The biggest of the three men slipped behind me and clamped his arm around my throat. Money! His voice was a rasp. His massive arm was pressing down on nerves that made it impossible for me to move my arm to reach the money in my front pocket, and I couldn’t talk to tell him this. Money now! He pulled his grip tighter. My vision started going black around the edges. I remember thinking the situation was absurd. It was like being caught in the gears of a machine, relentless, senseless, merciless.
I glimpsed the absurdity of the larger situation: I was a young woman alone at night on a deserted side in Hell’s Kitchen, lost in thought, oblivious to the world around her. “When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully, “ wrote the English scholar and sage Samuel Johnson. Attention suddenly terribly collected, I glimpsed that I was a kind ghost drifting above the living world, disembodied, dreaming, constantly substituting thoughts for real impressions of reality.
My brain sped up, working as fast as it had ever worked, calculating the size and strength of my attacker, the agility of two young men guarding me, my capacities, running aspect until it concluded it was hopeless, there could be no escape, no movie-like scene in which I would turn out to be a spy with deadly martial arts skills who could throw off her attackers. It was like watching a computer crash. The screen of the mind literally went blank.
It was then that I saw the light. It was a small light at first, the sunlight of awareness broke through the dense cloud cover of thought. This awareness welled up to fill my whole body and mind, brilliant, crystalline, revealing the situation inside and out just as it was—there I was trapped, gasping, helpless.
The light inside me gained force and direction until it became a stream of dazzling white light that shot out of the top of my head, soaring up until it merged with a dazzling light that was suddenly above me and all around me. Behind all the forms around me, behind the tenements and skyscrapers in the distance, behind the young guys in hooded sweatshirts who stood o the sidewalk in front of me, there was a brilliant light, a luminous energy.
Suddenly, I realized that I could see myself and my attacker from behind and above. I could see the top and back of my own head as well as his massive back and head. I watched myself gasping, watched as my knees buckled, and at the same time I watched myself looking up at the light. Until I was embraced by that light.
You might well be thinking that all this was a result of physical shock, of oxygen deprivation. A choke hold can kill in 20-30 seconds. Someone skilled in martial arts can knock someone out within 8 seconds using such a hold, and brain damage can happen after about 15 seconds because stopping blood flow to and from the brain can lead to brain hemorrhage, and/or the pressure on the heart can cause it to stop. If only the airway is constricted, someone (me) could reasonably last minutes before death occurs. In fact, someone once offered to put me in a similar choke hold to prove that similar effects would happen.
But that what I’m about to describe did not depend on my embattled brain and body—except that I was there to witness it. I’ve fainted, had high fevers, various drug experiences, amazing dreams. Yet never in those experiences did I have that feeling of being met, seen–lifted out of the darkness of my own isolation as I was. As others who have written about near death experience have related, it was conveyed to me that I was loved and completely accepted, that there was nothing I could do to lose that love. Is there a drug that can do that? And where might I get it?
Stay tuned for the dramatic conclusion….