Interview Recorded by NDERF 3/5/2004.
Transcribed by Amey G. 7/5/2015.
Hi, my name is Bill VandenBush and I’m the author of If Morning Never Comes. I’d like you to be aware of my book, I’m going to talk a little bit about my near-death experience and I’d also like you to be aware of my upcoming tour. I’ll be touring around the country to IANDS and near-death studies groups throughout the country. Maybe we can even post the schedule later on this website.
So I’d like to get right into telling you the story.
In 1968, I was a young man, very healthy man, and I had just graduated from high school and I was a war protester and a hippie: long hair, bell-bottom pants, paisley shirts. And one day when we were riding back from a protest, and everybody was hollering and protesting and singing protest songs, it struck me that I don’t really know what the Vietnam war is all about. In 1968 was at the height of the Vietnam War and it was on television, but I really didn’t understand what that was all about.
And I really didn’t understand why people wanted to protest the war. So as a young, enthusiastic and inquisitive young man, I joined the army and volunteered to go to Vietnam so that I could better understand what this was about – what this war was about.
I was in Vietnam about ten months and had seen lots of death and dying and had been in combat and had lost many friends. And I had two good friends and we always said that as long as the three of us were together, we would cover each other’s back and nothing would happen to the others.
And one day, they got called up to go on R&R, rest and relaxation, and wanted to go to Thailand for a week for a little break and come back. That left me all alone to manage my squad. And I thought, “Well, that’s no big deal – I can manage a week on my own.”
So we were headed back to our base camp, I was in charge of the squad, and we had a call on the radio that said a helicopter had been shot down and they wanted some volunteers to go rescue the pilot and copilot and crew and destroy the equipment before it fell in the hands of the enemy. Which was pretty typical, there was nothing unusual about that request because we always took that actionary course; it was pretty typical of us to do something like that.
So I volunteered my squad and the minute that we showed up on the scene - they flew us in by helicopter - I knew that things were not going to go well. I started feeling uncomfortable and I had a sense that it wasn’t going to be a good day.
So I got my squad off the helicopter and we were taking fire (from the enemy) almost immediately. The commander motioned for me to take my squad around the base of the hill and to search for the downed helicopter and try to find the crew and he was going to take his group and go around to the other side.
Well, my squad got pinned down (by enemy fire) about half way there. I motioned for the men to move forward and get some cover and I stayed back so I that I could see where the enemy was firing from and fire tracer bullets in that direction so my squad could shoot in that direction. And things were getting pretty hairy – we were taking a lot of fire and we couldn’t move and I knew that something was going to have to happen before we could get out of there.
The next thing I know, I heard some jet planes flying over and I realized that the company commander had called in an air strike. And I saw them drop their first load of bombs and they hit near the top of the hill. And that was okay, that was good. They were trying were trying to flush the enemy soldiers up the hill and away from our position. And I thought, my gosh, if they drop those bombs just a second or two sooner, because of the way the terrain was there, that they’d hit much lower on the hill. And that’s where we were.
So I looked up and I watched, and as they dropped the bomb, I realized that they were going to come right down on my position. And I was out in the open. I got down as low to the ground as I could, but shrapnel from the bomb hit me in the face and crushed my face and tore out my right eye. And I knew that at the ripe old age of 19, I was going to die. This was it; this was the end for me. I now knew what war was all about. I had gotten my experience, the experience I had looked for and now I was going to die.
I thought about all the things I hadn’t yet done at nineteen years old. It had always been my goal to have a wife and a family and a home and live the American dream and get up every morning and go to work and pat the dog and say goodbye to the kids and now that wasn’t going to happen because I was going to die thousands of miles from home.
I wanted someone there to comfort me; I wanted my mother; I wanted that sense of family to be around me as I passed, but no one was there. Even my men didn’t know I was badly hit - they were all safe – I had moved them forward.
But the next thing I know, I had taken off my pack and just relaxed and accepted the fact that I was going to die. And I had gone into this dark tunnel. And I was very peaceful, very calm, even though I was still wounded – I was still in my wounded body. I was no longer bleeding and there was no pain and there was no concern about this injury.
And as I moved forward in the dark tunnel, I passed into a bright, white light. And it was the most incredibly beautiful, peaceful, calm, loving place I had ever been in my life. It was full of this unconditional love and this great knowledge of the universe. And not knowledge like, “One and one is two”, but knowledge of why we exist and who we are and the vastness of our spirit and our spirit being that exists in this universe.
And I felt very comfortable and I was being approached by a being –
a being of light. And as he came to me, I recognized that it was my grandfather. And he had passed away about five years prior to that, so I knew that that was not a living situation but one that was in another dimension. I spoke to my grandfather; we communicated for a short time. He told me that this would be all right; that this was a wonderful place and that I should just relax and take everything as it came.
Beyond me, I could see that there was a beautiful setting. It was almost this pristine meadow and water and I wanted to move there. I had this feeling that I needed to move toward that. But as I did, another being approached me, one that was obviously someone that was in charge, someone in authority. And that person said that I couldn’t go on, that I had to return – go back where I’d come from. And he told me that I had a higher purpose to fulfill and that I’d be fulfilling that purpose and that at some point, after that purpose was fulfilled, I would return to that place.
And he told me that regardless of what happened that day, I would not die and that I would live a relatively long and productive life. It didn’t mean much to me at that point. I mean, I was paying attention to what was being said but I couldn’t think much about what was behind me, what I’d left behind. I think it was all very fuzzy and unclear but he was telling me that everything would be all right, that I would return to my body and no matter what happened, I’d be okay.
So being the good soldier, I turned around and walked away and I was back in the dark corridor moving away from the white light. And again, I had this sense of peace and calm, but unlike the going into the light, this time, coming out of the light, I was still bathed in the light. I felt like I was surrounded by this white light and this peace and this calm and this sense of unconditional love and a sense that there’s nothing to worry about – that everything comes as it should.
So I woke up, I was back on the battlefield. I was conscious again. I was still bleeding, but now there was no pain, there was no concern, no worry. My right eye had fallen out and my face was very badly wounded and I was wounded down the right side. And as I lay there on the ground, thinking about getting up and getting help, I hollered at my men to stay down and another man, one of the men from my squad came crawling out of the bushes and he’d been shot in the chest. And I laid him down and I took his pack off, and as I did, he had a big hole in his back where the bullet had exited.
And I knew at that moment that he was going to go where I had just come from. So I took him in my arms and I held him and I looked in his eyes and he died. He passed on right there in my arms.
And as he did, I could see his spirit rise up out of his body. It was like a white cloud that came out of his head and chest. And for a brief moment, we communicated. We spoke telepathically. And I knew that he was going to go where I had just come from. And I told him that everything was fine, everything was all right, just to let go – to go there and that everything would be taken care of, he wouldn’t have to do anything. And he seemed to be at peace and ease as he left, as his spirit left, and I could no longer communicate.
But I was still bathed in the white light. I was still feeling quite comfortable even though badly wounded. And as I started to get back off the ground, the man that had just shot my friend, my comrade, came out of the bushes and shot me, five times, through the arm, chest and through the neck. I saw the bullets coming out of the gun, in slow motion. I could feel them enter my body. I saw the blood, I saw the tissue tear and yet, I was not concerned. There was no fear, there was no worry; I was still bathed in the white light. I had no pain, no sense of dying again. There was nothing in me but a sense of life and living and moving forward. And I picked up my weapon and I fired back at this man, but I don’t think I hit him, I think I just scared the hell out of him. Because after that, no one shot at me, no one came after me.
Somehow, I managed to walk about 300 yards, back to where the other men were. I walked through hedgerows and rice paddies and such without being obstructed by any of this. I could also, at that time, I could see myself, my wounds and it was as if there were two of me: one looking at me, from outside my body and then the other, looking inside my body. And I was helping myself to breathe, to stop the bleeding from the wounds, I was patching my own wounds and at the same time I was doing this, this external force, this external part of me, this spirit that was outside looking at me, could see 360 degrees around.
And I was able to see where the other men were. I could walk directly to them, even though there were obstacles in my way. They didn’t get in my way – I walked right through them – I walked through the hedgerows without anything – without any concern that I was going to have to stop and fight my way through it.
And when I finally got to the other side and I found the medics and the radio van and the other commander and his group, a couple of men came rushing over and they put their hands on me and this spirit went right back in my body. And I was at peace; I was at ease. I could hear everyone around me just in a panic: “Oh, we’re going to get an airway started. Watch that arm! Be careful, don’t move him too much.”
They’re all talking; I could hear them all talking. I could hear the panic in their voice and yet, I was perfectly calm. I wanted to say to them, “Don’t worry, everything’s going to be fine. I’ll be alright.”
And yet, I couldn’t speak. The bullet had passed through my neck, and torn out my vocal chords and damaged my larynx and I was unable to speak to them. So I just let go and I relaxed. And they put me on a helicopter and sent me to an area field hospital. And they really couldn’t do much for me there. They looked at me and said, “This man is probably not save-able. And we have many others that we have to treat.” And so I was set aside, basically to die, and if I lived long enough to get to surgery, fine, that’s what would happen.
And I don’t know how much time passed, after a short period of time, or a long period of time, I don’t know which, someone came out and they said, “Oh, he’s still alive.” And they gave me some more blood and more IVs and a couple of men had come from my company to identify me and I remember seeing them and wanting to talk to them but they just got close enough to say, “Oh, yeah, that’s him. That’s Bill.” And they left.
So when the doctors got to me, basically, there wasn’t much they could do, so they did the best they could in the field hospital and sent me to a bigger hospital, where they did what they could and sent me to an even bigger hospital. And eventually to a hospital ship in Da Nang Harbor.
Where by this time, I’m getting tired of laying down on the stretchers and gurneys and the tables and I’m still very conscious, at this time. In fact, throughout the entire ordeal, I never lost consciousness, except during my near-death experience, when I went out of body.
And I was on the hospital ship, and they’d just brought me in and there was a corps man who was attending to me, trying to take the bandages off that had been put on so he could see my wounds and was giving me more blood and another IV and wanted to know about some pain and was going to give me some morphine, but I just shook my head, “No.”
And I motioned that I wanted a pen and pencil to write with and I wrote him a little note saying, “I want to sit up.” I want to be up because it’s more comfortable to sit up than to lie down because all the wounds to my head and chest and such were uncomfortable when I was lying down.
And so he helped me to sit up. He didn’t really know if I should sit up or not, but I was pretty insistent, so he helped me to sit up. And when the doctor came in, I’m sitting on the exam table. And he looks at me and he looks at my wounds and he starts pacing back and forth, shaking his head and saying, “You shouldn’t be here. You should be dead – look at you; you’re a mess. And you’re sitting on my table.” He was amazed.
And so I wrote him a little note and I explained what had happened. And he read the note and the next thing I know, they were putting me under and taking me into surgery and doing the best they could to repair some of my wounds. It took another several weeks before I was able to leave the hospital ship in Vietnam and I was sent to a hospital in Japan, where I underwent further surgery and I was there for a little over a month.
And all the time that I was going through this ordeal, and not yet going home, this spirit was with me, this spirit from the light. And I continued to be bathed in the light and had the sense that everything was going to be okay. No matter what happened, I was going to live, I was going to go home, I was going to have a relatively normal life and that I would overcome all of these injuries.
Now the doctors were not as positive as I was. They were looking at me from a medical perspective, which said, “You’re not going to recover, you’re not going to speak, you don’t have any vocal chords. We’re probably going to have to cut your left arm off because of all the damage. You’re going to have to breathe through a trach (tracheotomy) tube for the rest of your life,” and a lot of negative talk, at least that’s what it felt like to me. And yet, what I’m seeing, is a relatively healthy man again. I’m seeing myself functioning as a relatively normal person. And the spirit that was with me, guided me, it talked to me, and told me everything was going to be all right.
One night, it was late in the evening and I was lying in my bed, and they rolled another patient in, in the bed right across from me. One of the nurses came over to me and said, “In the morning when you wake up, why don’t you go over and talk to that guy in the bed across from you? Because he has very similar wounds to yours and I think that if you went over and talked to him, it might help him to overcome these wounds.” Because I had, as I explain in my book in detail, I had forced myself to get up and to be much more functional than someone would be who was injured as badly as I was. (-00:34:40)
So I said, “Sure. I would do this.” You know, I’m writing notes, because I can’t speak. Okay, I’ll go over and I’ll be over by him in the morning, give him some comfort. When I awoke in the morning, his bed was empty. So when the nurse came, I wrote a little note and said, “What happened to the guy in the bed across the way?” She said, “Oh, he died in the night.”
That’s when it struck me, the seriousness of my injuries. And that somehow, I was different, I was fortunate. I had this light and this spirit to guide me. And obviously, he didn’t, he was struggling; he was not holding on to life with the same grip that I had. So I began to realize that there was something very, very special about this experience that I’d had. And I wanted to tell people about it, but I couldn’t. First of all, I couldn’t speak and trying to write this out, just didn’t work out very well.
There aren’t words in the English language, especially for a 19-year-old, who doesn’t have a huge vocabulary, - there aren’t words to describe the experience that I had. How do you tell someone that you went to another dimension of existence, or heaven, if you choose – that you spoke to God, or you spoke to a heavenly being? This is the kind of stuff they lock you up for, if you start talking about that.
So I was a little hesitant to talk about it and yet I had no real way of communicating it either, so I didn’t try too hard.
After about a year in the hospital, I was able to get out a little bit more. The army had discharged me, actually were very kind to me – gave me a full retirement at the ripe old age of 19 – and sent me to a (Veteran’s Administration) VA hospital. So in the VA hospital, there was again the same kind of negative attitude about my recovery. And yet, I was very conscious that I would somehow recover, that I would somehow learn to speak, that I would be able to use my arm and that I wouldn’t have to breathe through tubes.
It’s hard to explain how I knew this. It just wasn’t like seeing it in pictures or hearing voices - it was just this sense of knowing. It was a feeling, an emotion almost, that told me that everything would be all right.
Eventually, I did get out of the hospital. I went to the doctor one day. I said, “What happens if I take this tube out?” Of course, I wrote him a note. “What happens if I take this tube out of my neck?” And he looked at me, and he said, “You die.” And I said, well, I don’t know what to say about that. So I wrote him a little note and I took the tube out of my neck and I laid it on his desk and the note said, “Goodbye; I’m going home to die.” And I left – I walked out of the hospital.
This wasn’t entirely just an act of faith. I had gone to the library and studied up a little bit about the tissues in the throat and what happens when you take the trach tube out, how it heals and the fact that it doesn’t have to be stitched up or anything, it will just heal on its own if you leave it alone. The wound will close up and begin to heal within a matter of hours. So I just left and I had a piece of gauze and I put it over the hole and I went home.
And I didn’t go back. I went back for some plastic surgery. They rebuilt my face and gave me an artificial eye and used some cartilage from a cartilage bank to build up my face and made me look pretty much the way I looked prior to the injuries. And I went about my life.
And I wanted to tell people about this near-death experience, this out-of-body experience. And at the time, I didn’t even know that that’s what it was called. In fact, I didn’t even hear the term “near-death experience” until 1989. And this was 1969 that I was injured and had this experience, so 20 years later before I even heard that term.
For about the first three years, I made attempts to talk to people about this experience, and they really didn’t want to hear it. They wanted to hear a little bit about the war and what was going on but they didn’t want to hear about this crazy thing that I was talking about – they kind of pushed me away when I talked about that.
In 1969, 1970, ’71, young people weren’t into that, they weren’t open to that – it was a very different culture. So I reached a point where I stopped talking about this experience and I stopped thinking about it and I just put it out of my mind and I tried to live this American dream. So I got married, bought a house and tried to do all the things what I thought normal people do and live the life that I thought I really wanted before I went in the military.
But things didn’t work out well. Somehow, the marriage didn’t work well. We had a child – that didn’t seem to help the marriage much. We ended up getting divorced, selling my house; in fact, I moved completely out of the state. I was living in California: moved to Washington, mainly because that’s where my job took me.
But I still hadn’t really talked about this near-death experience. But I thought about it often as I went through all this difficult time. I was also going through what they call post-traumatic stress disorder from my experiences in the war. All the trauma, not just the injuries to myself but the trauma of seeing others injured and killed and having to take a human life and such effected me quite deeply. I had nightmares and it was making my life miserable. So I went through some treatment for that but I never told them about the out-of-body experience. I talked a lot about the war and what went on.
It was still there in my mind, it was still something that I remembered. The near-death experience was rather distant. So my life was really kind of going down the tubes. It was going into the toilet. I didn’t know where to go. I’d just been laid off my job. I was in a state where I had no friends or family. I knew I didn’t want to go back to California. Something was telling me, something inside said, “Stay here, stay in Washington, stay in Seattle.”
A little voice was telling me I had to make some changes. I didn’t really understand that. And I talked to people. And I didn’t really know what that was all about. But I was sitting in my little apartment, and I’d been out of work about six months, the money was starting to run out and things were getting pretty bad. I was living in this dingy little apartment and I heard a knock at the door. I was pretty depressed and really probably very close to taking my own life and going back to the light where I knew it was beautiful and calm and everything was wonderful.
And there was a knock at the door and I thought, oh, the last thing I wanted was to talk to somebody. I hesitated for a moment and there was a knock again and I thought, “Okay, I’ll see who it is.” And I opened the door and it’s the Avon (cosmetics door-to-door saleswoman) lady. And I thought, I don’t want to talk to this person. And she just kind of insisted on talking to me and coming in.
So we sat down and she looked around and she kind of realized that I’m probably not doing real well. My place is a little messy and I didn’t have much furniture or many belongings. So she started telling me about her church. And I thought, oh, you know, I’m not really a religious guy – I don’t want to hear much about her church. So I was looking for ways to get rid of her.
And she started telling me about this singles group that they had at the church and they would go on this retreat. And maybe I would like to go – I could meet some interesting people and kind of get closer to God and she had this sense that I needed to reunite with my spirit. So finally she talked me into going on this retreat, although I didn’t want to go and I was kind of looking for a way out. And she told me it would cost sixty dollars to go and I thought, “Ah, ha; there’s my way out.” So I said, Well, I can’t go because I don’t have sixty dollars to pay the tuition.”
And she said, “Well, my husband and I will pay the tuition for you. We offer to pay for folks that can’t pay for their own.” So I was stuck; I had to go on this thing. So I went to the church and it was on a Friday morning and the there was a bus that was going to pick us up and take us to this place way out in the wilderness where we were going to have this retreat. And I forced myself to go, knowing that this lady had put up the sixty bucks made me feel guilty if I didn’t go. So I decided I better go to this thing.
And I sat on the bus quietly on the way out there. Didn’t really talk to anybody and I thought, I’m just going to keep to myself. So we got there and it was late evening and we ate dinner and we went to bed.
The next morning, I got up quite early and I took a walk and I was sitting on a log and there was this beautiful meadow and there was a little fog and dew on the grass on the edges of the meadow. And as I was sitting there, a family of deer came walking out into the meadow and I thought, you can’t even imagine how beautiful this is – I want to share it with somebody. Because it’s like a picture postcard: incredibly beautiful setting and beautiful experience and as I watched the deer, I started to get more in touch with my spirit again.
I started to have this sense that I need to bring that light back into my life and I need to follow that spirit that tells me to go talk to people and to pursue other careers. And so I did. I actually met some very nice people and talked. And I didn’t tell them, per se, about my near-death experience but I started talking about my spirit, my spirituality and they seemed to understand what I was talking about, even though they were quite young.
So it was a great way – I had reconnected with my spirit. And again, these things that happen to us along the way in our life, that we don’t expect, and they have meaning and value when we have to accept things as they come. Understand that we have opportunities to grow but not often in a way that we’re really open to. Like the Avon lady, I was certainly not open to what she had to say, and yet I needed to hear that and I needed to be at that retreat.
Well, I came home and I seemed to have this renewed energy. So I went out looking for work and I went to a vocational counselor. I thought, well, I’m going to find someone who can help me find a job and I was talking to him and this little voice came to me and said, “You need to talk to people.” And I realized, this counselor, that’s what he does for a living – he talks to people. So I said, well I want your job – I want to do what you do. And he just kind of laughed at me because, you know, the education I’d had was in auto mechanics. And so I’d worked in the automotive industry for a few years before I’d been laid off of the job.
But I thought, well, I’m not going to give up on this. And he kept telling me, well, you should go back in the auto industry. And he actually hooked me up with an interview that looked like a great job – it looked like I was perfectly suited for this job. So I went out on the job interview and I met this guy and we went into his office, sat down and we talked. And he said, “Bill, you’re the best candidate we’ve had in here all day.” He says, “You’re perfectly qualified for the job – you’re really the kind of person I’d like to hire, but you know what? I think you’re better suited for the social services.”
I thought, what the heck is that all about? The social services - I never even imagined going into the social services. I couldn’t even imagine where that came from – I was so dumbfounded, I couldn’t even ask him where that came from. I just said, “Thanks” and left. I got to thinking about social services. Talk to people - what people in the social services do: they talk to people and they help people.
So I started looking around and I thought, well, I guess what I want to be is a counselor. And I’d been through some counseling for my post-traumatic stress. And I went to the VA to try to get help. I wanted to get vocational rehabilitation, go back to school and get some credentials. I knew that my degree in auto mechanics wasn’t going to carry me very far in the counseling field.
So I went to the VA and they weren’t much help – they kept denying me and telling me that they’d already sent me to school once to learn about auto mechanics, they weren’t going to send me to school to be a counselor, especially with my voice. This was about ten, twelve years after I’d been injured and it still wasn’t great. I was still struggling to speak, so they didn’t want to invest in me.
So I went to complain. I went to the VA regional office and I was going to complain to the vocational rehabilitation people. I walked in the office and said I wanted to talk to the head man. The guy just kind of chuckled and said, “Well, I have somebody you can talk to” and sent me to this office that was about the size of a coat closet. And I realized that this was not the head man’s office and that the guy I was talking to was probably not anywhere near the top of the list.
So I thought, well, if he’s just an underling, I’m going to give him a piece of my mind. So I ran him up one side and down the other and cussed him out and said bad things about him. When I was all done, he looked at me and he says, “Well, have you ever thought about being a counselor?” And I thought, “Oh, my God, where is this stuff coming from here?” Here I just chew the guy out, call him names, say bad things about him and he asks me if I ever thought about being a counselor. So I said sure, that’s what I was interested in, that’s what I wanted.
Sure enough, he sent me to an interview and I got a job as a counselor, even with my credentials. And it was one of those things that was meant to be. It was one of those things that again, that was leading me down this spiritual path.
And I first got a job with the state of Washington, as a vocational counselor and I thought, well, I’m going to have to go back to school, but before I could get back to school, I got fired from my job. It was a big scandal and somebody was doing something illegal and I ended up being fired over it, even though I didn’t do it. Later I got reinstated and absolved of any wrongdoing. But again, it lead me down a path to something else that I wanted, and that was to work in the mental health field.
And I thought I would have to go back to school and get another degree and get some credentials before I could do that. But two weeks after I got fired from my job, a fellow called me up and said, “Do you want to be a counselor in our clinic?”
It was a clinic that treated Vietnam vets for post-traumatic stress. So I said, sure, and I took the job. It was only a temporary job – and I was still waiting to get my state job back. And a number of people approached me and said, “You’re a good counselor – you should go to work at this new program they’re starting at American Lake VA Hospital. They’re going to treat Vietnam vets for post-traumatic stress on an inpatient basis. And I hear that they’ve got a great leader and that they’d be a good place to go.” So at first I said, “No, I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to live in Tacoma and I don’t want to go down there. It sounds like a great job but I’m going to get my job back with the state and I’ll be fine.
Well, after I heard this from about four or five different people, I finally gave in. This is the word from above, this is the spirit, talking to me – I need to pay attention to this; this is important. So I called up the head of the program and said, “My name’s Bill VandenBush. I’m a counselor. I’d like to come work for you.” And sure enough, he hired me.
There I was, I was a counselor. Everybody else that I worked for had master’s degrees and Ph.D.s and M.D.s and they had all these credentials and I had a degree in auto mechanics. And I thought, “Boy, this is weird. This is really some weird stuff.” But by this time, I had learned to just let go and roll with the flow. And I thought well, I’m going to go back to school and get a Ph.D. in psychology. I applied to a number of schools and was accepted and a couple of other people said, “You know, maybe what you really need to be is a social worker. Why don’t you get an M.S.W. and be a social worker – master in social work.” And I thought, it’s okay; I can kind of do the same thing.
And again, people literally took me to the school and got me enrolled – I just had an in. Other people are waiting and getting on lists and I’m getting in jobs and I’m getting in school. I’m going places where I never even imagined I would go. And I went back to school and I got a bachelor’s degree in psychology and then went on and got a master’s degree in social work.
This was very odd to me because, looking back, at what I wanted from my life, and where I’d been, these things had never crossed my mind. In fact, going to school had not been a high priority. I had not been a good student in high school and when I left high school, I said, I don’t ever want to set foot in a classroom again. And of course, here it is, it’s been about thirty some-odd years since I was in high school and I’ve spent most of those thirty years in classrooms, so it’s been an odd turn of events.
And all of it has been from this near-death experience. In fact, that’s the first place I heard the term near-death experience, was when I was in graduate school getting my master’s degree. I was taking a class called something about living and dying and it was about how we, the living, deal with people around us who are dying and how we respond to them and how we respond to the loss of loved ones and so on.
The professor said, “I want you to get into small groups and talk about your most profound experience with death.” And I thought, should I tell this story? Should I talk about this near-death experience? And so I did; I told my story about my out-of-body experience in Vietnam and nobody laughed, nobody criticized me and I thought, this is good.
And the professor said, “Well, what you had was a near-death experience and you should meet this person who knows all about this who runs a group in Seattle for people who’ve had these kind of experiences. Her name is Kimberly Clark Sharp; here’s her phone number.” And he gave me this newspaper article about her and her phone number and said, “Call her up.” Like most people, I said, yeah, yeah, and I never quite got around to doing it.
About a year later, I went a year without talking about this experience, I saw a poster in the library that said something about near-death experience and meeting here and I thought, that’s what that professor was talking about. Maybe I should go check this out. So I go to this meeting and there’s maybe a dozen people there, it’s a small meeting and it was down in Tacoma in a library and I told my story. The first words out of this leader’s mouth was, “There’s somebody you need to meet. Her name is Kimberly Clark Sharp.” And I thought, “Oh, man, how much more obvious does it get?” I have to listen to what’s going on around me – it’s the spirit talking to me.
So they said there was a bigger meeting of a group of near-death experiencers and people in Seattle in (unintelligible) Point so I went to that meeting and I met Kimberly Clark Sharp and we spoke for a few minutes. The meeting started and she asked me if I would get up on stage and tell my story. I’d only told it once before and so I told the story and everybody seemed to be very interested in it and I thought, there’s an energy here, there’s an energy in this room and something happens when I tell this story.
So I continued with the meetings and the next thing I know, I’m appearing on television shows, radio talk shows, people are writing newspaper and magazine articles about me; I’m speaking at conferences and meetings and it took on a life of its own and I didn’t even do anything. But it was always very positive. Every time I spoke about this, my spirit grew and the spirit of the people around me grew.
And I followed this spirit – I tried to make this a part of my life and when the spirit calls, I go. I stop questioning and I just go, even though it doesn’t always look like the best thing to do. And sometimes it doesn’t always turn out to be the best thing to do, in the short term. It always turns out to be the best thing to do in the long term. It tends to be a little…evasive, I guess, as to the true meaning and where we follow and where this road takes us – it’s not always clear. But when we know what that spirit is saying to us, and it is clear that we need to follow, even if we don’t know where we’re going.
And I followed the spirit, and the spirit took me back to school, and it took me on a wonderful career in the mental health field treating people with severe mental illness and developing treatment programs for people with severe mental illness and having a great deal of success in treating those people and getting them to live independently and live out of the hospital and to have that quality of life.
And I was starting to feel that I needed a change, that something new needed to be done. And the spirit voices were urging me to go somewhere else, to leave my job and write a book. And this was very scary because I was making a pretty good living at my job and the thought of taking early retirement and leaving that was very frightening. But the spirit called and I followed and it’s been about four years since I retired and it’s four years ago today that I retired, March 5th, I didn’t even realize that until just now.
But that spirit, even through all the difficult times, has brought me to this place to write this book, to tell my story, to tell the details, to talk about this spirit and this spiritual energy that’s within me that has guided me and taken me from being a very severely injured person who couldn’t speak, who was in jeopardy of losing an arm and living life, probably hospitalized, and maybe not even living a very long life to a person that is physically healthy, able to speak, able to use the left arm, able to function in society at a very normal level and even to be able to write a book. I flunked out of English four years in a row in high school. I probably got criticized the most while I went to college about my writing – that it was terrible. But the spirit said, “Write a book.”
So in the process, I learned to be a writer. I learned to put my thoughts and feelings and my emotions on paper and to express them in a way that others could understand. And the result is that I’m now a published author.
And I don’t think that I ever even imagined these things when I was young man going to school and high school and growing up. I never imagined that I would have an advanced degree and that I would work in the mental health field, that I would write a book, that I would speak publicly. I’ve been a public speaker now for almost twenty years and I never had any thought that that’s what I would do, that that’s where my life would take me.
But that’s where the spirit took me. It wasn’t always my choice. It was the choice of the spirit. It was this urging and it was learning to pay attention to it. And I think we can all do that; we can all pay attention to the spirit within us. We can all find that place where we’re guided – that we’re aware enough of those urgings to follow that path and to find our purpose here on earth. And to find what we need to be doing, not only for our self, but for others, because when you follow the spirit, it’s never about the self, it’s always about everyone around you, including the self. And one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that whenever I follow the spirit, and whenever I talk to people, people are healed, people grow.
I spoke last night at the University of Washington on a topic that’s really kind of dry, about disability and social justice and how disabled people function in our society. But I told my story and I talked a little bit about the spirit and people were moved enough when I talked about this to tell some of their own stories and talked about some of their own experiences with the spirit. And where I was turned away as a young man from talking about this, suddenly everyone wants to hear about it; everyone wants to know about it. And that’s okay – I’m not bitter about that. It’s time to talk about it; it’s time to tell this story. It’s time to talk about the spirit openly and if people don’t want to listen, that’s fine, it’s okay – nobody is forced to listen.
In my book, on the last page, I tell people that the words in this book are my gift – they’re my gift to you. Because I’m not going try to force you to believe anything, I’m not going to try to convince you or sell you any concept of God or spirit or religion, I’m merely giving the story as a gift. You can do anything you want with it, anything at all. You can forget about it, throw it away, you don’t have to buy my book – it’s yours, free of charge, to do with what you want. And in giving that away, in giving that spirit away, I grow. Because all of the people that accept that, also grow from it. And from giving that away, I get a return. I get a spiritual return and a spiritual energy that I carry with me every single day. And it helps me to grow and to be a better person. Thank you for listening.