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Life Revisited

Reflections from the Swamp
Richard van Duyvendyk

Dear Reader

A friend recently had a stroke and was unable to communicate for days. Being lost to sharing was the inspiration for this piece of writing. The age-old questions about the meaning of life made me think about how a near-death experience might influence our outlook.

A first wet snow has covered the leaves, leaving a blank white sheet to write on.

A fierce wind during the night has blown everything away. Gone are the leaves, the houses, the barn and the blue sky. Only the bare trees, the moon, and the gravestones remain. The last leaf on Earth worls up, disappearing in darkness. My autumn years disappear under a blanket. I hold nothing in my hands except the squiggly lines that foretell my life and future. My lifeline fades and vanishes.

A curtain strikes the world away, leaving only a dark silence. When my eyes adjust, I see stars nibbling away at the darkness, turning darkness into tiny diamonds. There is no blue sky. On the shore, the wind and moon drag the sea onto the beach. I try swimming until I drown. The briefness of life swirls in the waves. My last sight is the crashing waves and the bare trees on the shore.

I have forsaken the Sunday School teachings of heaven, so I have nowhere to go. A spacecraft appears in the darkness, and I become an astronaut. Where did Jesus go when he ascended into the heavens? If I’m allowed to change my mind, I’d instead go there. I find myself inside the spacecraft, sitting at a table alone, staring at a blank sheet of paper.

I know I’ve been somewhere else. I remember images of the swamp, the cornfields, and geese flying in their” Vs” above in the cloudless skies. I recall my bride in the garden planting lettuce, wearing her bugscreen veil. I collect dandelions with the grandchildren in the field to make flowery crowns. Elsewhere, my mother is darning socks in the evening beneath a sliver of a moon. My grandmother’s bike, my first bicycle, is leaning against a tree, calling me to come for a ride. Time has no beginning and no end; our time does.

As I stare out the spacecraft window, I see the green that can only be seen in dreams. The green that Hildegard von Bingen- the Benedictine abbess, the visionary and mystic called viriditas, or the vitality, lushness, truthfulness, and ferocity of life.

I heard the sounds of hissing, of air escaping a leak in a tire. The cabin was filled with ghost-like images of my greatest regrets. Even now, it isn’t easy to face them. Most of the regrets I have gotten over. The biggest regret loomed over me, crowding me into a corner where I found an empty box. I placed all of my regrets in the box. The biggest was difficult to stuff into the space, but I managed. I taped the lid tightly with tape that squealed as it came off the roll. The cargo door opened, and the box drifted off into space.

Gradually, the blue in the sky reappeared. The sea where I had drowned washed me back on the shore. Jonah’s time is not yet done. The mission is not yet complete. The bare trees were all there to greet me. Losing my regrets left me feeling lighter and able to return home across the field where the first snow recorded the footsteps taken on the journey. The geese flying above called out a welcome. I stood in the field and waved at them. I was coming home.

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