When Time Stood Still
for clarity by Ron
The Third of May, 1969
"B" Co., 2nd Bn/47' Inf (Mech.), 9' Inf Div.
It was toward the end of the dry season, and my platoon was pulling out. Our mission was simple: drive down the road, show the flag, and make sure that we still had the right-of-way. The two slowly moving tracks (armored personnel carriers) in front of mine were already kicking up the pulverized dirt road into little clouds of dust. Lady, the platoon mascot, trotted alongside wagging her tall. She no longer went with us ever since a mine had blown up the track that she had been riding on, I exchanged my cloth hat for a helmet, put on my wire-rimmed sunglasses, and halfcocked the .50 caliber machine gun as we passed through the base camp gate and picked up speed. Lady stopped a few feet beyond the gate and watched us go.
Our four tracks soon achieved a monotonous but comfortable 40 m.p.h. which created a welcome breeze. To either side of the road for mile after mile lay a grid work of rice-paddy dikes dividing the land into tidy rectangles of various sizes. The pale yellow stubble of last season's crop failed to hide the earth in the fields. Separated by cracks an inch wide, the clay soil of the paddies had dried into flagstone-sized blocks. Although the land was flat, the fields did not extend far into the distance, but rather ended abruptly at the ubiquitous wood line.
This woods was composed of thick, lush, green nipa-palm and stood from twenty to thirty feet tall. From no place in the Mekong River Delta could one escape from being completely surrounded by it, Sometimes it might be a couple of miles away, and at others only a few hundred feet. It grew where the delta distributaries were, and they, like a root system were everywhere, "We" controlled the larger towns and villages, the roads, the skies, the major waterways, and the rice paddies. The wood line belonged to "Charlie."
With diesel engines roaring and trailing a huge, mile-long cloud of dust, the column began to approach one of the spots where the dreaded jungle wall squeezed in on the road from both sides. Instinctively, I began to watch the wood line more closely. All of a sudden, a very large anti-tank mine was command-detonated eight feet directly beneath my lil' ol' lilly-white *ss. I immediately knew what was happening (because my track had been blown up before just three weeks prior to this), and thought to myself, "Oh sh*t, here we go again." I was catapulted upwards along with everyone and everything else. People, dust, weapons, ammunition, helmets, and C-ration boxes formed an expanding inverted cone with myself in the middle.
On the journey upward, external time decelerated. The rates of the rotations of all of the objects surrounding me rapidly decreased-in an apparent violation of the law of conservation of angular momentum. I was fascinated by the unnatural ever-slowing gyrations of the bodies of my comrades and wondered, "Is this the end? Are we all dead?" At the apex of my trajectory, time stopped completely and an inexplicable calm descended. The state of consciousness that then prevailed was as to the normal waking state as the normal waking state is to a dream. Whatever It was, It was peaceful, omnipresent (temporally and spatially), omniscient, and absorbed everything into an indivisible Whole.
The entire universe past, present, and future collapsed down to a single Center upon which everything depends for its existence. It is That which does not change. It is the "Light" of Pure Consciousness which illuminates all things. It is the ultimate meaning of the enigmatic Biblical passage, "The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light" (Matt. 6:22). It is the great Nothing-for it includes all things, and therefore, is Itself not a thing. That's how It gets to be the All-in-All.
Furthermore, there was (and still is) absolutely no doubt as to Its authenticity anymore than one would doubt upon awakening from a dream that the waking state is "real" and that the dream was "just a dream." In short, God Himself took over my reins in the sense that "I" no longer existed as a distinct entity-only He exists, There was an overwhelming feeling of bliss, love, compassion, and strangely enough a foudroyant sense of déjà vu. The knowledge obtained that the True Home and the True Self of all things had been miraculously revealed.
The events of my life up to that point were unhurriedly and nonjudgmentally reviewed in great detail-not in chronological order, but somehow all at once-although some events were emphasized more intensely than others. Subsequently, "I" was allowed to exist again (there was no choice in the matter-it simply happened) and was given the opportunity to be aware of anything that I wanted to be aware of with the understanding that time was not a factor; indeed, there was "all the time in the world." I proceeded to focus on this or that aspect of my life and concluded that there wasn't too much to be ashamed of Actually, I made extremely poor use of this gift, but then, I was just a naive 22-year-old with a somewhat skewed concept of relative importance.
I could "see" a 360 degree panorama of the road, the wood lines on either side, and the other three tracks of my platoon (two in front and one behind us), The entire episode seemed to be housed in my head, but I was uncertain whether or not my head was still attached to the rest of my body-although, under the circumstances, this point did not seem important one way or the other. In other words, I really didn't care if my life was to be snuffed out or not within the next few seconds. I was then gently (but unequivocally) "informed" that I would survive the explosion without serious injury and even that I would make it out of Vietnam in one piece. So, selfishly, I turned my attention to the immediate situation and very calmly and deliberately concluded that I should: 1) stay conscious so as not to drown in two inches of rice-paddy water, 2) stay loose so as to break as few bones as possible, and 3) roll away from the track so that it wouldn't crush me to death if it tipped over. Only after my mind had run out of things to decide on did time start to rush back in. The transcendental state of consciousness terminated and I reverted back to the normal waking state. I could see the ground about 20 feet below me and began to fall towards it.
I was left with an intense feeling of awe and well-being. Ever since, I have been convinced with a conviction that precedes even my conviction that two plus two equals four. That God IS for me. It is no longer a matter of faith or belief, but rather, one of knowing for sure because I have seen Him as He is. However, it was a pleasant surprise to discover that He is loving, compassionate, and forgiving-properties which I had not previously made adequate allowances for. I will always be thankful to Him for reaching down and picking me up in the palm of His hand so to speak at that particular instant; in fact, it still brings tears of gratitude to my eyes even as I write this thirty years later. Also, I no longer fear death (pain and suffering yes, but not death itself)- because, by His Grace, this particular raindrop remembers the ocean from which it comes. Unfortunately, the experience of this state is up to God not down to us, but take my word-for-word for it, It is always Here and Now and a lot closer than you think.
I have never experienced anything (before or since) which came anywhere near close to being as real and as profound as the state of consciousness which I have feebly attempted to describe. However, my remembrance of it has sufficed to console and comfort me through the vicissitudes of life-especially through the hard times. Sorry, I have not noticed any paranormal or psychic or supernatural abilities with respect to myself-just an unshakable conviction in the reality of something spiritual. If you ever run across a sure-fire method for reawakening this state within me (without blowing me up or telling me to meditate on OM for thirty years), please let know. May God go with you (He will anyway, but it's a nice thought).