December 19, 2019

Travels – 2019 Writing Award Winner, Prose

Honeysuckle, come here.  I want to talk to you.”  Grammy loved me; I could tell.  She held my hand and looked into my eyes.  She wasn’t mad at me.  She loved me.  She told me that it wasn’t right to tell a lie.  I had lied about spilling the cereal in the kitchen.  But she had seen what happened, she saw me tell my mom that I didn’t know what happened.  

My real name is Lucie, but she called me “Honeysuckle”.  I asked her why once, and she said “Because I love you.  Honeysuckle means that you’re special – too special for a regular name.”  It was the first time I had seen Grammy since she died 20 years ago.

Yes, she died 20 years ago.  By our everyday human standards, she is no longer alive.  However, as I discovered, and as I will try to explain to you, life is not that simple.  At the mature age of 44, I began my travels.  I had no control over them, but I was summoned to travel, usually when I least expected it. 

I spent most of my life in the traditional way, just like you and everyone else in the world as we know it.  I guess you could say my life was ordinary, in many ways.  I was married after college, at age 26.  I went to graduate school and finished my degree in chemistry.  I always loved trying to understand the world on a microscopic level.  Most of the world has no ideas about molecular binding and things like that that are going on all around them every day.  Anyway, I taught chemistry at the university, three days a week.  My husband, Paul, is also a chemist.  We had two lovely daughters together, Marie and Lynn.  They have always been the pride and joy of our lives.  I always knew that no career success could ever compare to the happiness of raising a family.  

The first time that my heart went into an arrhythmia, I thought I was dying.  In fact, I knew I was dying.  It happened during a class I was teaching.  Organic Chemistry.  Right in the middle of alkenes, degrees of unsaturation, and cyclohexane conformation stability, it hit me.  I could feel the lifeblood draining from my limbs and I could see my hands turning blue.  I felt a desperate, driving force to tell someone some fantastic last words, “Tell Paul that I love him”, “Tell Marie and Lynn that I love them”, “Tell the rest of the world that nothing else matters except for love.”  I couldn’t speak and I felt the weight of my body helplessly pressed against the floor.   Things were fading in and out – the floor, the ceiling of my classroom, people gathering around, looking horrified, paramedics arriving.  I was helpless to say or do anything.

On the way to the hospital, I suddenly found myself back in a childhood memory.  My mother was rocking me to sleep, singing me a lullaby.  I had my favorite blanket.  What memory could be better than that?  But I wasn’t just watching it happen.  I was that child; I felt her arms around me.  I could feel the worn flannel of my blanket, feel the rocker going back and forth, see the dim light of the nightlight.

Suddenly a lightning bolt jolted through my body and I was rudely reawakened to the harsh lights in the ER.  On a stretcher, with a crowd of people in scrubs around me.  Very worried looks on their faces – why?  “Is there a pulse?  Check for a pulse!!”  “She’s got a pulse!  Get a pressure!”  “Start the amiodarone!”  “Put the defib pads on!”  On and on.  Frantic voices, frantic faces.  Finally, someone realized that there is a person in the lump of protoplasm on the stretcher.  “Mrs. Takim – can you hear me?  Are you having any pain?  Do you know where you are?” 

Eventually, they told me that it was a cardiac arrhythmia.  “Life-threatening” was the term they used.  “Cardiac arrest”, they said.  “Anti-arrhythmic agents”, “defibrillation”, were the terms I heard over and over.  According to the doctors, if not for their superb, magnificent medical skills, I wouldn’t be alive.  I choose to believe otherwise. 

I didn’t tell anyone about my first travel back to childhood.  How can an adult go back in time and experience a childhood memory again?  I asked myself this question many times over the next few weeks.  It’s not plausible, I would tell myself.  Not logical.  I live in the year 2020, and so does everyone else around me.  Nothing that happened 40 years ago can be re-lived.  It just can’t happen.  It must have been a very vivid dream.

Many of my travels have been to childhood memories.  A wise man once said, “We spend our lifetimes trying to recover from childhood.”  I suppose there’s some truth to that.

After that first experience, I gave up on the entire concept of “last words”.  After all, Karl Marx once said, “Last words are for fools who haven’t said enough”.  Trying to speak while dying isn’t very successful, I discovered, so I decided that I had better take the opportunity to say what should be said before dying.    I told my husband every day that I loved him.  I told my daughters that I love them.  I told the waitress how much I appreciate her friendly smile and good service.  I told the librarian what a great job she was doing.  I told the flustered mother in the grocery store line that she shouldn’t worry about a fussy child, that her child is beautiful and no one minds the fuss.  I told my dog that he is lucky to have so little to worry about every day.

I can’t really explain how I traveled to all of these various times and places.  It wasn’t anything too fantastic, nothing like traveling a million miles an hour in a space rocket.  I simply became aware of things that were occurring simultaneously in our world, yet unrecognized by our five limited senses.  Each time I traveled, I was rudely awakened by a lightning bolt (defibrillation, they call it) that brought me back to reality – “thank goodness we saved your life!” 

I visited my old high school once.  Many years ago, I had spoken some cruel words to an old boyfriend.  I had always regretted what I said.  When I realized that I was re-living the experience, my first thought was, “Great!  Time travel.  Now I can change the past.”  Oh, well, too good to be true.  No such thing.  I realized that events of the past are not necessarily distinct items planted in time, they just are.  Sorry I can’t explain it any better than that.  It goes back to my sense of awareness, that some things just are.

Once I visited a small village, poverty-stricken by our US standards.  I don’t know the time or place of this village.  It could have been modern, ancient, Africa, or some similar place.  Hundreds of people lived in huts, with no material possessions to speak of.  People were constantly busy, helping each other prepare meals or repair huts or raise children.  Many were disfigured from disease or trauma, I suppose.  They told stories, danced, and laughed.  They prayed and sang.  Yet I saw no anger, no jealousy, no contention.  People seemed to share common goals and work ethic.  How could they be happy under these conditions that most of us would find miserable?  Seeing happiness in this type of environment helped to teach me what happiness really is. 

I became a much better musician.  I had played the cello for many years and was technically proficient.  After my world expanded, I felt more aware of composers and why thy might have composed works of music.  I was more aware of Schumann possibly looking over my shoulder to see if I were able to communicate the message he intended when he composed Cello Concerto in A minor. People noticed my “musical flair” had improved, my “expressive talent” was “showcased”.  I call it a sense of awareness.  Music communicates.  Music loves.  Music inspires.  Music makes us feel.  Music is.      

Our understanding of the concept of time is extremely limited.  I suppose it’s necessary, because our minds can only process a few events occurring simultaneously, so everything in a lifetime must sprawl over years and years, so we can process, live, make decisions, and remember.  But really, it’s much more complicated than that.  I believe that in the next life we will have a completely new and different understanding of time.  Perhaps everything that has ever happened and will ever happen coexists simultaneously in the same space, and our comprehension is so limited that it prevents us from seeing these other things.

I’m not the only one who has ever traveled to other worlds.  Haven’t you ever experienced Déjà vu?  Haven’t you ever had a dream where you could fly?  How do you know that those dreams and visions aren’t real?  Maybe they are real.

Maybe you are somehow getting a glimpse of other realities.

Some people are labeled “schizophrenic”.  They hear voices, see things, do not care about the physical things of this world.  Most of them don’t understand their “disorder”.  They see that they don’t fit in with our limited world.  But really, they are seeing glimpses of other realities.  Those voices they hear are real.  They just don’t understand them.

One time I must have hit a cell phone frequency in my travels.  I perceived hundreds of telephone conversations simultaneously.  I can’t explain exactly how I perceived them.  I didn’t really hear them with my ears, I didn’t really see them, I just knew of them.  Some people might have been moved by the young couple excitedly discussing their recent engagement.  Some may have been upset by the frantic 911 calls.  I was the most moved by the calls that some would refer to as “routine”: “Honey, can you pick up milk on your way home?”  “Sure, sweetheart.  Who’s driving Sam to basketball practice tonight?”  In those routine communications, I could hear the shared lives and shared love that everyday life can bring.  Those everyday expressions of working together and caring together were the most poignant to me.

My last trip to other worlds was the best.  I wish I could have stayed.  I was free for hours.  Oh, sure, every once in a while, I was forced back by the lightning bolts, but I kept leaving to do more important things.  I wish I had the language skills to tell you about what happened.  I’ll try.  I saw things – many things.  Many things simultaneously.  Many things all around the world, from many times and places.  I visited my parents.  I expressed my love and appreciation for them, and we visited for what seemed an endless moment, about the world, eternity, love, God, how humans fit into God’s plan.  I hugged them and could feel their physical bodies.  They aren’t just some ghosts floating around the skies.  I visited my 3rd grade teacher, Mrs. Lorman.  She was the one who loved me, even though I was homely and unpopular.  I saw Noah on the ark.  I had always loved the story, as a child, but no story could adequately explain the feeling of being on that ark.  That place was full of love and acceptance, and the stories don’t explain that.  “Can I pet the elephant?  I have always loved elephants”.  Simultaneously I saw God in the distance.  I recognized Him, and I see why many people describe Him as a “light”.  He had an earthly form, yet I could feel light emanating from Him – He is more than a man.  Anyway, He was in the distance, with many people around Him, and as I gazed as Him, He looked up and saw me, and smiled.  My only frustration was that I could not reach him.  For some reason, I was prevented from getting any closer, but I felt His love, even from that distance.  I felt a glorious feeling that I miss every single day of my life.    I was interrupted by a lightning bolt.  “Her blood pressure is dangerously low.  She’s hallucinating.”  Once again, the doctors don’t understand.  They don’t know that I was really there.

Later my daughter told me about the events in this world – apparently it started out with another episode of arrhythmia.  I passed out and my daughter called 911.  I woke up in the ER after the usual lightning bolt.  “Thank goodness!” “We saved her!”  I could see the relief in their faces that I was “saved”.  They don’t understand.  They think they saved my life – all they did was limit my travels.  Now I am back to the limitations of my physical body.  The minutes ticked by, as I floated in and out of my body.  Even when I was back in my body, on the stretcher, I was at peace.  For hours, I could see the doctors, the nurses, my family, wringing their hands, worrying, rushing, ordering medications – “Hang the amiodarone, STAT!” “Does she have a pulse?” “Start CPR!” “Hold on, ma’am, we’re going to save you”  “Mom, hang on!”  Why were they so upset and worried?  Couldn’t they see that I was at peace?  Don’t they believe that I would be the best judge of my status? 

I didn’t want to have the cardiac ablation.  I wasn’t troubled by my medical condition.  Why would I be?  I was at peace.  But I could see that Marie especially was being hurt by these events.  She cried a lot.  “Mom, I can’t take it.  You have to let the doctors fix you.”  It made no sense to me – why would I want to fight nature?  I was at peace with the world and with God.  It was okay.  Whatever happened would be okay.  But I couldn’t stand to see her pain.  I never wanted to hurt my family.  And so, I reluctantly agreed.  “It was successful!”  Success – how do they measure success?        

Now, every day seems full of drudgery and limitations.  I have to waste time eating breakfast so my stomach won’t growl.  I have to waste time driving from one place to another, just to physically transport my body form one location to another.  I have to shop and pick out clothes, just to keep my body covered.  I have to spend hours and hours every day merely sleeping, in a state of unconsciousness.  All those wasted hours and minutes, accomplishing nothing of any importance.  I miss the freedom to devote my energies to things of importance – to loving people, helping people, expanding my mind, connecting with other people, with nature, with animals, with God.

I quit my job.  It was wasting too much of my time.  I don’t clean my house much anymore.  I have to get dressed, or people would be shocked, somehow, but I don’t put much effort into my clothes, hair, makeup, things that I used to spend a lot of time with.  My family doesn’t understand this.  My husband thinks I’m depressed.  I wouldn’t say depressed; I am just more contemplative, more introspective, more searching.  Now that I believe there is a God, there is everlasting life, there is love; I seek after these things.  I need more time to find the truth in this world.  I have seen truth in other worlds.  I have seen God and His love.  I have seen the past, present, and future co-existing and interacting.  I have seen good and evil, and why the balance is necessary.  I have seen people learning about what really matters. 

I guess I’m a slow learner.  I had to see, to feel, to believe that there is more to life than we might first comprehend.  Well, do you believe my story?  I hope that you can see what’s really important before you go through what I’ve been through.  I’m kind of like “doubting Thomas” – he had to see and feel to believe.  Jesus told the disciples, “blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”

Now that I am limited to this world, I have a desperate desire to find more truth.  It must be here.  I’ve tried many churches, many religions, and philosophies.  There is so much truth in many sources, but still, nothing feels quite right.  There must be a religion, a philosophy, a convent, book, a place, or something where I can feel the things I felt when I was traveling.  There must be some explanation of life, what it means, why we are here, where we are going.  There must be a way to feel what I felt …

I go to the library every day.  I read voraciously – scriptures, philosophical writings, biographies.  I search religions and philosophies on the internet.   I find pieces of the puzzle in these sources.  I see truth, pieces of truth.  I listen to my favorite music every day, and sometimes I feel truth in music.

I read a lot about quantum physics.  The idea is intriguing, and I’m sure there is some truth to the concept.  Yes.  Subatomic particles.  Particles smaller than the electron.  Smaller than the quark.  Smaller than the gluon.  It makes sense.  Why would our simple understanding of molecules be the only explanation of how things are?  Why would there be a limit to the microscopic size of particles we can find?  For that matter, why should there be a limit to the vastness of space?  Quantum physics suggests that time travel might be possible.  E=mc2.  Time is the fourth dimension.  We might be able to change time as we know it.  It’s a start, but it doesn’t come close to explaining the things that have happened to me.

Particle-wave duality.  Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle.  Schrodinger’s cat.  The cat is both alive and dead simultaneously.  Look it up on the internet.  I don’t have time to explain it to you.

I go to different churches every week.  Sometimes I feel glimpses of truth.  Many churches have little bits of truth.  I pray every day that I will find a way to find the ultimate truth, a religion that will teach truth, show the way, explain what life is all about and what I should do about it.  I pray that I will find it, or that it will find me, somehow.  Otherwise, this world is meaningless.  Who wants to live a life shackled by mundane activities like eating, sleeping, buying groceries, paying the telephone bill?  Where is the meaning in those things?  I know there is more.  I have seen it; I have felt it.  I know that life is a series of connections with God, with other human beings, with the universe.  I am sure that every person on the earth has a reason for being here.  I’m not sure what my reason is yet. 

I pray every day that I will find meaning amidst the confusion of everyday life.  I want to know God, I want to know what He wants from me, what I should do.  I want to feel His love again.  Where can I turn for peace?

“Please, God, tell me what I should do.  I want to feel what I felt.  Why am I here?  Where am I going?  I know you are there, but I need help.”  I was in the middle of one of these prayers when I was interrupted by a knock at the door. 

Catherine Marco, MD, FACEP