For the first time in 25 years, I have just had a perfectly clean out-of-body movement. I was listening to music–some old folksongs–when I found myself standing in the middle of the living room. I was confused; when did I get up from the chair.
Then I saw sitting there an odd looking old man in pajamas, staring straight ahead, his eyes black shadows. At first, I was frightened. I could not imagine who it was or how I had missed seeming him. An instant later, though, I realized that it was me, and I was out in the air without my body.
I thought I’d died suddenly and I just looked in amazement at myself, trying to see what had gone wrong. But I was alive, transfixed, but I could see myself breathing.
An instant later, I was in our old cabin in upstate New York. I was in the living room, which was, incredibly, just as it had been when we lived there so long ago. It was dark and quiet. I thought it was empty. But then I heard music coming from upstairs. A radio was playing.
I went up, and saw Anne lying in our old bed. She was a lovely young girl, a flower sleeping, and a nostalgia of almost unimaginable poignance and power came up in me. And then I saw myself. I was lying there with my eyes just like they were here in this living room, dark shadows.
On the radio was the same song, Wild Mountain Thyme, that had been playing here when I came out. Then those dark eyes of my young self connected with me. He saw me. I saw me, I mean. I know that I must have, and now that I think back, I believe it must have been one of those moments that I related in my books, when the visitors approached my bedside, or maybe I never remembered it, I cannot recall any specific experience like that, so I’m not sure.
I was just completely floored, though, looking down at him and knowing all the life he would live, our boy growing up, losing the cabin, the books he would write, the life he would live, and him so young there, staring at me out of eyes of such softness and power. It was like seeing a stranger who was me, a scared, determined little stranger who was also embedded my my soul.
Then I was seeing a crowd of boys in uniform in a sun-drenched classroom–squirming, poking, laughing boys–and one of them was looking up at me, and I remembered an incident from eighth grade when I had gazed up at the ceiling and imagined that my future self would look down at me from there.
But then this memory sort of seemed to duplicate itself in a completely inexpressible way, as I remembered myself remembering that moment, and also both lived it now and relived it in the self that I was then.
And then I saw my mother lying in bed in our old country house, as outside my car pulled up, and I made my last visit there–the last time I would ever see her there–the last of the old days–I had come from college, and in a few months would leave home forever.
She lay there listening to my car arriving and her eyes were filled, and as I heard myself coming quietly into the house, I felt her tie to me as I have never felt it before, and it waas as if her life had spun itself out again in reality, and I was experiencing her love, and some sort of knowledge that she could not articulate, except to say to herself, ‘I wonder what’s going to happen to my boy?’
Then I was back here, and now it was silent, and I looked at my body still sitting there, and knew that I need not re-enter it. I could go in the blue of heaven if I wished, and leave this forever. But then Anne sighed in the bedroom, a little noise, a little sound, that was filled with such extraordinary innocence that I could not let her find her future like this, waking up to a dead husband like that.
By this time, though, I was already far out over the water, the lights of the city dwindling with amazing speed, the waves sweeping below. I was going like a rocket. I realized that I had forgotten my name. Profoundly, I had forgotten who I was.
Fear touched me then, exploding in me. I WAS dead! But what had happened? We’ve just had complete physicals; we’re fine.
Then I was sitting in this chair right here and coughing, my chest heaving. I pitched forward, got up and staggered into the kitchen and drank water, and it tasted so perfect and so pure that I thought I was maybe in some sort of an illusion of the world, and, very frankly, as I write this, I can’t honestly say that I’m not.
But Annie sleeps, and it seems very real. A moment ago I went in and put my hand on her head, which was warm, and she made a little sound of satisfaction and moved slightly, expecting me to crawl into bed.
I was in my long time, that’s what just happened to me. This is the long shadow of remembrance that stretches out behind our souls, and is our souls, the deep sense of which is magnificently captured in an amazing passage of Ecclesiastes:
“Also when they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets:
“Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern.
“Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.
“Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity.”
It was among the most beautiful things I have ever known, these few minutes in this late night, slipping across time as a ghost haunting my own life.
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