Reality is something I have always questioned. Highly suspect. My first hint to the semi-permeability of existence, I think, was when I first noticed that people could disappear. In some rooms of the world, people appear, my daily astonishment in Labor and Delivery—the constant blebbing of new people into the world from bournes in dark hallways; in other rooms, in other dark hallways, they disappear. Coming from and going to where? Grandma Priscilla disappeared when I was four—but her disappearance, I recall even then, seemed to me highly suspect. Same the day my favorite student was murdered in New Orleans. I still cannot let go because it doesn’t quite seem he has entirely departed.
My family medicine preceptor, a kindred spirit to be sure, showed me a marvelous piece of writing on the topic of the afterlife: Proof of Heaven written by neurosurgeon Eben Alexander who had a near death experience (note: I haven’t read the whole book, so do not necessarily consider this a recommendation. But these several passages stopped me in my tracks.) The author describes the sound of angel singing that he heard while brain dead in the hospital: The joy of these creatures was such that they had to make this noise…the sound was palpable and almost material, like a rain that you can feel on your skin but doesn’t get you wet.
I know this feeling—the right harmony has always caused the flesh on my forearms and stomach to tickle and goosebump like a chill from the best sickness there is–longing. He goes on to say: It seemed that you could not look at or listen to anything in this [other] world without becoming a part of it—without joining with it in some mysterious way… Everything was distinct, yet everything was also a part of everything else, like the rich and intermingled designs on a Persian carpet.
On his journey through this Other world, he met a woman, an Angel: She looked at me with a look that, if you saw it for five seconds, would make your whole life up to that point worth living, no matter what had happened in it so far. It was not a romantic look. It was not a look of friendship. It was a look that was somehow beyond all these, beyond all the different compartments of love we have down here on earth.
She did not speak but communicated to him these simple messages:
“You are loved and cherished, dearly, forever.”
“You have nothing to fear.”
Reading Alexander’s warm description of what he believes to be the afterlife, penned by a man who had previously believed that everything in the universe could be explained in cold science, I was struck by how strongly I recognized his representation, having never once nearly died myself.
I have known people, Real People, here on earth who have given me the look he attributes to the angel woman. I know what it is to have your skin crawl with the sound of beauty—to have the written word press upon my chest with its weight, among all the other synesthesias of fine art. And again and again, Real People enter my life from the most unexpected trajectories offering me these very same messages of love and peace—you have nothing to fear, Rachel. You are loved.
While I don’t doubt that there is much beyond the veneer of reality we clutch about ourselves like summer nightgowns, I also feel rather confident that the heaven Eben Alexander found is already sneaking its way into the world…because I don’t have to imagine it, or hallucinate it, or almost die to have the same inklings.
This one (or two) is for all the Real people out there I have been so blessed to meet, if for no other reason than that I might know a little heaven here on Earth.
Adapted from Bon Appétit
1/2 cup unsweetened multi-grain cereal (such as 7-grain—I use Bob’s Red Mill because it has oats, barley, triticale, flax seeds, rye, whole wheat berries..you know, the good stuff that tastes like real food.)
2 cups boiling water
1 cup sourdough starter
4 1/3 cups (about) bread flour (more than half with whole wheat)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons sesame seeds
2 teaspoons flax seeds
2 teaspoons poppy seeds
Place cereal in large bowl. Pour 2 cups boiling water over. Let stand until mixture cools to between 105°F. and 115°F for about 20 minutes.
Pour sourdough starter over cereal. Add 1 cup bread flour, oil, sugar and salt and stir until smooth. Gradually mix in enough remaining flour to form dough. Cover dough; let rest 15 minutes.
Turn out dough onto floured surface. Knead until smooth and elastic, adding more flour if sticky, about 10 minutes. Oil large bowl. Add dough to bowl; turn to coat. Cover bowl with clean kitchen towel. Let dough rise in warm area until doubled, about 1 hour.
Mix all seeds in bowl. Punch down dough. Turn out onto lightly oiled surface. Knead briefly. Shape into a round loaf, or two smaller boules. Sprinkle baking sheet with 2 teaspoons seeds. Place loaf atop seeds. Cover with towel. Let rise in warm area until almost doubled, about 30 minutes.
Position an oven rack in center and one just below center in oven. Place baking pan on lower rack and preheat oven to 425°F. Brush loaf with water. Sprinkle with remaining seed mixture. Using sharp knife, cut 3 diagonal slashes in surface of loaf. Place baking sheet with loaf in oven. Spray with water several times in the first ten minutes. Bake loaf until golden and crusty, about 35 minutes.
Here’s KP eating dinner in front of Izzy. I wanted to see what the world looked like from her reality—and, as it turns out, KP and I look almost exactly like angels from her standpoint. Just goes to show, you never know whose angel you might be.