Brace for impact …

If I had a near-death experience, you’d think I’d know it. But, apparently, I had one in December and was among to last to recognize it.

Imagine the 155 aboard US Air flight 1549 as they plunged toward the Hudson River with the words “brace for impact” ringing in their ears. Who among them was not immediately and intimately acquainted with their personal mortality?

While I was not involved in a catastrophic accident last fall, I was sick and apparently had been for some time. It was a kind of sickness that has afflicted three members of my family, killing each. I’m the fourth. So, in December, a surgeon popped my hood and went to work.

To say I didn’t recognize the gravity of the sickness would be untrue. I knew it could be serious and potentially fatal. And, I was aware that any surgery, even a tonsillectomy, brings the risk of complications,  including death.

I even went through what Hollywood and old-timers call “last rites.” The weekend before surgery, I received the sacraments of Penance, Anointing of the Sick and Eucharist. In short, I acknowledged my life’s shortcomings, prayed for healing, and received communion.

It was major surgery, and I spent a month at home recovering. Sound serious?

Mostly, my wife and I found ways to laugh at this. Sincere laughter – sometimes even naughty laughter – at the honestly funny things that can happen to a man left somewhat helpless, and certainly out of control.

Full recovery from this sort of surgery often takes 18 months. Yet, less than three months later, I’ve healed up better and faster than I ever expected.

But, the healing of that long, angry scar is not the biggest change. Rather, at least for now, the irritations that used to send me into orbit seem inconsequential. The insatiable drive to move my career forward has abated. And, I’ve even started driving politely, even deferentially, in rush hour traffic.

I told my wife I just feel different. More relaxed, less anxious. That’s when she reminded me that I’d been through a near-death experience – at least emotionally – in December.

I guess she’s right. My intellectual knowledge that no human lives forever has morphed into a personal knowledge that my life is terminal. As for my illness, it will take years to know if I’ve been “cured.” Yet somehow I’m finding peace in my heart, not anxiety.

I wonder if those aboard flight 1549 have found the same peace.

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