Death as a Hacker

This post has eluded me for weeks, mostly because of the raw intensity and discomfort of the experience. I now realize I might never mold the words quite right. But, I will write it anyway. I also struggle with the sympathy this post will evoke from the reader, which is not my intention. While I do appreciate the compassion and kind-heartedness of you, my friends, I ask you to put that aside for now. Please know that my son is now home, healthy and happy.

“You have little time left, and none of it for crap. A fine state. I would say that the best of us always comes out when we are against the wall, when we feel the sword dangling overhead. Personally, I wouldn’t have it any other way.” – Carlos Castaneda, Tales of Power

We are humans. Little bio-electrical systems, twinkling among a mass of ecosystems, floating through a solar system. The rest remains a mystery. Many people, myself included, are curious and probe into the mystery, that great adventure of discovering Ourselves. There are many resources among these aforementioned systems offering clues; teachers, nature and astrology, for example, all can the point the way. But they point only, for as parts of the system, they are embedded within it, and can do no more.

But Death is not part of the system. Death is the hacker of systems, the wild maverick of truth and disruption, the dark hero of awakening. Death will skip all the juicy details and gentle encouragements and deep meditations and drop you, right on your skull, onto the rock of truth.

I have recently met this hacker called Death, and had my head cracked open, and my life hacked.

I found myself riding in the back of an ambulance with my son, who had rapidly developed a severe case of pneumonia. A very surreal experience, as I suspect it must be for all those riding in the back of ambulances, not being an event for which one plans or prepares, or even considers.

His sickness had fallen upon him like an avalanche, and was so severe that the emergency room of a local community hospital, (our original destination), had called for an ambulance to take us to a children’s hospital where his care would be more specialized.

He was placed in Pediatric ICU, and I spent the wee hours of that first night pacing his hospital room, waiting for him to stabilize or be placed on a ventilator.

He did stabilize at 3 in the morning, and I cannot say my mind did not visit the dark places of possibility, had we arrived even 30 minutes later.

And that was the beginning.

Six days later, after traversing the many intense ups and downs of an emergency hospital stay, my son was doing better. We were seeing improvements, and the idea of going home within the next few days was becoming a possibility. I recall sitting next to his crib on a swivel stool, singing some silly song to his great delight, when a commotion broke out in a patient’s room near ours. A nurse shouted for help and within seconds other nurses and doctors flooded into the room. More commotion. More nurses. More staff. A woman, a staff member I did not recognize, briskly popped into my room and informed me that she must shut my door. Through the door’s window I watched her shutting the doors of the surrounding rooms also. Voices were muffled now and everything seemed hushed and eerie. Suddenly there was a wail.

“No! NO! Don’t let him go! Please do something! PLEASE!”

A man, a young father I recognized, having passed him in the corridors many times on my way to the shared bathroom, was in a frenzy at the nurses’ station.

“This can’t be happening! This isn’t real! What the hell is going on? Do something! Please! Don’t let him go!”

He continued on this way, repeating the same phrases, clutching his face, and wailing for several minutes. I was paralyzed, as if a sword of hot ice had been thrust straight up my spine, my head filled with the electric static of shock and panic and despair.

Two staff members now positioned themselves outside my room, blocking the door. I realized they were guarding us, preparing for the possibility of violence from this man. Guarding us from Death, I thought. But they could not guard us. Death was in the air now, my ears had drunk it in and my bones were shaking with it. I looked at my son. He was still happy and smiling and reaching out for me, unaware of the drama surrounding him. The irony of this wonderful healing little boy and the death of another little boy just feet away hacked at me like a terrible scythe. Death cracked my head open. In this altered, cracked state, I spoke to Death.

“Why are you doing this? Why is this happening?!” I sobbed.

I am reminding you. You are always asking the question, though you already know its answer. But you do not trust yourself, and instead work so hard digging for answers in the hourglass, to find only the sand slipping through your fingers.

You are here on this Earth as an artist, perfecting your divine art of being. Yet you blind yourself to the masterpieces you create, fogging your eyes with desire and doubt. You are deaf to your own sublime symphony, clogging your ears with some warped need for loss. Do no belittle yourself or your contribution, for that is the poison of destruction, far worse than I. Own your magic, and be done with your absurd addictions to mediocrity. And waste no more time.

He paused. Then asked,

Tell me, what would you be doing right now, if you were not fearing the death of your own son, doubting your mothering of him, and chronically hoping for his healing?

By this, he meant my chronic hope for healing my son from epilepsy. I saw the truth of Death, and at that moment dropped all interference. The clutch of these thoughts fell away, and it was like static dropped from a signal, and I was clear.

With absolute ease and absolute absence of logic, I began doing what I knew I should be doing. I began collecting life for the little boy two rooms away. I started with myself, searching the crevices of me for any extra life I had picked up along the way. Then I went through the room, in the corners and under furniture, like some funny cosmic housekeeper. I asked the babies who had died in these rooms for whatever they could provide from their current cosmic locations. And my son helped me.

I can’t say how long this went on for, but I was at some point interrupted by the hospital’s social worker, as she made her rounds to each family witnessing the situation. She asked how I was doing. I promptly dried my still wet face and gathered my wits and my self back to reality, and Death left me. She told me that though things like this happen, it never gets any easier. I nodded, and after a moment of small talk she moved on to the next room.

Several hours passed on that second floor in silence. I made my trips to the shared bathroom down the corridor, and couldn’t help glancing into the emptiness of the little boy’s room. That evening our young doctor said good night to us, and commented that it had been a hard day.

The next morning, the room was occupied. There was the father. And the mother. There was their little, maybe 5-year-old daughter. I recognized all of them. And there, in the crib lying down, was the little boy.

I knew it was none of my business, but after several baffling hours, I mustered up the courage to ask our nurse, who just so happened to be the little boy’s nurse the day before, if this was the same little boy. She looked at me cautiously, and was silent for a moment. “I can’t tell you anything, legally. But… he’s alive. He’s not dead.” She hurried out of the room.

I passed the father late that day, on my way to grab an afternoon coffee. “How are you?” I asked, holding back my urge to bear hug him. “Oh, I’m much better now!” he sang to me.

And that was it. The next day they were gone.

We have also since gone home, and I have spent many hours contemplating Death and his maxims. Contemplating how one reality was unexplainably swapped for another, and the undeniable and impossible miracle of it all.

There is a raging fire buried within us, and I touched it that day with Death. It is a wild lover and a quiet sage, a soft flower and a fierce warrior, a curious child and a wizened old crone. It is the ember of aliveness, and it is all things. From this place confidence is a trifle, a trinket of times remembered. From this place everything is possible.

If we can master ourselves, then we will find ourselves. We will command our highest magic, and if we inject it into the body of our lives, I think we can perform the most precious of miracles. In fact, I know we can.

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