Insignificant mortals, who are as leaves are,
and now flourish and grow warm with life,
and feed on what the ground gives,
but then again fade away and are dead.
– Homer, Iliad
Some time ago, I made a documentary series on Death & Dying, in which I interviewed a man who had been declared clinically dead on the operating table… and then, unbelievably, he had come back to life in the mortuary some four hours later. Doctors argue it’s not possible – they say he couldn’t have been dead in the first place.
As you can imagine, the mortuary attendant was traumatised as he watched a man who had been clinically dead for four hours come back to life. The so-called dead man, being the kind man he was – naked, and with fresh stitches in his chest, stepped down from the stainless-steel mortuary trolley, and got the attendant a glass of water.
Like so many other others who’ve had near-death experiences, he talks to me about being drawn towards an incredible and powerful white light.
Although it has an unearthly brilliance, he says,
it doesn’t hurt my eyes at all…
Then he meets up with his old Sunday School teacher who has been dead for years.
Without speaking, she takes him by the hand, and she leads him to a huge, beautiful, glowing painting. And as he stares it he appreciates it’s not a painting at all… it’s a tapestry. It’s a tapestry of his own life. It’s an incredibly rich, powerful, and stunning image of his life.
…and then she leads him around the back of the tapestry where he sees many disparate threads, going off in all sorts of directions.
They are things he hasn’t been particularly proud of in his life, and then he comprehends that they are all necessary threads to make up the beautiful tapestry on the other side. And so, as I sit here in The Hague, writing this blog and wondering what I’m doing here, I remind myself that this is just another disparate thread in life’s tapestry.
It’s an attitude that allows a lot of letting go. It gives you an acceptance of those things in your life that you do not understand. But is it just a neat acceptance that allows you to park the difficult questions?
Interestingly, when you look at DNA strands you can see see a strong similarity with the strands of a tapestry. In a tapestry, the threads intertwine to create form and colour, giving life to imagery. Strands of DNA do the same thing, though in a more complex way. They give form, colour and life to every living thing.
One woman I interviewed who had a Near Death Experience, but not a tapestry experience, is to this day pondering what wisdom she was supposed to have gained from her ordeal. She was near death in a car crash in the French Alps, and says she had an out of body experience, was drawn towards a brilliant white light, and, although she has “an amazing feeling of calm”, and wants to stay there, she is then gently nudged back to life on Earth. She can’t understand why. She feels rejected by the After-Life, and to this day she’s still trying to comprehend what she was sent back for – what’s her higher purpose in this now even more mundane life?
As we stumble over the mind-numbing questions around the meaning of life and death, it’s comforting to visualise our lives as a beautiful, warm and generous tapestry, especially if we can forgive ourselves for the threads that we aren’t particularly proud of. It’s certainly a kinder view than evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins’ gene-centred assessment that we are no more than survival machines – robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes. I know which thought I’d rather carry around with me each day as I live out my little life…
We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep
– William Shakespeare, The Tempest