Occasionally someone asks me if I believe in miracles. My answer is that I have experiences every day that I classify as miracles. They are unexplained, highly improbable, fortuitous, serendipitous, event sequences that I have come to accept and rely on as gifts provided from somewhere to allow me to deal with the problems I need to solve. I would not know how to live without such miracles.
My belief is that everyone receives these gifts, but most don’t choose to recognize them and therefore have not learned to benefit from them. This answer is almost always following by a challenge to describe such a miracle. I could describe any one of a dozen occurrences during the past month, and they may sound like mere coincidences. This is the usual explanation for a miracle even when many unlikely things happen in sequence. For example, I have walked in the park every evening for years, and a month ago I decided that I should add some resistance training to my routine. I began to invent exercises that used the benches and found them not very satisfying. And then after 25 years with no changes in the park, the city added four exercise stations that include elaborate, advanced exercising machines the likes of which I have never seen in any park anywhere.
Recognizing that this example may not be satisfying, I describe now a very special miracle of years ago, one that was witnessed by many friends and several professionals, one that allowed me to be here today.
It began on a Monday morning in 1984 as I lay in bed talking with my wife, Ruth. My first symptom that something was awry was a snap inside my head followed by a severe, instantaneous headache. Rolling over, I felt the entire right hand side of my body go numb, followed by a series of jagged light patterns dancing around in my field of vision. Even though feeling soon returned, the severe headache, maybe the worst I had ever had, continued. I knew that something was terribly wrong. At the time I was heavily intrigued by the practice of meditation, and I chose to deal with this by going into a deep meditation. I slept for the next 24 hours.
Upon waking the next day feeling a little better, though still very sore, I visited my doctor to hear his opinion. After doing a few tests he began to suspect that I may have had a stroke, and he suggested that I check into a hospital for further tests. Following his advice, I began a series of tests, the first of which included a spinal tap followed by cerebral x-rays.
I was placed in a room with two other gentlemen, one, who was in the process of passing a kidney stone and a second, next to me, a rather famous retired baseball star, named Bob Scott (Not as well known as Bob Feller). Bob had come in complaining of chest pains, which did not seem to be taken very seriously by the nurses, who essentially told him that he would not be able to stay long because hospital space was extremely limited and had to be reserved for really sick people.
The next day, the news from the neurosurgeon was not good. He explained that x-rays showed that I had a walnut sized tumor near the back left side of my brain. At this stage he would take further x-rays and a CAT scan to identify exactly how the tumor lay relative to the rest of my brain, followed by a skull flap to allow him to examine the tumor in detail to determine if it was operable. He explained that there was a 50/50 chance that the tumor would be operable; however the operation would likely leave me initially paralyzed on my right side and also with speech difficulties. Long-term therapy would probably help these problems but I would probably never completely recover. Suddenly my life had changed drastically.
The pain in my head, having increased, possibly as a result of the spinal tap, made it difficult to think about the future; I could think only of my present state. Actually, I worried little about the tumor. After one extremely painful attempt to take a shower, I was confined to the bed. Any movement of my head caused bursts of pain. Painkillers were worse than ineffective. Eventually, I found that again, meditation was the only way I could keep myself from screaming out with pain. I could visualize the pain as a liquid and then remove it from my head, finally placing myself into a trance where I could relax.
Eventually Bob and I struck up a relationship and talked about our lives. This helped me forget the pain. On Wednesday, the third day, we were both excited about a John Wayne movie scheduled for 9 PM. On several occasions Bob would awaken and ask me, “Jim, we are going to watch the Duke together tonight, right?” Each time I responded enthusiastically. On several occasions I heard Bob and the nurses arguing about his condition.
My CAT scan had been delayed again. That night we turned on the TV at nine sharp. By the time The Duke had made his first appearance in the movie Bob was sound asleep. I didn’t last through the entire movie either. Anticipating the event had been more exciting than the event itself.
On the following day, Ruth brought a book on visualization that I had been studying. She was convinced that I could visualize the tumor out of my head. She recited paragraphs from the book, describing exercises that had impressed us before, and encouraged me to work on these exercises.
I was moved by the reactions of my friends, who clearly were concerned at my situation. Ken Haines made a special trip to the hospital to tell me of a dream in which he discovered an icon that could cure me. He suggested that I search for the icon in my own dreams. Will Bachalo, who was working in the field at the time he heard the news excused himself from a meeting he was in and was seen a few minutes later “crying like a baby”. I had trouble getting any friends to accept my tickets to see John Denver until someone did so almost as a favor to me. (John Denver was killed a few years later in a plane crash.)
During that night I went into one of my deepest states of meditation, remaining somewhat lucid in my sleep and relatively pain free as I visualized a tiny battalion of troops digging the tumor from my head and removing it in miniature army trucks that drove through my brain. These leathernecks were so tough that they ripped the tumor bit by bit from the brain without touching my brain itself, stuffed the bits into cloth sacks and heaved them into the beds of the trucks. When each truck was loaded they drove it away from my brain and destroyed it. This meditation and visualization process continued the entire night and morning time found me completely exhausted but relieved because I felt I had achieved something.
Later in the day I had the CAT scan. The surgeon was reserving the day after that for surgery.
After the CAT scan Ruth joined me in my room and I asked Bob how he was doing. He was not doing well and pleaded for us to help him get help. He was feeling chest pains and was upset at the lack of response his nurses were offering to his call button. I attempted without success to talk him into a meditation while Ruth went for help. She returned with promises of nurses to come right away; no one was responding as Bob began getting more and more upset. Finally Ruth ran in to the hall and shouted that we needed help, which brought nurses promptly, mostly however, to scold her for shouting. They seemed more interested in convincing her that Bob was a complainer than helping Bob.
Nevertheless, Ruth’s forcing the issue brought them to his bedside to see him clearly going into cardiac arrest. At that point they, themselves, began shouting. Within a minute the room was full of doctors, aids, nurses, a “Fire wagon”, a lot of shouting, and a partition that prevented me from seeing anything. Within a few moments the shouting ceased, and what had begun as an emergency procedure was transformed into a cleanup procedure. By the time they removed the partition, Bob was gone, not only from the room, but also from the world.
The head nurse for the floor came to convince me that nothing could have been done better. Although I wasn’t buying that, there was little I could do except weep at the loss of my newest friend, Bob. The pain of losing Bob allowed me to forget about the pain in my head for a while. Having someone die in the bed next to me was hard to comprehend.
That night brought a very strange vision or dream or both. I am not sure to this day whether it was real since where reality ended and dreaming began was totally unclear. I observed a bright light in the courtyard outside the window followed by the presence of a strange creature standing by my bedside. For a moment I imagined it was Bob’s ghost. He began to speak. “We have put you through a lot of pain in recent days,” he said. “It was necessary for us to conduct an experiment that involved you, and we apologize for the pain you went through. You will be rewarded for this, and it will begin now with a journey of ecstasy.”
I was lifted from the bed by some force and swept outside, flying high above the hospital. The journey continued for what seemed to be hours into outer space, taking me through beautiful scenery accompanied by pleasures I had never before experienced.
After a considerable time I was returned to the bed where there was no seam between being asleep and awake. Lying in the bed I sensed a soft blue light throughout the room, gently fading away, leaving me in a state of peace and relaxation unlike anything I had ever felt. I lay there wide-awake, enjoying the feeling until the sun arose. The pain in my head was gone, having been replaced with a kind of ecstasy. This was the morning I was scheduled for surgery, and I was a bit surprised when the nurse came in to serve me a full breakfast.
Soon after breakfast my doctor entered the room. He began by telling me there was a change of plan. “This may sound very strange to you, but the CAT scan shows no sign of a tumor. There is no simple explanation; apparently we mistook some combination of arteries visible in the x-rays as a tumor." I was not surprised by this, since I fully expected the tumor to be gone. The doctor refused my request to see the x-rays, saying that he didn’t want to scare me further by showing something that even the doctors couldn’t explain. He suggested that what I had experienced was a severe migraine headache.
Was this simply a collection of coincidences? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Regardless, this experience is one of those happenings