A Company of Souls
“In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?”
(English Standard Version)
This won’t make sense to you right now, but both you and I died on the morning of Sunday, May 1, 2016, at exactly 1:48 a.m. For approximately 36 minutes, we were clinically dead while the emergency medical staff at Methodist Memorial Hospital in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, followed the resuscitation protocol that would ultimately revive us.
At 1:03 a.m., 45 minutes prior to our death, I was on the last leg of a 28-hour-long drive back to Wilkes-Barre from Santa Fe. I’d chosen to make the drive because, for as long as I can remember, I’d been afraid of flying. (Well, not so much afraid of flying really, more a fear of falling from thirty thousand feet.) Fear had ruled my life back then.
I’m not afraid anymore.
I had been at a work conference that week—a boring affair at the Santa Fe Convention Center that my boss had insisted I attend. This year’s theme was “Navigating the New Workplace.” Ironic, since the last time I checked, the cubicles in our office were the same as those they had installed over ten years ago, and we hadn’t had a technology refresh in a long while. There had been break-out sessions on proper work-life balance, emerging marketplaces, and shifting demographics; and one particularly yawn-worthy presentation on how to communicate effectively with the “new” workforce (meaning millennials).
When the week was up, I found I’d gotten out of it about what I had expected to: next to nothing. And I missed my wife and kids terribly. Almost as much as I missed sleeping in my own bed.
I had scheduled two days to drive back from the barren New Mexico desert to the dense greenery of the Allegheny Mountains, but somewhere in Indiana I decided to make it a non-stop trip. There were plenty of gas stations along the way, and I figured their stale coffee and a fresh pack of cigarettes would keep me going. But after Akron there weren’t many major cities to pass through, and the blackness of the night and steady hum of tires on pavement wove themselves into a blanket, enfolding me in their warmth; lulling me into a dangerous state of calm.
I stopped at a station at the interchange of Interstate Highways 80 and 81, the last major interchange before home. I topped off my cup and stretched my legs, taking the time to wander the aisles, browse the station’s shelves, and get my circulation moving. Wake up a bit.
By 1:20 a.m., I was back in the car, firmly engulfed in that blanket.
I rolled the windows down, letting the cold night air slap at my face.
I pinched the insides of my thighs hard, hoping the pain would jolt me awake. The medical staff at Methodist Memorial later asked me how I’d acquired the tiny bruises on the inside of my legs. Their expressions when I told them were a mix of dismay and disappointment.
My attempts to stay awake didn’t work. And at 1:48 a.m., on the morning of Sunday, May 1, 2016, after 28 hours behind the wheel of a late-model sedan I’d rented from Avis, I fell asleep. And just five minutes from home, the rental steered itself into oncoming traffic on Highway 309, killing us both.
* * *
I should clarify here that in the preceding paragraphs I am not using “you” in some generic, informal sense. No, I am addressing you, the reader. Yes, you.
Now clearly, you are not dead. If you were, you would not be reading this now. Obviously, your body did not cease to function in the early morning hours of May 1, 2016. But I assure you, you were there the moment I dozed off behind the wheel on that isolated stretch of Highway 309.
You were there too, when moments later, at 1:49 a.m., I found myself moving slowly down a long hallway. This was no ordinary hallway. The floor beneath me and the walls to the left and right of me weren’t solid, but rather seemed to construct themselves only when I took notice of them, forming out of the air around me—solidifying themselves for me—directing me toward a brilliant white light in the distance. The light drew me toward it, pulling me closer, calling to me. It beckoned for me to come nearer. Enter. Stay. And while it was a most welcoming feeling, it was wholly unnecessary. For upon seeing this beautiful, shimmering light, I wished to go nowhere else but into it.
At 1:50 a.m., I entered into the light. And time no longer made sense to me. While it was ten to two where my body remained—lifeless, trapped inside a sedan that had wrapped itself around a much heavier, more resilient Ford F150—here, time simply did not exist. I can’t say I was beyond time, for that implies a temporal before and after. Rather, I was outside it. Much like an author is not bound by the time affecting the characters in her novel, I was no longer tied to or affected by the hours, minutes, and seconds that ticked by in that faraway place I had called home.
In the light, there was no time. From the moment I crossed its threshold, everything happened simultaneously, in a single instant.
Stepping into the light, I entered what I can only describe as some sort of arena. It was at once infinitely large, yet surprisingly intimate. It stretched as far as the eye could see, but since I no longer possessed anything that resembled an “eye,” its entirety fit comfortably in my field of “vision.” It was simultaneously the most unreal setting I’d ever encountered, yet it was more real than anything I’d experienced in life. This was reality. This was trueness. Being. Existence. The colors were more vibrant here, animated with a life of their own. The smells were pleasant—willfully, consciously redefining themselves to avoid offense, to endear themselves to my presence. Sounds, too. Every sound possessed a sing song quality, perfect in pitch, tone, and volume. They swirled around me, through me, sweeter than any lullaby.
The seats of the arena were empty. I got the impression they were off limits, reserved seating. For the Observer. Though I couldn’t see this Observer, I felt its eyes upon me. They looked on me with a love and adoration I’d not known in life. I can only compare it to the love I have for my children, but multiplied by a number far too high to record. However, I also felt a hint of sadness in that stare. The Observer, it seemed, was torn. Torn between unending love, and an eternal state of heartbreak.
Turning my attention from the stands to the arena itself, I found it was filled with every soul that had ever existed. Every soul that ever will exist. There was a sense of celebration among them as they mingled there, laughing and rejoicing in this marvelous place.
Feeling an overwhelming sense of homecoming, I joined this company of souls. They welcomed me, gathering to embrace me. To welcome me home (though, in fact, I’d never left).
And moments before I was snatched away again, I counted the number of souls in that wonderful place.
There were seven of us.
* * *
At 2:24 a.m., the medical staff at Methodist Memorial Hospital finally got my heart pumping again.
Several hours passed before I opened my eyes, and even then my vision was blurred. The rails on either side of the bed faded into the walls around me. The curtain separating me from the other patients in the intensive care unit swam in and out of focus, becoming one with the medical equipment standing guard at my side, the beeps and blips keeping tempo with my now-beating heart.
Most of all, it felt dull. Gray. A crude reconstruction of the real.
Several hours later, my vision returned to normal. But it would be several weeks (and four surgeries) before I could speak. The sedan’s airbag had come close to crushing my windpipe, and the sudden impact of my body against the seatbelt caused one of my ribs to crack, puncturing a lung. Those blows had suffocated the life from me. The accident had also shattered the bones in both ankles, and the fibula in my left leg, and I was told I’d probably never walk again. Maybe it was the morphine, but I had to chuckle at the irony. It looked like I’d be learning to “navigate the workplace” after all. In a wheelchair.
As the days passed, doctors, nurses, and specialists came and went to check my vitals, ask how I was feeling, quiz me about the bruising on my thighs.
I didn’t look at their name tags. I didn’t have to. I knew them all. Intimately.
Both the charge nurse and the attending physician were One. You could tell by their genial bedside manner and their easy laugh. The surgeon who repaired my ribcage was most definitely Two—matter of fact, almost cold. Each member of the administrative staff was Three. Their affinity for and attention to detail and properly filled out paperwork made that clear. The guy in the bed next to me, the one beyond the once blurred curtain, was Four. Four never stops complaining. And today this guy was unhappy with the flavor of Jello. Yesterday it was the temperature of his Salisbury steak. Four and One don’t get along easily. They never have. Even now, you could sense this guy’s complaints chipping away at the charge nurse and attending physician’s amiability.
You and I are Five. We’re stubborn, even combative, but not to the extent of Four. When we’re wrong, we know it. We admit it. And we correct it. Four will never admit that he or she is wrong. Ever.
You’ve probably met Four along the way. That person who, for no apparent reason, gets under your skin. Rubs you the wrong way.
And you’ve no doubt encountered yourself, Five. Think of your lifelong friends with whom you fell into conversation effortlessly and made an instant connection with. Or the coworker you spend your lunch hour with just because. You and I may never meet, but if we did, we’d get along splendidly.
Six and Seven are the creative types. The writers. The artists. The composers. We’re all a bit envious of them, though we each possess our own unique talents. Over our lifetimes, we’ve been architects, engineers, and mathematicians.
Collectively, the seven of us have been everyone who ever was. And will be everyone who ever will be. We’ve been cooks and critics, pastors and painters, construction workers, CEOs, and their lowly clerks hidden away in basement mailrooms. We’ve been the victimized and the victimizer. The villainous and the valiant. The murdered and the murderer. We’ve spent lifetimes drunk on grotesque wealth and have wallowed in sobering, abject poverty. You and I have been blessed with good health and burdened with incurable disease. We have been and are now traitors, liars, thieves. Drug dealers, con men, and criminals. But we’ve also fed the hungry, housed the homeless, and have protected those who cannot protect themselves. We’ve been deserving of Hell. And we’ve been holy.
Right now, we’re breathing our last breath in homes, hospitals, and hospices, or taking our first breath in pediatric wards all over the world. It is a lucky few of those re-entering the world who will remember their past incarnations, retain some memory of their previous lives. Fewer still will be blessed enough to connect with their current, past, and future selves. Call them clairvoyants, psychics, mediums. Remote viewers. Call them what you will.
Just don’t call them charlatans anymore.
For some, this same blessing will undoubtedly be a curse—their minds unable to process the connections it makes with its counterpart in others. We call them schizophrenics, psychotics, or diagnose them with dissociative identity disorder. We lock them away in institutions. Or leave them to suffer alone in the streets. If you happen to cross paths with one of these unfortunates, go easy on them. They may be Five, too.
* * *
I hope this makes sense to you now. You may, from time to time, experience a sense of Déjà-Vu; that feeling of having been here before. You have been. You will no doubt experience conflict in your life. You can blame Four for that. Be grateful for Three for covering the little things. And thank Six and Seven for those moments of transcendence while listening to your favorite song, or as you admire an artistic masterpiece.
Have no fear of death or the uncertainty of whether Heaven or Hell awaits you. For we all deserve both. And a place has been prepared for us. In the center of that arena. We’re there now. We’ve been there from the beginning. And we’ll see each other there again.
In the meantime, look around you. You’re everywhere…
Connect with William Lucas on Twitter and read his debut Novella, "Jesse," available now from the Caroltown Company: