Many years ago, I worked as a janitor at a local hospital.
My co-workers were an eccentric assortment of social misfits, chronic alcoholics, unskilled immigrants, and college students,
like myself, who comprised the part-time weekend crew. It was a subsistence level job, but supervision was light on weekends,
which afforded us time for flirting with aides, taking naps, playing cards and even drinking beer. But one day on the job,
I received an unexpected lesson from the most unlikely of teachers about the mystery of life and death on planet earth.
was a Sunday in 1969. I was dry mopping patients’ rooms, and working off a hangover from partying with my friends the
previous night. I came to one of the last rooms on the ward and went in. I saw a young woman about my age sitting up in bed
smiling at me with what I can only describe as a heavenly gaze. She seemed surrounded by ethereal light. Her gaze was like
an enraptured beam of knowingness which contained a recognition of me; her presence penetrated my personal boundaries, but
not in a way which made me feel angry or intimidated. On the contrary, her gaze induced in me a hazy remembrance of who I
really am, and made me more concentrated in the present moment. I was 19 at the time, and she was attractive, not in the way
most attractive girls seemed to me then- - all legs, breasts, hair and nylon stockings with a discarnate voice attached to
the “package.” No, this one was different. She was cutting through all that-loud and clear. I realize now that
what I was feeling was a state not so much unknown to people, as forgotten. I think we are all like this for a time in childhood.
And I have come to think some people are like this just before they die.
We talked for about five minutes and afterwards
I could not recall what we said. A nurse came in to administer a treatment to her, and I had to leave the room. Once outside,
I paused to consider. I had limited experience with women at that time, having attended a boys’ high school, and I wondered
at this witnessing of her Christ-consciousness. This was indeed the real thing, unlike the contrived righteousness of so many
proselytizers and religionists I had known. Since I worked only on weekends, I decided that the following weekend, I would
get her number so I could ask her out when she got better. The idea entered my thoughts and even my dreams that week.
so Saturday came, and I went to work as always, dumping garbage, buffing floors, and cleaning patients’ rooms. For some
reason, I didn’t go to her room right away even though I had been anticipating it all week. I put it off. I knew that
with women, you couldn’t appear too eager, even if you have steam coming out your ears. I also knew that sometimes trying
to repeat a great experience ruins it. I was afraid that my attention and eagerness might disrupt a delicate psychic balance
and somehow ruin what might become a great friendship, love affair or an earth-shaking spiritual encounter of some kind. But
finally it was 2 o‘clock and I still had done nothing, so I resolved to take action.
I went to her room, took
a breath and entered with my mop, ready to see the face of a saint. But instead I saw an old woman. I said nothing, quickly
assuming the girl had been discharged during the week. When I came out of the room, a nurse was passing by and I said, “Excuse
me, but can you tell me where the girl is who was in this room last week?” The nurse looked crestfallen and said in
a low voice, “The girl you’re talking about passed away last Monday.” The girl I had talked to had been
living her last day on the earth….
I didn’t know how to process this experience and I mentally “put
it in a box” for future reference. But a few years later, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ On Death and Dying was published,
which, despite its morbid sounding title, was inspirational and life-affirming. I recognized what she termed the final
stage of acceptance.
Dr. Alan Hamilton, author of the Scalpel and the
Soul, writes, “ As a surgeon, I’ve had lots of opportunities to observe individuals as they die. As I’ve
talked to them, every one of my dying patients reports to me that they feel a great sense of peace as death comes. They describe
being in the midst of a beautiful, loving divine presence. Close to the end, my dying patients appear to be overcome by a
moment of final grace and rapture. There’s a glorious light, they always say. There’s a last great overwhelming
thrust of love propelling them across the chasm. I think that tells us what lies on the other side of this life, when we finally
“pass over.” I know it comforts me every single day of my life. “
I had received an unexpected lesson
in the nature of life and death, and of the power of consciousness that touched me for a mere moment- and here I am writing
about it more than forty years later. We can call it the Christ consciousness, Krisna, or even just the higher power...it
doesn't matter. But if we want a world without war, our mission in the world is to cultivate higher consciousness and conquer
We live in interesting times. In western civilization, our scientific acumen has come at the price of the
abandonment of our instinctive ancient knowledge of death and dying, but this is about to change. As the baby boomers progress
to the last phase of life, many of them will choose to age and die consciously. People will see death in a new way, which
isn’t new at all. The world is a place of unceasing mystery and we are much more than we think. In the words of Robert
Frost,"Earth's the right place for love."