We are all going to die sometime. I remember a lieutenant commander in the ready room mentioning something about dying “young and leaving a good-looking corpse.” There is a lot of bravado in ready rooms throughout the fleet, in alert rooms in the Air Force, and in foxholes of the Marines and Army. The real test, however, comes when you are actually staring death down, eye to eye. It is only then that you really get to know more about yourself than you ever knew before.
Only when faced with your own mortality will you come to know whether you will measure up. How will you react with the knowledge that you are probably, in the next few minutes or hours, about to die? What thoughts will fleetingly race through your mind? Will you even be able to think?
I have been in airplanes thinking I was at the end of my life. I have had emergencies in both civilian and military airplanes and thought, “This is it!” I was just lucky… I lived! When it comes to an emergency in airplane, though, you really don’t have enough time to think about it. There is too much to do to save your bacon. When you do have the time to think about it later after the emergency is over, somehow it doesn’t seem so bad. There is no time for actual bravado… In airplanes, you really don’t have to be courageous.
On the ground, things are different. You have time. No, not time in the sense that you have a long time to live, you have time to deal with the emergency. This is the time when you must be brave. After all, everyone is watching, which means you have to be brave. Alone in the cockpit of an attack jet, you can scream and no one will hear.
When it comes to dying in an any airplane, overall, I would think going out that way is pretty easy. I mean, things are over in a flash, if it is your time. As long as you hit hard and fast, the transition from this life into the next will probably not be painful. Friends or squadron mates will mourn your passing and your family will no doubt miss you. But there is no real necessity to fear the transition from this life to the after-life.
In my opinion, death is not the problem. It is the question of dying. I don’t believe being dead will be painful or in any way dreadful; it is the crossing of the bridge that may prove problematic.
Most pilots know when to declare an emergency – in the air, that is. On the ground, it can be a completely different story. Courage in the air is almost a given – most of us will react properly by virtue of all the training and procedures we have memorized. The rules change when you are on the ground.
On the ground, there is more time with which to deal with the emergency. This means there is more time to think. Having more time to think is both good, and bad. Many times, the question becomes, “When should I call 911?”
In the air, many emergencies come with “immediate action responses.” No thinking required. When one of these situations presents itself, you take this action. The emergency is then over. Sometimes, things happen so fast you don’t even have a chance to declare the emergency to ATC.
On the ground, however, the rules are different. On the surface, you have to really know when to call it. Take for instance, when to call 911 in a medical emergency. Many times on the ground, an emergency doesn’t seem so drastic. Unfortunately, the consequences can be very dire, and there you are, unsure of taking the proper action.
If you find yourself in this predicament and you are questioning if you should call – CALL! NOW! Don’t wait! Waiting might put you in a place from which you cannot return.
That place is called, incapacitation.
As long as you are capable of taking action, you are fine. Once you lose consciousness, however, all bets are off. You might not be able to recover from the situation, and then, and only just then, you will face the darkest moment. It is very similar to slipping over the edge of a cliff. You can go so far and still save yourself, but there is a point at which gravity takes over and you cannot stop the fall.
This is when you will find out if you truly have courage.
I have seen courage in my lifetime. It usually involved older folks, those at the end of their time and facing the most critical challenges of their lives. And of course, there are the cases of wounded soldiers who returned from Iraq or Afghanistan with life issues that make most of what the rest of us face pale by comparison. Every time I see one of these brave individuals, I am thankful beyond description that I made it through my time in the Navy safely. And then I pay homage to these brave young women and men who have sacrificed so much for all of us to live free and enjoy freedom.
I have noticed that with many who have faced death, they develop a certain quality of calm about them, as if they know a big secret to which the rest of us are not privy. They have, of course, figured out what is really important in life and what is not, and most of us haven’t a clue. But they do. They really do.
I think, and this is only pure speculation on my part, that they know it is not worth worrying about a lot of the minutia in this life. They have had the privilege of sneaking a peek around and behind the curtain to learn what they really should concern themselves with and what to ignore.
Many question whether there is, or is not, life after death. I think there is, with my belief based not only on my religious upbringing, but also reinforced by scientific inquiry.
One very good book examining the question of life after death is Life after Life by Dr. Raymond A. Moody. First published in 1975, Dr. Moody addresses the question of what happens to us after we die. His conclusions were the result of studying many cases in which patients were declared clinically dead, and then revived. Over time, Dr. Moody has become the accepted expert regarding near death experiences.
In his observations, he detailed many of the reports from those who have died and returned. The out of body experiences, the vision of seeing oneself as dead, the description of the long journey, talking to a very loving Supreme Being were reported by all people, regardless of religious beliefs, sex, societal position, or education.
The “scientific naysayers” have contested Dr. Moody’s research with all forms of explanation as to why everyone Dr. Moody interviewed experienced the events as they did. They said there is no such thing as drifting out of body experiences and they want to grasp onto their idea that there is no God. They want to hold fast to the idea that after we die, we simply cease to exist. They will tell you there is nothing beyond and that we don’t leave our bodies and talk to Heavenly or Celestial Beings.
This is all very interesting and in my mind, I keep coming back to one very interesting experiment Dr. Moody conducted and reported in his findings. In his operating room, on an 8.5 x 11 inch piece of paper, using a wide, black marker, he boldly wrote a word. He placed the paper with the word facing upwards on the top of an air conditioning duct where no one knew about it except himself.
In interviewing patients who clinically died on the table, some reported drifting out of their bodies, seeing themselves being operated on by the medical staff, drifting up and away and beyond the OR. When they came back to life, a number of those who experienced near death in that operating room were able to tell Dr. Moody what the word was on top of the air conditioning duct.
The thing I liked about Dr. Moody’s work is that he never tried to sway anyone into a particular belief; he just reported the facts and left the decision-making to the reader. Many of today’s journalists could learn a lesson or two on writing technique and reporting from reading Life After Life.
As mentioned, it is a very interesting book.
Note: I wrote this in the summer of 2013 after I ended up in the emergency room when one of my students passed some sort of disease to me during finals. A couple of days later, I failed to recognize I was in respiratory distress at 2 a.m. I thought I could wait and I would call my doctor in the morning. When I finally got to her office, she took one look at me and said, “You’re going to the hospital right now. We’ll call the ambulance.” Later, talking with a friend, he mentioned he should write about death. I just want him and the world to know I was not “stealing” his idea.
The genesis of this post was the idea that I should have called 911 at 2 a.m.
©2014 J. Clark
Note: Email subscribers, please go to my blog to view vids