Straddled between two transsphenoidal surgeries—one failed and a second scheduled for six weeks from now—I have pulled my mammoth body out of bed to shuffle along the trail by our home. It is one of those dog days of summer where the heat settles on you like a blanket and you pray for just the smallest breath of air. After the meager two blocks to reach the trailhead, I am panting. Rivulets of perspiration slide down my spine, pooling at the elastic band of my shorts. This was a bad idea, I think; I don’t have the stamina to get back to the house, much less trek any distance on the path ahead.
I forge ahead stubbornly. It’s an excruciatingly slow shuffle of one foot dragging along the sidewalk to rest just inches in front of the other. My chest is pounding, and already I feel the familiar stab of pain in my lower back. Around a gentle bend in the path a garishly bright orange adirondack chair comes into view. Thank God for public seating , I mutter under my breath. Some sound reminiscent of a beached whale escapes my lips as I collapse into the chair. I pull my cell phone out and contemplate ringing my husband to come get me. How ridiculous, I sputter. How is he going to “come get me”? With a wheelbarrow? A stretcher? Perhaps he’ll just pull up on his long-tail cargo bicycle and heft my hulking frame onto the bench intended to haul our children around town. In that moment a delicate breeze rises from the river far below. I shut my eyes and actually lick my lips in appreciation.
What happens next I have no explanation for. You may discount it as the crazed ravings of a Cushing’s patient whose sanity has finally snapped. No matter. If I have learned anything on this journey of delayed diagnosis, failed surgeries, and dead-end drug therapies it is this: that I don’t much care anymore what you think. Your opinion is just that—yours. I can’t be bothered wasting any more time or tears over it; I have bigger things to worry about. Like my own death. Or how to get out of this goddamn plastic trap they’ve deemed appropriate for public use. Since when is it a good idea for a seat to slant backwards at such an alarming angle?
So there I was, eyes closed, thinning tank top plastered to my sweaty body exposing every roll of fat for all the world to enjoy when I am transported to the edge of the ocean. The spray of water feels so real that I lick my lips once more, expecting the salty residue of a wave. I look down and my sausage toes are planted firmly in the cool sand. All sound seems to fade away until all I hear is my own heartbeat, an erratic thud.thud.thud in my chest. My hands move to touch my chest, and in the next moment they are slowly peeling back layers of skin: like shedding one of those skin-tight polyester/spandex blend athletic shirts after a long run.
Slowly, I lift my pumping heart out of the chest cavity, cradling it gently in both hands. Keeping it close to my body, I cock my ear to one side and listen gratefully to the steady thump as it continues miraculously to beat. I sense the source of my energy vibrating through my arms and down the length of my body. Now, even the ocean and surrounding landscape dissolves and my whole being is laser focused as light begins to emanate from the exposed organ.
In torturously slow motion I make a slight jerking motion and yank the heart away from my body. I imagine that this is how Rafiki felt as he held Simba high above the Disney version of the African savanna. The colors of the rainbow are shooting out on all sides creating a display worthy of the Northern Lights. Morgan Freeman narrates, “And here is the essence of yourself… It is all joy, passion, beauty, love. All you.” Instinctively, I lift this still-beating, light-encased orb up toward the sky and offer it to an unseen force. In that moment of offering, I am nothing. I am gone. And I am everything.
The light enfolds me before rushing out to engulf all I can see. At once, that nameless expanse crashes down on me in a wave. I am drenched. My body is an empty vessel. There is no pounding heartbeat—only eerie stillness. That wave carries with it the most intoxicating scent. It reminds me of orange blossoms and vanilla and the smell of a newborn. It is heady and sensual without overwhelming.
The heart has stopped. It’s been cut off from the body; illuminated, but so still . In the next moment, a mysterious force performs CPR and the smell of rich perfume pumps life back into the heart. Invisible hands cup mine and gently, firmly draw the heart back and place it inside the empty cavern of my chest.
The experience was so real—so tangible—that when my eyelids popped back open, I immediately peered down and yanked back my shirt to see if there was any evidence of a horrific tear in my chest. I think that is what resurrection feels like. I think I tasted what it means to “die to self”. There was the most unfathomable sense of freedom that came with the ultimate sacrifice. My being saying, “ Here: take my life. ” To release—to let go, to give—brings back with it an abundance, vitality, and wholeness that is indescribable.
I am stunned. If I could have managed to get down on my knees that might have been where I ended up; but the Adirondack had other plans for me. It has been nearly five years since that August afternoon, and I have to admit that I’ve never had a similar experience. I still occasionally walk the same trail—with a little less shuffling, and a few pounds lighter. I am still not much closer to the picture of health I desperately want to be, but I’ve never forgotten the smell of the great life force that breathes in and out of all of us. When my current situation seems too much to bear, I can close my eyes and recall the lightness of being that comes when I fully let go.
I did finally manage to extract myself from the evil clutches of that carrot-colored seat and make my way home.