if a flame could exist without a wick. Didn't something have to enable the flame to burn? Was it possible that what I had witnessed in her eyes as she returned to life was a divine spark? I didn't know, but I had come close enough to know that something was there – and only the thinnest veil had kept it from my literal sight. Years later, I would come to realize that in that miraculous, mystifying moment between life and death, I had ventured into a place unlike any other place. That's because thin places are not only extraordinary places. They are also ordinarily found just this side of the other side.
Excerpted from "So Close, I Can Feel God's Breath: Experiencing His Nearness in Thin Places." Copyright 2006 by Dr. Beverly Rose. Used by permission of SaltRiver Books (an imprint of Tyndale House Publishers).
Dr. Beverly Rose earned a doctorate in clinical psychology and held an academic appointment at Harvard Medical School. Author of "Mothers Never Die," Dr. Rose has appeared nationally on radio and television. Raised in the Jewish faith, she is now a faithful follower of Jesus. Despite the daily trials of living with a neuromuscular disease, Dr. Rose experiences great jog and hope in her walk with the Lord. Dr. Rose currently resides in Colorado Springs with her beloved toy poodle, Nikki.