Unbelievable for many, but actually a true occurrence.
Printed below is one individual’s description of his having been restored to life after dying, which was published in the “Moscow Journal” towards the end of the 19th century. In 1916, Archbishop Nikon, a member of the Holy Synod, reprinted the article in his publication “Trinity Pages” with the following comments: “In regard to this narrative, in due time we had correspondence with its author, who, upon ascertaining its validity, testified that his subject, after relating his experience, entered into a monastery. In view of the fact that nothing in his narrative is in contradiction to the stand of the Church on the mystery of death and the life beyond death, we feel it beneficial to reprint this article.”
I shall not here devote myself to a general description of my personality, since it has no bearing on the matter at hand, but I shall try to describe myself to the reader only in terms of my relation to religion.
Having grown up in an Orthodox Christian and rather devout family, and thereafter having studied in a type of institution where disbelief was not regarded as a sign of a student’s genius, I did not turn out to be a vehement, arrant disbeliever, which the majority of young people were in my time. In essence I turned out to be something indefinite: I was not an atheist, yet in no way could I regard myself as being to any degree a religious man, and since both these mental states were not the result of my convictions, but rather came about through being passively superimposed upon me by definite environmental forces, I shall ask the reader to find himself an appropriate classification for my personality with respect to this situation.
Officially I bore the name of a Christian, but undoubtedly never thought of whether I really had the right to such a name; I never even had the slightest inclination to check - what the calling of a Christian demands from me and whether I satisfy these demands? I always said I believed in God, but if I were asked how I believe, how the Orthodox Church to which I belonged teaches to believe, without doubt I would have found myself stumped. If I were further asked in greater detail, whether I believe, for example, in our salvation through the incarnation and suffering of the Son of God, in His second coming as a Judge, what my relation to the Church is, whether I believe in the necessity of her establishment and so forth, - I can only imagine what absurdities I would have given for answers. Here is an example:
Once my grandmother, who always strictly observed fasts, reprimanded me for my not observing fasts.
- You are still strong and healthy, you have a good appetite, it follows that you are able very well to get along with Lenten food. How is it that you do not observe those Church laws which are not even difficult for us?
- But, grandmother, this is an entirely unreasonable law, - I objected. - For you eat, as it were, mechanically, by habit, and no person with a modicum of intelligence is going to subject himself to such a custom.
- Why unreasonable?
- Well, does it make any difference to God what I eat: ham or smoked fish?
(Is it not true of this case - what an example we have here of how an educated man understands the essence of fasting!).
- How is it that you speak in such a manner? - grandmother continued. - Can one say - an unreasonable law, - when the Lord Himself fasted?
I was struck by such a reply, and only with the help of my grandmother was I able to remember the evangelical narration of this moment. But the fact that I had completely forgotten it, as you see, in no way hindered me from flinging myself into opposition, which took on a rather arrogant character.
And do not think, reader, that I was more foolish or fickle-minded than the other young people of my circle.
Here is another example.
One of my colleagues, who was considered to be well-read and serious, was asked: did he believe in Christ as the Son of God? He answered in the affirmative, but immediately thereafter further conversation revealed that he denied the resurrection of Christ.
- Allow me to say that you are professing something very strange, - objected one old lady. - According to your belief, what further followed for Christ? If you believe in Him as God, how is it you simultaneously allow that He died completely, that is to say, completely ended His being?
We waited for some kind of slippery answer from our intelligent colleague, some kind of subtleties regarding the conception of death, or a new explanation of the question under discussion. Not in the least! He answered simply
- Oh! I did not realize this. I spoke what I felt.
An identical state of incompatibility of ideas with respect to one another settled upon me also, and, due to heedlessness on my part, wove itself a secure nest in my mind.
I seemed to believe in God as one should, i.e. I understood Him as a Being Who was personal, omnipotent, eternal; I recognized man to be His creation, but I did not believe in the life hereafter.
A good illustration of the fickle-mindedness of our relations to both religion and our own spiritual state is seen in the following: that I did not know of this serious lack of faith in myself until, similarly to my above-mentioned colleague, a certain circumstance brought it to light.
Fate brought me together in friendship with a serious and well-educated man; at the same time he was extremely sympathetic and lonely, and I liked to visit him from time to time.
Once, having paid him a visit, I found him reading the catechism.
- What is this, Prokhor Aleksandrovich (such was my friend’s name), are you preparing yourself to become a pedagogue? - I asked in astonishment, pointing to the book.
- My dear fellow, what do you mean pedagogue! It would be great if I could become a passable student. It is far removed from me to teach others. I have to prepare myself for the examination. Why, look at the graying of my hair, see, it increases with every day; and before you know it you are called upon to account for it all, - he said with his usual good-natured smile.
I did not take his words literally, thinking that since he was a man who always read much, he had simply found a need for some kind of correction in the catechism. He, evidently desiring to explain the reading that was strange to me, said:
- One reads a lot of all kinds of contemporary trash. Well, here I am checking myself, so that I do not go off on a wrong track. For, as you know, the examination that is awaiting us is a severe one, it is severe even in this, that no reexamination will be given.
- But do you really believe this?
- Really, how can one not believe in it? What will become of me, let us find out? Do you really think that - one, two, three - and I turn into dust? And if I do not turn to dust, then there can be no doubt that I will be called upon to answer. I am not foam, I have a will and a mind, I lived consciously and… sinned…
- I do not know, Prokhor Alexandrovich, how and from what our belief in the life hereafter could have arisen. It is natural to think that a man dies - and, well, it all ends here. You see him lying still and not breathing, then all this decays, so what ideas of some kind of life can there be here in this state? - I said, also expressing exactly what I felt, in the order that these ideas must have previously arisen and shaped my understanding.
- Well, in that case, what do you think I should do with Lazarus of Bethany? Why, you know that was an actual fact, and he was also a man, molded from the same clay as I.
I looked at my interlocutor with frank surprise. Was it possible that this educated man believed in such incredible things?
And Prokhor Aleksandrovich in turn looked fixedly at me for about a minute and then, lowering his voice, said:
- Or are you an unbeliever?
- No, why do you say so? I believe in God, - I replied.
- But you do not believe in divinely-revealed teaching? But then, nowadays God is understood in different ways, and practically every individual begins to twist divinely-revealed teaching to meet his personal needs, and then one finds classification being set up here: in this, then, you must believe, but in this you may or may not believe, and in that you do not have to believe at all! As if there were several truths, and not just one. And they do not understand that in doing so they already believe in the products of their own mind and imagination, and if this is so, then, of course, there is no place here for belief in God.
- But one cannot believe everything. Sometimes one comes across such very strange things.
- That is to say, not properly understood? Make yourself understand. If you do not succeed, then you must admit to yourself that the fault lies within your own self, and you must yield on this point. Begin reasoning like an ordinary uneducated man concerning the quadrature of a circle, or about some other principle of higher mathematics, and you will see that you will also understand nothing of this, but it does not follow then that one has to reject the study of mathematics itself. Of course, it is easier to renounce, but this is not always… fitting.
Think carefully about what you have said, which, in essence, is an absurdity: you say that you believe in God, but that there is no life after death. But God is not a God of the dead but of the living. Otherwise, what kind of God is this? Christ Himself spoke of life after death: do you really think He spoke untruths? Why, even His bitterest enemies were unable to prove so. And why then did He come and suffer, if our whole future amounts only to being turned into dust?
No, that is not right. You must, by all means, by all means, - he suddenly spoke with great intensity, - correct it. You must understand how important this is. Such a faith should bring an entirely new light into your life, give it a different purpose, give an entirely new direction to all your work. This will be a complete moral revolution for you. Such a faith places a great burden upon us, but at the same time it provides us with a source of consolation and support for struggling with the misfortunes of life that are inseparable from all of us.
I entirely understood the logic of Prokhor Alexandrovich’s words, but, of course, a few minutes’ conversation could not instill in me a belief in that which I was not accustomed to believe, and essentially my conversation with him served only to manifest my views on a certain important question – views which until then I myself did not know well, because I had had no occasion to express them and even less to think them through.
Evidently my disbelief seriously worried Prokhor Aleksandrovich: several times during the course of the evening he returned to this subject, and when I was preparing to leave, he quickly picked out several books from his large library and, giving them to me, said:
- Read them, read them without fail, because one cannot leave this the way it is now. I am certain that you will soon rationally understand and become convinced of the complete lack of foundation for your disbelief, but it is necessary to convey this conviction from the mind to the heart, it is necessary for the heart to understand, otherwise in an hour or in a day it will evaporate and be forgotten – because the mind is a sieve through which different thoughts only pass, but the storehouse for them is not there.
I read the books, I do not remember now if I read all of them, but it turned out that habit was stronger than reason. I recognized that everything written in these books was very convincing; moreover, due to the scantiness of my understanding of religious matters, I was unable to raise the slightest serious objection to the arguments which they contained, - but faith, nevertheless, did not appear in me. I acknowledged that this was not logical, I believed that everything written in the books was the truth, but there was no feeling of faith in me, and so death continued to be in my understanding the final end of human existence, after which followed only decomposition.
Unfortunately, it happened that soon after the above-mentioned conversation with Prokhor Aleksandrovich I had to leave the city in which he lived, and we did not see each other again. I do not know, perhaps as an intelligent man and possessing the charm of an intensely convinced man, he would have succeeded, at least to a certain degree, in deepening my views and my attitude towards life and things in general, and through this also to introduce certain changes into my understanding of death, - but left to myself, and not being by nature a particularly serious-minded young man, I was not in the least interested in such diverting questions, and due to my thoughtlessness, soon thereafter I did not even give a thought to Prokhor Aleksandrovich’s words, which dealt with the seriousness of my shortage of faith and the necessity of ridding myself of this shortage.
Subsequently, changes of abode and meetings with new people not only erased this question from my memory, but also the entire conversation with Prokhor Aleksandrovich, and even his mental image and my brief acquaintance with him.
Many years passed. To my chagrin, I have to admit that morally I changed very little in the course of these years. Although I was already at the half-way mark in my life, that is to say, I was a middle-aged man, neither in my attitude to life, nor to my own self was there a grain of seriousness. I did not understand the meaning of life, and I lived, guided by the same crude empty interests, by that very same false and mean conception of the purpose of life by which the majority of secular people of my class and education lived.
My relation to religion had also remained unchanged, i.e. as before, I was neither an atheist, nor to any degree a conscientiously religious man. As before, by habit I went to church now and then, by habit went to confession once a year, crossed myself by habit when it was proper to do so, - and this was all there was to religion for me. I was not interested in any questions dealing with religion, and did not even understand that there was something of interest in it; apart from the most basic conceptions I did not know anything about it, and yet it seemed to me that I knew and understood everything, and that everything was so simple and lacking in guile, that there was nothing in it for an “educated” man to burden his mind with. This was a naivete of laughable proportions, but, unfortunately, quite characteristic of “educated” people of our time.
It is quite obvious that with such an attitude there could be no possibility either of any progress in my religious feeling, or of a broadening of the scope of my conceptions in this realm.
It so happened that during this period in my life my work took me to K*, and I became seriously ill there.
Since I had neither relatives nor even a servant in K*, I had to go to a hospital. The doctors diagnosed pneumonia.
At first I fell so well that more than once I felt it unnecessary to lie in a hospital on account of such a trifle; but as the illness progressed and my tempe-rature began to rise rapidly, I understood that with such a “trifle” it would not be at all wise to lie alone in a bed in a room of some hotel.
The long winter nights in a hospital were especially annoying to me; the fever did not allow me to sleep at all, sometimes it was even impossible to lie down, and sitting in bed was both uncomfortable and tiring: I did not feel like or was not able to get up and walk through the ward; and so I kept on tossing in bed, lying down, sitting up, letting my legs down and lifting them up again into bed, and all the while I continued to listen carefully: when will the clock begin to strike? I waited and waited, and it seemed to ring on purpose only two or three times – that meant a whole eternity to wait before daybreak. And how depressing on a sick man is the effect of this common slumber of many people, together with the quietness of the night. One literally feels oneself to be in a graveyard, in the company of dead men.
To the same degree that my illness approached a crisis, I felt worse and became increasingly worse, and at times I had such seizures that ordinary unpleasant conditions became unnoticeable, and I even stopped noticing the wearying effect of the endless nights. But I really do not know to what to ascribe it: was it because I considered myself to be and always was a strong and healthy man, or was it because up until that time I was never once seriously ill, and those sad thoughts which are sometimes evoked by serious illnesses were alien to my mind? Be it as it may, no matter how badly I felt at times, no matter how abruptly the seizures came on, not once did the idea of death enter my mind.
I confidently expected that today or tomorrow a change for the better would take place, and I asked impatiently, each time the thermometer was removed from beneath my arm, what my temperature was. But having reached a certain level, it literally froze at that point, and to my questions I constantly received the reply: “40 and nine-tenths”, “forty-one”, “forty and eight-tenths”.
- Alas, what a drawn out process this is! – I would say with disappointment and after that would ask the doctor whether my recovery was expected to proceed at the same snail’s pace?
Seeing my impatience, the doctor calmed me down and said that at my age and with my health there was nothing to fear, that recovery would not be drawn out, that under such favorable circumstances one can recuperate after a sickness in a matter of almost a few days.
I believed this whole-heartedly and buffered my patience with the thought that there remains only to somehow await the crisis, and then everything will immediately get back to normal.
One night I felt especially badly; I tossed about from fever and breathing was extremely difficult for me, but towards morning I suddenly felt so much easier that I was even able to fall asleep. Upon awakening, my first thought as I recollected the suffering of the night was: “Well, this must have been it, the crisis is past. And now finally there will be an end to this gasping and this unbearable fever.”
And having seen a very young doctor’s assistant entering a neighboring ward, I called him over and asked to have my temperature taken.
- Well, my lord, now things have taken a turn for the better, - he said joyfully, removing the thermometer at the appointed time, - your temperature is normal.
- Really? – I asked joyfully.
- Take a look for yourself: thirty seven and one tenth. And it seems your cough did not bother you so much.
Here I realized that since midnight I actually had not coughed until morning, and that although I tossed about and drank a few gulps of hot tea, I also did not cough as a result of this.
At nine o’clock the doctor came. I told him that I felt badly at night and had made the assumption that evidently this must have been the crisis, and that now I did not feel badly and had even been able to sleep for a few hours before morning.
- Well, that certainly is fine, - he said and walked up to the table and looked through some sort of tables or notes that were lying there.
- Do you want to take his temperature? – the doctor’s assistant asked him. – His temperature is normal.
- What do you mean by normal? – the doctor asked, quickly raising his head and looking at the assistant with perplexity.
- That is exactly what I said, I just took it.
The doctor had the temperature taken again, and this time even looked himself to see if the temperature was properly taken. But this time the temperature did not even reach thirty-seven: it turned out to be two tenths below thirty-seven.
The doctor took his own thermometer out of the side pocket of his jacket, shook it, checked it and, evidently certain of its correctness, again took my temperature.
The second thermometer showed the same as the first.
To my surprise, the doctor did not evince any sign of happiness with respect to my condition, not showing, even for the sake of politeness, the slightest expression of satisfaction on his face and, having turned around in a somewhat fidgety manner, he left the ward, and a minute or two later I heard a telephone begin ringing in the room.
Soon the head physician appeared; they both listened to me and examined me – and had practically my entire back covered with leeches. Afterwards, having prescribed some medication, they did not place my prescription with the others, but sent an assistant separately to have it filled before the others.
- Listen here, now that I do not feel bad at all, what have you thought up for me, to burn me with leeches? – I asked the head doctor?
To me it seemed that my question confused or dismayed the doctor, and he answered impatiently:
- Oh, my God! Why, you cannot be abandoned like this to the sickness just because you feel somewhat better. We have to draw out of you all that mess that has accumulated inside you during this time.
Three hours later the younger doctor again came to see me; he examined me to see how the leeches were placed on me, asked how many spoonfuls of medicine I had taken. I said – three.
- Did you cough?
- No, I answered.
- Not once?
- Not once.
- Please tell me, - I turned to the assistant doctor who was continually present in my ward, - what kind of loathsome stuff is mixed in this medicine. It makes me throw up.
There are various expectorants here, also a little bit of ipecac, - he explained.
In this case I acted exactly as contemporary negators of religion often act, i.e. understanding exactly nothing of what was taking place, I mentally judged and upbraided the doctor’s procedure: they give me expectorants when I have nothing to expectorate.
In the meantime, an hour and a half or two after the doctors’ visit, all three of them again appeared in my ward: two of ours and a third, bearing an air of importance, who did not belong to our ward.
They thumped me and listened to me for a long time; then an oxygen tank appeared. The latter astounded me somewhat.
- Now, what is this for? – I asked.
- Well, we have to filter your lungs a little. They are almost backed up in you, said the third doctor, who was not from our ward.
- But tell me, doctor, what is it about my back that has fascinated you, that you are so concerned about it? It is now the third time this morning that you have thumped it and covered it all over with leeches.
I felt myself so much better compared to those previous days and, therefore, in my thoughts I was so far away from anything pessimistic in nature, that evidently no medical accessories were capable of getting me to surmise my true condition; even the appearance of an important, strange-looking doctor I explained away to myself as a change in the staff or something of a similar nature, in no way suspecting that he was specially called in for me, because my case demanded a consilium. I asked the last question with such an unconstrained and happy tone that evidently neither of my physicians had the heart to at least hint at the oncoming catastrophe. And, in truth, how can one tell a man who is full of the happiest hopes, that he has perhaps only a few hours more to live!
- It is precisely now that we must thump you carefully, – the doctor answered me in an indeterminate manner.
But this answer I also understood in the manner I wished – namely, that now, when the crisis had passed, when the force of the infirmity was weakening, it was evidently necessary and more convenient to apply all possible means to chase out the remaining sickness and help restore all that which had been affected by the malady.
I remember that at about 4:00 I felt a mild chill, and wanting to become warm, I covered myself snuggly with the blanket and lay in bed, but suddenly I felt very dizzy.
I called the assistant doctor; he came over, lifted me from the pillow and raised the bag of oxygen. Somewhere I heard the ringing of a bell, and in a few minutes the head physician hurriedly walked into my ward, and shortly thereafter, one after the other, both of our physicians.
At another time such an unusual and rapid gathering of the entire medical staff would have astonished and confused me, but now I felt entirely indifferent to it, as if it had no relation to me.
A strange change suddenly took place in my mood! A minute before I was full of optimism, but now, although I saw and fully understood everything that was taking place around me, I suddenly felt such an incomprehensible indifference, such a remoteness, which is clearly alien to all living beings.
All my attention was concentrated on myself, but in this case there was also an astonishing and peculiar quality, a certain state of division within me: I felt and was conscious of myself with complete clarity and certainty, and at the same time I experienced a feeling of such indifference to myself, that it seemed as if I had lost the ability to perceive physical sensations.
For example, I saw how the doctor extended his hand and felt my pulse, - I saw and understood what he was doing, but did not feel his contact with my body. I saw and understood that the doctors, having raised me, continued to do something and were making fuss over my back, where the edema had evidently started, but as to what they were doing – I felt nothing, and not because I had actually lost the ability to perceive these sensations, but because this did not catch my attention in any way, because, having withdrawn somewhere deep within myself, I did not listen to or observe what they were doing to me.
It seemed as if suddenly two beings or essences were manifested in me: one – concealed somewhere deep within, and this was the main part of me; the other – external and evidently less significant; and now it seemed that whatever bound these two together had either burned itself out or had melted, and these two essences separated, the stronger of them being felt more vividly and with greater certainty, and the weaker becoming a matter of indifference. This weaker part or being was my body.
I can imagine how only a few days ago I would have been struck by the manifestation within myself of this internal being which was hitherto unknown to me, and the realization of its superiority over that other part of me, which, according to my previous beliefs, made up the whole being of man, but which I now did not even notice.
This state was most astounding: to live, see, hear, and understand all, and at the same seemingly not to see or understand anything, to feel such alienation in regard to everything.
Thus, for example, the doctor asks me a question; I hear and understand what he asks, but I do not reply; I do not give an answer because I feel there is no reason for me to speak to him. And yet he fusses and worries over me, but he is concerned with that half of me, which has now lost all meaning for me, and with which I feel I have nothing to do.
But suddenly the other half asserted itself, and in so striking and unusual a manner!
I suddenly felt myself being drawn somewhere downward with irresistible force. During the first few minutes this sensation was similar to having heavy, massive weights tied to all the members of my body, but shortly thereafter even such a comparison could not justly describe my feelings; my description of the attraction now paled into insignificance.
No, here some kind of gravitational law of attraction of a most tremendous power was obviously in action.
It seemed to me that not only I as a whole, but every member, every strand of hair, the thinnest tendon, each cell of my body was separately being drawn somewhere so irresistibly, as a strong magnet attracts pieces of metal to itself.
And yet, no matter how strong this sensation might be, it did not prevent me from thinking and being conscious of everything. I was also conscious of the strangeness of this phenomenon; I remembered and was conscious of reality, that is to say, that I lay in bed, that my ward was on the second floor, that there was an identical room below me; but at the same time, according to the strength of the sensation, I was certain that if below me there were not one, but ten rooms piled one on top of the other, this would suddenly give way before me, in order to let me pass… where?
Somewhere further, deeper into the earth.
Yes, namely into the earth, and I wanted to lay on the floor; I exerted myself and began tossing about.
- Agony, - I heard this word pronounced over me by the doctor.
Since I did not speak, being completely concentrated within myself, and my glance expressed a complete absence of impressions from the surrounding world, the doctors evidently decided that I was in an unconscious state, and spoke about me audibly without restraint. Yet I, meanwhile, not only understood everything perfectly, but it was even impossible for me not to think and to observe.
“Agony, death!” – I thought, having heard the doctor’s words. “Am I really dying?” – turning to myself, I spoke out loud; but how? why? I cannot explain it.
I suddenly remembered a learned discourse which I had read long ago, dealing with the question of whether death is painful or not, and now, having closed my eyes, I examined myself with regard to what was taking place in me at this time.
No, I felt no physical pain whatsoever, but undoubtedly I was suffering, I felt heavy within and weary. Where did this come from? I knew of what sickness I was dying; so what was happening here: was the edema choking me, or was it depressing the activity of the heart and this was making me weary? I do not know; perhaps such was the explanation of my forthcoming death according to the ideas of those people of the world, which was now so alien and remote to me. I, however, only felt an insurmountable striving towards somewhere, an attraction towards something of which I have already spoken.
And I felt that this attraction increased with each moment, that I had already come very close, almost in contact with that magnet which was attracting me, which – should I touch it – would cause me and my whole body to become fused with it, to grow into one with it in such a manner that no force would then be capable of separating me from it, and the more strongly I felt the proximity of this moment, the more fearful and depressed I became, and this was so because I simultaneously felt a resistance to this with increasing clarity. I felt more clearly that I, as a whole, could not unite, that something had to separate within me, and that this something was striving away from the unknown object of attraction with the same intensity that the something else within me was striving towards it. It was this struggle that was causing me weariness and suffering.
The meaning of the word “agony” which I had heard, was entirely understood by me, but now everything in me somehow turned away from my relationships and feelings, and extended solely to my conceptions.
Without doubt, if I had heard this word even at the time when the three doctors were examining me, I would have been frightened to an alarming degree. Likewise, if such a strange turn had not taken place in my illness, if I had remained in the ordinary state of a sick man, even at the present moment, knowing that death is approaching, I would have understood and explained all that had taken place in me differently; but in my present state the words of the doctor only surprised me, without arousing that feeling of fear which is characteristic of people who are thinking of death, and I gave an entirely unexpected - in comparison with my previous conceptions – interpretation to the state which I was experiencing.
“Well now, so that’s what it is! It is the earth that is drawing me so” – it suddenly dawned on me. “That is to say, not me but that which belongs to it, that which it let me have for a period of time. And is the earth drawing it, or is matter itself trying to return to the earth?”
And that which previously had seemed so natural and true, namely, that after death I should turn completely to dust, now appeared unnatural and impossible.
“No, I as a whole shall not disappear, I cannot,” – I almost screamed out loud and made an attempt to free myself, to tear myself away from that force which was attracting me, and suddenly I felt a calm within myself.
I opened my eyes, and everything that I saw during that minute, down to the slightest details, registered in my memory with complete clarity.
I saw that I was standing alone within a room; to the right of me, standing around something in a semi-circle, the whole medical staff was crowded together: having put his hands behind his back and gazing intently at something which I was unable to see from behind their figures, stood the head physician; behind him, slightly bent forward – the younger physician; the old assistant doctor, holding a bag of oxygen in his hands, shifted in indecision from one leg to the other, evidently not knowing what to do with his apparatus – either to bear it away, or keep it there, since it could still be of use; and the young doctor, having bent down, was supporting something, but because of his shoulder I could only see the pillows.
This group struck me with surprise: in the place where they were standing there was a bed. What was it that drew the attention of these people, what were they looking at, when I was already not there, when I was standing in the middle of the room?
I moved forward and looked where they were all looking:
There on the bed I was lying.
I do not have any recollection of experiencing anything like fear upon seeing my double; I was only perplexed: how can this be? I feel myself here, and at the same time I am also over there.
I looked at myself standing in the middle of the room. Why, this was me without any doubt, exactly the same as I always knew myself to be.
I wanted to touch myself, to take the left hand by the right: my hand went right through; I tried to grasp myself at the waist – again my hand went through my body as through empty space.
Struck by such a strange phenomenon, I wished that someone nearby would help me understand what was happening and, taking several steps forward, I extended my hand, wishing to touch the shoulder of the doctor, but I felt that I was walking strangely, not feeling any contact with the floor, and my hand, no matter how hard I tried, could not reach the figure of the doctor; perhaps only a few inches of space remained, but I was unable to touch him.
I made an effort to stand firmly on the floor, but although my body obeyed my attempts and lowered itself, yet it could not reach the floor just as the figure of the doctor could not be reached before. Here also an insignificant amount of space remained, but there was no way I could overcome it.
And I vividly remembered how several days ago the nurse of our ward, wishing to keep my medicine from becoming spoiled, lowered a vial containing it into a pitcher of cold water; however, there was a lot of water in the jug, and immediately the light vial was buoyed up, but the old nurse, not understanding what had taken place, persistently tried one, two, and three times to lower it down to the bottom of the pitcher, and even held it down with her finger in the hope that it would eventually remain there, but hardly would she remove her finger than it would again be carried upwards to the surface.
In a similar manner, evidently, the surrounding air must have become too dense for me, for the present me.
What had happened to me?
I called the doctor, but the surrounding atmosphere turned out to be entirely unfit for me; it did not receive and transmit the sounds of my voice, and I understood myself to be in a state of utter disassociation from all that was around me, I understood my strange state of solitude, and a feeling of panic came over me. There was really something inexpressibly horrible in this extraordinary solitude. If a person becomes lost in a forest, is drowning in the depths of the sea, caught in a fire, sitting in solitary confinement – he never loses hope that he will be heard; he knows that he will be understood if his call for help reaches somebody’s hearing; he understands that another living being sees him, that the guard will walk into his cell, and he will be able to start speaking with him, express what he desires, and the other one will understand him.
But to see people around oneself, to hear and understand their conversation, and at the same time know that no matter what happens to you, you have no opportunity whatsoever of informing them of your presence and of expecting help if need be – from such a state of solitude my hair stood on end and my mind became torpid. It was worse than being on an uninhabited island, because there at least nature would have manifested positive signs of receptivity of one’s individuality; but here, in this complete deprivation of the ability to associate with the surrounding world, which was an unnatural experience for a human being, there was so much deathly fear, such a horrible acknowledgment of helplessness, that one is neither able to experience it in any other situation, nor convey it in words.
I, of course, did not give up at once; I attempted in all possible ways and tried to make my presence known, but these attempts only brought me complete despair. Is it really possible that they do not see me? – I thought with despair and repeatedly approached the group of people standing over my bed, but none of them turned around or paid any attention to me, and now I looked at myself with perplexity, not understanding – how was it possible for them not to see me, when I was the same as I had always been. I made another attempt to touch myself, and again my hand passed only through air.
“But I am not a ghost, I feel and am conscious of myself, and my body is a real body, and not some kind of elusive phantom,” - I thought, and again I looked at myself intently and became convinced that my body really was a body, because I could observe it and see its minutest details, even a spot, with complete clarity. Its external appearance remained the same as it had been previously, but evidently its qualities had changed; it had become inaccessible to touch, and the surrounding air had become too dense for it, so that complete contact with objects was not possible.
“An astral body. It seems that is what it is called?” – the thought flashed through my mind. “But why, what has happened to me?” – I asked myself, trying to remember if I had ever heard descriptions of such states, of such strange transformations in illness.
- No, you cannot do anything here! Everything is finished, - the young doctor said, waving his hand in a hopeless manner, and went away from the bed on which was lying the other me.
I felt inexpressibly vexed that they continued to discuss and fuss over that me which I did not feel at all, which did not exist for me, and were leaving without attention the other real me, which was conscious of everything and, being tormented by the fear of obscurity, sought and demanded their help.
“Is it possible that they will not find out, is it possible that they do not understand that I am not there,” – I thought disappointedly and, walking up to the bed, I looked at that me, which at the expense of the real me, attracted the attention of the people in the ward.
I glanced at the bed and only here, for the first time, I was struck with the following thought: is it possible that that which has happened to me, in our language, in the language of living people, is defined by the word “death”?
This thought occurred to me because the body lying on the bed had all the appearance of a corpse: without any movement, not breathing, the face covered with a kind of pallor, with firmly compressed, slightly bluish lips, it vividly reminded me of all the deceased whom I had ever seen. It may seem strange at first that only upon seeing my lifeless body did I comprehend what really happened to me, but if one carefully considers all that which I felt and experienced, such a seemingly strange perplexity on my part becomes understandable. Since our understanding of the word “death” is inextricably bound up with the idea of some kind of destruction, of a cessation of life, - how could I think that I had died, when I did not lose self-consciousness for a single moment, when I felt myself just as alive, hearing all, seeing all, conscious of all, capable of movement, thought, speech? Of what deterioration could there be any question here, when I saw myself perfectly, and at the same time even acknowledged the strangeness of my state? Even the words of the doctor that “all is over” did not draw my attention and did not elicit a guess concerning that which had taken place – to such a great extent did that which had taken place with me differ from our conception of death!
The disassociation from everything around me, the split in my personality more than anything else could have made me understand what had taken place, were I religious or had I believed in the existence of a soul; but this was not the case, and I was guided solely by what I felt, and the sensation of life was so clear, that I was only bewildered by the strange phenomenon, being completely unable to link my feelings with the traditional conception of death, i.e. while sensing and being conscious of myself, to think that I did not exist.
Later I often had the opportunity of hearing from religious people, i.e. those who did not negate the existence of the soul and the afterlife, the following opinion or supposition: that as soon as a person’s soul shuffles off its corruptible flesh, it immediately becomes a kind of an all-knowing essence, that nothing remains unknown to it, and that it is astonishing how in the new realm of reality, in the new form of existence it not only immediately enters into the field of new laws which are revealed to it by the new world and its own changed state of being, but that all this is so akin to it, that this transition is like a return to one’s homeland, a return to its natural state. Such a supposition is founded mainly on the idea that the soul is a spirit, and those limitations do not present themselves for the spirit that exist for the physical part of man.
Such a hypothesis is, of course, entirely untrue.
From what has been described above, the reader sees that I arrived in this new world essentially the same as I had left the earth, i.e. with practically the very same capacities, conceptions and knowledge that I had while living on earth.
For example, when I wanted somehow to make my presence known, I had recourse to those means which are commonly used in such cases by living people; i.e. I called, came near, tried to touch or push someone; having noticed a new quality to my body, I felt it to be strange: consequently, my previous conceptions remained in me, - and desiring to become convinced of the existence of my body, I again had recourse to the usual method that I had been accustomed to as an earthly human.
Even after having understood that I had died, I did not grasp by means of some kind of new understanding the change that had taken place in me and, in my bewilderment, I either thought of my body as “astral,” or I was struck with the following idea: was not the first-created man given just such a body, and later, after the fall, when he was given the leather vestments mentioned in the Bible, was that not the corruptible body that is now lying in bed and would in a short while turn to dust? In short, wishing to understand what had happened to me, I proposed such explanations as were known and accessible to me according to my mundane earthly conceptions.
And this was to be expected. The soul, of course, is a spirit, but a spirit created for life together with the body; therefore, in what way can the body be anything like a prison for it, or some kind of bonds which chain it to some supposedly unrelated form of existence?
No, the body is a lawful dwelling place that has been, as it were, placed at the disposal of the spirit, and therefore it will appear in the other world at that level of its development and perfection, which it had attained during its joint existence with the body, and the lawfully established form of its existence. Of course, if during his life a person was spiritually developed, spiritually disposed, then his soul will feel itself in more familiar surroundings, and things will appear more comprehensible in this new world than to the soul of a person who has lived without any thought for the other world; and while the former will be in a position to orient itself, so to speak, even though not rapidly and not without mistakes, the latter, as in my case, has to begin from the very rudiments, and needs time to understand both the fact of which it has never thought before, and that actual realm in which it now finds itself and into which it had never mentally drifted during its earthly existence.
Afterwards, in recalling and thinking over my state of being at the time, I noticed that my mental capacities functioned with such striking energy and swiftness, that it seemed not to take any time at all between my thoughts and the exertions I made to comprehend, compare or remember something; hardly would something appear in my mind, than my memory, immediately penetrating into the past, would dig up all the slightest bits of knowledge concerning the given subject that were carelessly lying about and forgotten, and all that which at another time would undoubtedly have aroused in me a feeling of bewilderment, now appeared as quite obvious and apparent. At times, by virtue of some infusion of new power into me, I even guessed beforehand that which was unknown to me, before it actually appeared before my eyes. And it was only this latter characteristic that turned out to be the outstanding quality of my capacities, aside from the other changes that had resulted from my altered state of being.
I am now proceeding with my narration of the circumstances which followed in my unbelievable occurrence.
Unbelievable! But if up until now it has seemed unbelievable, then these further circumstances will appear as such “na?ve” tales in the eyes of my learned readers, that it is not even worth relating them; but perhaps for those who would want to view my narration differently, the naivete itself and the scantiness of the material presented will serve as proof of its veracity, because if I were making up this narration, imagining it, then such a wide field would open up for one’s phantasy here, that of course I could have thought up something more subtle and effective.
Now then, what happened to me further? The doctors walked out of the ward, both assistant doctors stood about and tried to explain the stages of my illness and death, while the old nurse turned to the icon, crossed herself and audibly pronounced the accepted wish in such cases:
- May he inherit the kingdom of Heaven! Eternal peace to him!
And hardly had she uttered these words, than two Angels appeared at my side. For some reason in one of them I recognized my Guardian Angel, but the other was unknown to me.
(Note: Such he remains for me to this day, although later I asked many religious people about it, whether in the teachings of our Church or in the works of the Holy Fathers there were any indications of his appearance at the death side of a human being. But up to now I have heard very little; only one simple wanderer told me that one should pray to the “greeting angel,” and to my question: “ What is a ‘greeting angel’?” – he only briefly replied: “ Why, he is the one who meets your soul there,” – and I did not learn anything more about this.)
Having taken me by the arms, the Angels carried me right through the wall of the ward into the street.
It had grown dark already, and the snow was silently falling in large flakes. I saw this, but I did not feel the cold and the general difference in temperature between the room and the outside. Evidently these phenomena had lost their significance for my changed body. Quickly we began to ascend, and the higher we ascended, the increasingly greater became the expanse of space that was revealed before our eyes, until finally it took on such terrifyingly vast proportions, that I was seized with fear at the realization of my insignificance in comparison to this desert of infinity. Here also certain peculiarities of my vision became apparent to me. First of all, it was dark, yet I saw everything clearly in the dark; conse-quently, my vision received the capability of seeing in the dark. Secondly, I was able to include within the field of my vision such a vast expanse of space, which undoubtedly I would not have been able to do with my ordinary vision. And at that time I was not conscious of these peculiarities, but only of the fact that I did not see everything there was to see, that no matter how broad the field of my vision was, nevertheless it still had a limit, - this I understood very clearly and was terrified by it. I recognized myself to be so very unimportant, a meaningless atom, the appearance and disappearance of which would of course remain unnoticed in this limitless space, but instead of finding some kind of consolation in this, a kind of security, I became frightened… that I could get lost, that this unbounded vastness would swallow me up like a sorry particle of dust.
The conception of time was absent in my mental state at that time, and I do not know how long we were moving upwards, when suddenly there was heard at first an indistinct noise, and following this, having emerged from somewhere, with shrieks and rowdy laughter a throng of some hideous beings rapidly began to approach us.
“Evil spirits!” – I suddenly realized, and made this determination with an unusual rapidity which resulted from the horror I experienced at that time, a special kind of horror which I had never experienced until then. Evil spirits! O, how much irony, how much of the most sincere laughter this would have aroused in me but a few days ago. Even a few hours ago, somebody’s report of not only having seen evil spirits with his own eyes, but simply believing in their existence as a reality, would have aroused a similar reaction in me! As was proper for an “educated” man at the close of the 19th century, I understood this to mean foolish inclinations and passions in a human being, and that is why the word itself did not have the significance of a name for me, but of a term which defined a certain abstract concept. And suddenly this “certain abstract concept” appeared before me as a living personification! Even now I am unable to say how or why, without the slightest doubt, I had at that time recognized evil spirits to be present in that ugly sight. Undoubtedly because such a designation of it was completely outside the normal order of things and logic, for if a similar hideous sight appeared before me at any other time, I would necessarily have said that it was some kind of fiction personified, an abnormal caprice of one’s imagination, - in short, I would have called it everything else except a name which referred to something that could not be seen. But at that time, such a designation of the nature of the sight took place so rapidly, that it seemed there was no need to think about it at all, as though I had seen something which was already well-known to me for a long time, and since, as I have already explained, my mental capacities were then functioning with such incomprehensible rapidity, I realized just as rapidly that the ugly outward appearance of these beings was not their real exterior, but that this was some kind of abominable show that was probably conceived for the purpose of frightening me to an even greater degree, and for a moment something akin to human pride stirred in me. I then felt ashamed for myself and for mankind in general, that in order to arouse fear in man, a being who thinks so much of himself, other forms of being have recourse to methods which we ourselves use with respect to small children.
Having surrounded us on all sides, with shrieks and rowdy sounds the evil spirits demanded that I be handed over to them; they somehow tried to seize and tear me away from the angels, but evidently did not dare to do so. In the midst of their rowdy howling, unimaginable and just as repugnant to one’s hearing as their sight was for my eyes, I sometimes caught words and whole phrases.
- He is ours, he has renounced God, - they suddenly cried out in unison, and here they lunged at us with such boldness, that for a moment fear froze the flow of thoughts in my mind.
“That is a lie! That is untrue!” - I wanted to shout, coming to myself, but an obliging memory bound my tongue. In some way unknown to me, I suddenly recalled such a slight, insignificant occurrence, which additionally was related to such a remote period of my youth that, it seems, in no way could I have been able to recall it to my mind.
I remembered how during my student years, having once gathered at my friend’s place, and after having spoken about school studies, we passed over to a discussion of various abstract and elevated topics, - conversations which were often carried on by us.
- Generally speaking, I don’t like abstractions, - said one of my comrades, - but here you already have an absolute impossibility. I am able to believe in some kind of power of nature, which, let us say, has not yet been investigated. That is to say, I can allow for its existence, even when not seeing its clear-cut, definite manifestations, because it may be very insignificant, or combined in its effects with other powers, and for this reason difficult to grasp; but to believe in God as a Being, individual and omnipotent, to believe – when nowhere do I see clear manifestations of this Individuality, - this already becomes absurd. I am told: believe. But why must I believe, when I am equally able to believe that there is no God. Why, is it not true? Is it also possible that He does not exist? – and now my comrade turns to me for support.
- Maybe not, - I let escape from my lips.
These words were in the full sense of the word an “idle statement”; the unreasonable talk of my friend could not have aroused in me any doubt in the existence of God. I did not particularly listen to his talk, - and now it turned out that this idle statement of mine did not disappear without leaving a trace; I had to justify myself, defend myself from the accusation that was directed against me, and thus the words of the New Testament were verified in practice: we really shall have to give an account of all our idle words, if not by the will of God, Who sees the secrets of men’s hearts, then by the anger of the enemy of our salvation.
This accusation was evidently the strongest argument that the evil spirits had for my damnation, they seemed to derive new strength from it for their daring attacks on me, and now, with furious bellowing they spun about us, impeding our further progression.
I recalled a prayer and began praying, appealing for help to those holy ones whose names I knew and whose names came to mind. But this did not frighten my enemies. A sad ignorant, Christian only in name, I now for the first time in my life remembered Her Who is called the Intercessor for Christians.
Evidently my appeal to Her was so intense, evidently my soul was filled with such terror, that hardly had I remembered and pronounced Her name, when some kind of white mist suddenly appeared around us, and soon began to enfold within itself the ugly throng of evil spirits. It concealed them from my eyes before they could withdraw from us. Their bellowing and cackling was still heard for a long time, but as it gradually weakened in intensity and became more dull, I was able to judge that the terrible pursuit was slowly being left behind.
The feeling of fear that I was experiencing took hold of me so completely, that I was not even conscious of whether we had been continuing our flight during this terrible meeting, or whether it had stopped us for a while. I realized that we were moving, that we were continuing to move upward only when the infinite expanse of space once again spread before me.
After passing through some of its distance, I saw a bright light above me, which resembled, as it seemed to me, our sunlight, but was much more intense. Evidently there was some kind of kingdom of light here.
“Yes, namely a kingdom, full of the power of light” – thought I, guessing by means of a special kind of intuition not yet understood by me, – because there was no shade with this light. “But how can there be light without shade?” – thus immediately my perplexed conceptions made their appearance.
And suddenly we were quickly carried into this field of light, and it literally blinded me. I shut my eyes, brought my hands up to my face, but this did not help, since my hands did not provide any shade. And what did such protection mean here anyway?
“My God, what is this, what kind of light is this? Why, it is like regular darkness for me! I cannot look, and just as in the dark, I cannot see anything” – I implored, comparing my earthly vision to that of my present state, and forgetting, or perhaps not even realizing, that now such a comparison was of no use here, that now I could see even in the dark.
This inability to see, to look, increased my fear of the unknown, which was natural for me in view of finding myself in a world totally unknown to me, and I thought with alarm: “What will come next? Shall we soon pass this sphere of light, and is there a limit to it, an end to it?”
But something quite different happened then. Majestically, without wrath, but authoritatively and firmly, the words resounded from above: - Not ready!
And after that… our rapid flight upward came to an immediate stop, and we quickly began to descend.
But before we left this realm, I was granted the ability to learn of a certain most wonderful phenomenon.
Hardly had the words resounded from above, when everything in that world, it seems, each particle of dust, each minutest atom responded to these words with their accord, as though a multimillion echo repeated them in a tongue unable to be understood through the sense of hearing, but perceived and understood by the heart and mind, expressing its unison with the decision so decreed. And in this unity of will there was such wonderful harmony, and in this harmony so much inexpressible and exalted joy, before which all our earthly charms and raptures appeared like a gloomy day without sunlight. This multimillion echo resounded in the form of an inimitable musical chord, and one’s entire soul extended out towards it, wholly responding to it in a state devoid of any cares, and in an ardent transport of zeal to be at one with this omnipresent and most wonderful harmony.
I did not understand the real sense of the words that were directed towards me; that is to say, I did not understand that I had to return to earth and once again live just as before. I thought that I was being carried to some other different parts, and a feeling of timid protest stirred within me when, at first hazily as in a morning mist, the outlines of a city appeared before me, and afterwards streets that were well-known to me also became clearly visible.
At this point I saw the building of the hospital which was familiar to me. In the same exact manner as before, through the walls of the building and through closed doors, I was carried into a room that was completely unknown to me: in this room stood a row of tables coated with dark paint, and on one of them, covered over with something white, I saw myself lying, or more correctly, my stiff, dead body.
Not far from my table a gray-haired small old man in a brown jacket, moving a bent wax candle along lines of large type, stood reading the Psalter, and on the other side, on a black bench that stood against the wall, sat my sister, who had evidently been notified of my death and had already arrived, and beside her, bent over her and quietly saying something – stood her husband.
- Have you heard God’s decision? – leading me up to the table, my guardian angel, who hitherto had not spoken, addressed me, and pointing with his hand to my dead body, said: “Enter and prepare yourself.”
And following this, both angels became invisible.
I recall with absolute clarity how and what happened to me after these words.
At first I felt as though something pressed close upon me; this was followed by an unpleasant sensation of cold, and the return of this ability to feel such things (which had been absent in me up to then), vividly reminded me of my previous life, and a feeling of deep mourning came over me, as though I had lost something (I should note here that this feeling has always remained with me after the occurrence described above.)
The desire to return to my previous form of life, although up until now there was nothing especially sorrowful in it, did not once stir in me; in no way was I drawn to it, nothing in it attracted me.
Reader, have you ever had the occasion to see a photograph that has been lying for a considerable amount of time in a damp place? The image on it is preserved but faded from dampness and mold, and in place of a definite and beautiful image one sees a kind of continuous light gray murkiness. In like manner life here has become faded for me, appears as a monotonous and blurry picture, and appears so to me even up to the present time.
How and why I suddenly felt so – I do not know, but one thing is certain – life held absolutely no attraction for me. The horror which I had experienced earlier in regard to my separation from the surrounding world, had for some reason now lost its strange significance for me. For example, I saw my sister and understood that I could not associate with her, but this did not disturb me in any way; I was content simply to see her and know all about her; unlike before, I no longer had any desire even to announce my presence.
Moreover, this was not my main concern. The feeling of being compressed from all sides caused me ever-increasing suffering. It seemed to me that I was being squeezed between pliers, and this sensation increased with time; on my part, I did not remain passive, but whether I did anything, whether I struggled trying to free myself of it, or whether I made no exertion to free myself, to cope with this sensation and overcome it – I am not able to say for sure. I only remember that I felt an ever-increasing sensation of tightness around me and, finally, I lost consciousness.
When I regained consciousness, I found myself already lying on a bed in a hospital ward. Opening my eyes, I saw myself surrounded by a crowd of inquisitive people or, in other words, faces that were straining to observe me with close attention.
At my bedside the head physician sat on a stool which had been moved over towards my bed, trying to preserve his usual air of grandeur. His posture and manner seemed to say that all this was a common occurrence, and that there was nothing astonishing in it; at the same time, however, tense attention and confusion could be seen in his eyes which were fixed upon me.
As for the younger doctor – he, of course, without any reserve whatsoever, literally fastened his eyes upon me, as though trying to penetrate right through me.
At the foot of my bed, dressed in mourning and with a pale, excited countenance, stood my sister, and next to her – my brother-in-law; behind my sister could be seen the comparatively calmer face of the hospital nurse, and still further behind her – the completely frightened countenance of our young assistant surgeon.
Recovering myself completely, I first of all greeted my sister; she quickly came over, embraced me, and began to cry.
- Well, dear fellow, you certainly gave us a scare! – the young doctor spoke with that impatience to share extraordinary impressions as soon as possible, which is characteristic of youth. - If only you knew what happened to you!
- Why, I recall all that happened to me, - I said.
- How is that? Is it possible that you did not lose consciousness?
- Apparently not!
- This is very, even extremely strange, - he said, glancing at the head physician. - It is strange because you were lying like a block of wood, without the slightest sign of life, nowhere even a hint of life, not the slightest hint. How is it possible to preserve consciousness in such a state?
- Evidently, though, it is possible, since I both saw and was conscious of everything.
- As far as seeing is concerned, you could see nothing, but to hear and feel…? And did you really hear and understand everything – everything? You heard how they washed and dressed you…?
- No, I did not feel anything like that. In general, I was completely insensitive to my body.
- How can this be? You say you remember everything that took place with respect to yourself, but that you did not feel anything?
- I said that I did not feel only that which was done with my body, being under the strong influence of that which I was experiencing at the time, - I said, thinking that such an explanation was entirely sufficient for understanding what I was saying.
- Well?… - said the doctor, seeing that I had stopped speaking.
At this point I faltered for a moment, now knowing what else was required of me. It seemed that everything was so clear, and I only repeated once more:
- I told you that I only did not feel my body and, therefore, everything related to it. Now then, my body – it is not my whole self, is it? Why, it was not my whole self that was lying there like a block of wood! The rest of me lived and continued to function within me! – I added. I thought then that that division or, better to say, divisibility of my persona, which was now more apparent to me than the living day, was just as apparent to those people to whom I addressed my words.
Evidently I still had not entirely returned to my former life, did not transfer myself over to their point of view, and in speaking of that which I now knew and felt, I did not understand that my words would seem almost like the delirium of an insane man to those who themselves had not experienced the like, and who rejected it as being untrue.
The younger doctor still wanted to reply or to ask me something, but the head physician made a sign to him to leave me alone, - I do not really know why, whether this quietude was actually necessary for me, or because from my words he concluded that my mind was still in disorder and, therefore, there was no use in reasoning with me.
Having become convinced that the organic mechanism of my body had come into a more or less proper condition, they listened to me through the stethoscope; there was no edema in the lungs. After this, having given me, as I recall, a cup of bouillon to drink, everybody withdrew from the ward except for my sister, who was allowed to remain with me for a while longer.
Apparently they thought that my being reminded of what had taken place could only arouse anxiety in me, causing all kinds of terrible conjectures to arise in my mind, such as being buried alive and the like. All those who were around me avoided talking about it, only the young doctor was an exception and did not exhibit any reserve in his conduct.
Evidently he was extremely interested in what had taken place with me, and several times in the course of the day he would run up to me, either to simply glance at me and see how things were going, or to pose some question that had come into his mind. At times he would come alone, and sometimes he would even bring some friend, in most cases a student, in order to look at a man who had been in the morgue.
On the third or fourth day, apparently finding me sufficiently strong or, perhaps, having simply lost patience to wait any longer, he came into my ward in the evening and allowed himself a more prolonged conversation with me.
After having felt my pulse for a while, he said:
- Amazing: all these days your pulse has been completely even, without any irregularities or deviations, but if you only knew what had taken place with you! A miracle, that is all it could have been!
At this time I had already become used to myself as an earthly being, had entered the framework of my previous life, and came to understand the whole extraordinariness of what had taken place with me. I also understood that only I knew about it, and that those miracles of which the doctor spoke were only external manifestations of what had actually taken place with me, some type of hitherto not understood pathological rarity from the medical point of view, and so I asked:
- When did these miracles take place with me? Before my coming back to life?
- Yes, before you recovered. I do not speak only for myself, I have very little experience and up to now have never even seen a case of lethargy, but no matter to which of the old physicians I describe your case, they all become astounded, and to such an extent that they refuse to believe my words. I think you know – and besides, it not necessary to know, it is self-evident – that when a person goes through even a simple fainting spell, all organs at first function very weakly: it is hardly possible to feel the pulse, breathing is completely imperceptible, one does not hear the heart beat. But in your case something unimaginable took place: the lungs suddenly began puffing like gigantic bellows, the heart began knocking like a hammer against an anvil. No, one just cannot put it into words: one had to see it! You see, you were in a state resembling a volcano before its eruption, one shivered to look at such a sight, it became frightening to those standing by; it seemed that just one more moment – and there would not even be any pieces of you left, because no organism can withstand such intense activity.
“Hmm… it is no wonder then that I lost consciousness before recovering consciousness,” – I thought.
Before the doctor told me all this, I had continued to be perplexed, not knowing how to explain that strange, as it then seemed to me, condition, that when I was dying, i.e. when all was gradually leaving me, I did not for a moment lose consciousness, but when I was coming back to life, I went into a fainting spell. Now it all became clear to me: when dying, although I also had the sensation of being pressed in from all sides, at the moment of extreme agony it resolved itself through my casting off that which was causing the sensation, and apparently the soul alone is incapable of fainting; however, when it was necessary for me to again return to life, I, on the contrary, had to take upon myself that which was subject to all physical suffering, including fainting.
Meanwhile the doctor continued:
- And do not forget, this is not after some kind of fainting spell, but after a thirty-six hour lethargy! You can judge the power of this process by the fact that initially you were like a block of ice, but after 15-20 minutes your members already exhibited some flexibility, and in an hour even your extremities were warm. Why, this is unbelievable, as though out of a fairy tale. And so when I relate it, they refuse to believe me.
- And do you know, doctor, why this happened so extraordinarily? – I asked.
- Do you, according to your medical concepts, understand lethargy to mean something similar to a fainting spell?
- Yes, but only to the most extreme degree…
- Well, then it follows that I was not in lethargy.
- Then what?
- It follows that I actually died and returned to life. If there had only been a weakening of life functions in the body, then, of course, they would have been restored without the upheaval which took place, but since it was necessary for my body to prepare in an extraordinary manner to receive my soul, then all the members also had to work extraordinarily.
The doctor listened to me attentively every second, but at these words his face took on an expression of indifference.
- Why, you are joking; but for us, medics, this is an extremely interesting case.
- Let me assure you that I have no intention of joking. I myself firmly believe what I am saying, and I would like you to believe it, too… well, at least for the purpose of seriously investigating such an exceptional phenomenon. You say that I was unable to see anything, but would you like me to describe to you the whole setting of the morgue, where I had never been as a living person? Would you like me to tell you which of you were standing around, and what you were doing at the moment of death and afterwards?
The doctor became interested in what I had said, and when I related to him all that had taken place, he, looking like a man who had been thrown out of his usual state of equanimity into confusion, stammered:
- N-n-n… well, y-y-yes, that is strange, some kind of clairvoyance…
- Well, doctor, there is something wrong with your thinking: a state of similarity to a block of ice – and clairvoyance?!
But my narration of the state in which I found myself immediately after the separation of my soul and body evinced extreme surprise: how I saw everything, saw that they were moving about my body, which, due to its insensibility, had for me the significance of discarded clothing; how I wanted to touch or push somebody in order to draw attention to myself, and how the air, which had at that time become too dense for me, did not allow me to come into contact with the objects around me.
He listened to all of this with gaping mouth and wide-open eyes, and hardly had I finished than he hurried to bid me farewell and left, apparently hurrying to share with others this extremely interesting narration of mine.
Apparently he reported all this to the head physician, because during visiting hours on the following day, the latter, after examining me, lingered at my bedside and said:
- It seems you had hallucinations during your lethargy. So take care and try to free yourself of this, otherwise…
- I can become insane? – I prompted.
- No, that is going too far, but it can turn into a mania.
- Can there really be hallucinations during lethargy?
- Why ask? You now know this better than I.
- A single case, even though it concerns myself, is not proof enough for me. I should like to know the general observations concerning this condition.
- And what are we to do with your case? Why, it is a true fact.
- Yes, but if all cases are brought under a single heading, will not then the door be closed to the investigation of diverse phenomena, diverse symptoms of illnesses, and through similar attitudes an undesirable prejudice will take hold in medical diagnoses?
- Why no, nothing of the sort is possible here. That you were in lethargy is beyond doubt; consequently, we must then accept the fact that everything that took place with you is possible in this state.
- And tell me, doctor, is there any cause for the appearance of lethargy in such an illness as pneumonia?
- Medicine cannot indicate precisely what basis is needed for it, because it occurs in all illnesses, and there were even cases when a person lapsed into lethargic sleep without any kind of illness preceding it, being apparently entirely healthy.
- And can an edema of the lungs pass by itself during lethargy, i.e. at a time when the heart is inactive and, consequently, a progressing edema does not meet any hindrance?
- Since it happened with you – it follows that it is possible, although, believe me, your edema passed when you came to your senses.
- In the course of several minutes?
- Well then, in the course of several minutes… if it was even that. Such activity of the heart and lungs that took place at the time of your waking could, it seems, even break up the ice on the Volga, let alone disperse any type of edema in a short period of time!
- And could compressed, edemic lungs function in such a manner as had occurred in my case?
- Apparently they could.
- Therefore, there is nothing surprising or striking about that which took place with me?
- No, why so? This, in any case, is a phenomenon that is rarely observed.
- Rarely, or under such conditions, under such circumstances – never?
- Hmm, how never, when it occurred in your case?
- Consequently, an edema may pass by itself, even when all the organs in a person are inactive, and a heart compressed with edema, and edemic lungs may, if they so desire, function to their heart’s content; it would then seem that there is no reason to die of edemic lungs. But tell me, doctor, can one recover from a lethargy which had come on during an edema of the lungs, i.e. can a person simultaneously slip out of two such unfavorable conditions?
An ironic smile appeared on the doctor’s face.
- Now you see: it was not in vain that I warned you about the appearance of a mania, – he retorted. – You are continually trying to place what occurred to you into any other category except lethargy, and you are asking questions for that precise purpose…
“For the purpose of becoming convinced, – I thought, – about which one of us is a maniac: I, who desire by means of scientific conclusions to test the basis of the classification which you have made with respect to my state, or you, who, contrary to all probability, place everything under the sole classification you have in your science.”
But aloud I said the following:
- I ask questions for the purpose of showing you that not every man who sees snow falling around him, is able, contrary to all indications of the calendar and blooming trees, to affirm in all cases that it is winter, for I myself recall how snow once fell when the calendar showed it to be the 12th of May, and the trees in my father’s orchard were in bloom.
My answer apparently convinced the doctor that he was late with his warning, that I had already fallen into a mania, and he did not contradict me in any way, and I desisted from asking him any further questions.
Reprinted from “Orthodox Russia,” No. 4, 1976.