by Von Rowan
(Author’s Note: With Purpose is an extended version of the essay Dying to Live.)
I was not afraid to die, having already done it once. When I was twenty-six, I bled to death, the result of a miscarriage. There had been simply a painless drifting away as nurses frantically cut off my clothes and covered me with dripping towels, and a panicked voice—“Open your eyes, Yvonne! Wake up!… Open… your….”—faded to black.
Some time later, I became aware of no longer being in my body, a literal sense of release—no longer a prisoner in the flesh, sentenced to hell on Earth. I had lived in a state of shock. Life stunned me with its injustices, its pain, its cruelties. Fate, like a malicious wind, buffeted me through a meaningless life, deprived of purpose. Often I stumbled through my days on automatic pilot, while inside I huddled in a fetal position in a deep, dark corner collecting mental and emotional dust; and the ghost of Poe’s raven drove me ever deeper with his whispers, “Never good enough. Never good enough.” I wondered if we would still mourn for our dead if we knew death was the end of a prison sentence—and suicide an attempt to escape.
Suddenly, I had been set free.
And there came a dazzling light and an unyielding sense of peace and love. A tunnel of light revealed the way to eternity, and I knew that if I could reach the brilliant light at the end of that tunnel unnoticed, I could stay. Propelled by a mere thought, I raced toward my goal.
A voice that was not a voice commanded, “Halt!” And the word made it so. Halfway to eternity I stuck, unable to move.
“You must go back. It is not your time.” The Voice was gentle, loving, but firm.
I resisted, arguing with (God?) in vain. “I don’t want to go back,” I dared to defy.
“You must go back. You have not yet completed your purpose there.”
“Purpose? There is no purpose. I don’t want to go back.”
“Your children need you.”
“Someone else will raise them—and do a far better job than I can. They’ll have a better life without me to mess them up.”
“They need you. They were not given into your care by accident.”
The thought roused me slightly from my despair, my apathy. Instinctively, on some level, I knew this Voice could not lie; it could speak only truth. Its truth appalled me.
“What insanity is this?” I demanded. “Because it was insanity to give four children to ME to raise! And I’m doing it alone—all alone!”
“They need you. And there are others who need you, others you don’t know.”
“In case you haven’t noticed, I can’t even take care of myself. My life is one major disaster. I don’t want to go back to it.”
The Voice relentlessly exuded patience and love. “You have no choice. You must complete your purpose.”
“Someone else can do that, too.”
“No. Only you can do it. You were created especially to fulfill this purpose.”
“Purpose, purpose. I have no purpose. I’m nobody special. Anyone can do what I do, and do it better.”
“You alone have the specific qualities necessary to fulfill your purpose. No one else can do it.”
Suddenly scenes appeared before me like a holographic movie. I watched, fascinated by the revelation.
And then the Voice again: “If you do not go back, it will not be done.”
Horrified, I relented and was instantly sucked back into my body.
My life did not instantly improve, although I was forever changed by my “near-death” experience. Crisis was home to stay, it seemed, but my attitude, my view of life traveled at a new altitude. Mostly, anyway.
New understandings and certainties settled in and cuddled up to crisis, easing the pain, smoothing out anxiety, comforting my fears. I no longer feared death: I had seen the other side. This is not all there is. Death is an illusion. In fact, I felt more like I was being born than encountering death—and suddenly I had a new perception of Christ’s admonition about the need to be born again before we could enter “heaven.” It made sense to me as it never had before. Birth in a physical body was required in order to enter the physical world; so, too, was birth in a spiritual body required to enter a spiritual world! I wasn’t dying, I thought. I was being born! But it was “not my time,” I was told; there is a right time for everything.
As a direct result of my experience, I also absorbed a different view of “accidents” and “coincidences.” Are those words we use when we can’t see the whole picture, the connections? And speaking of words, what power they have! The Voice said, “Halt!” and it was so. God said, “Let there be light…and worlds…and creatures…” and it was so. And thoughts: I had a thought, and action followed. Thoughts have energy, power; they make things happen. I understood—and became much more careful and mindful of what I thought and said.
But I did not understand the most important thing of all, and I became obsessed with it. I now knew undeniably that I had a purpose, a specific purpose that must be fulfilled before I would be allowed to move on. Eager to get on with it, I tried to remember what that mission was. I remembered vividly every detail of my time on the other side, except that. I tried hypnosis and meditation. I read. I reasoned. I thought. I strained. But those holographic scenes had been wiped from my memory with an indelible eraser. It seemed that nothing could retrieve them.
Soon it became the only thing I thought about, the only thing I prayed about. I asked my Higher Power; I cried; I pleaded; I cajoled—and when my frustration nose-dived into anger, I raged.
“How can you do this? You give me a mission, tell me it’s vital, claim only I can fulfill it—yet you refuse to let me remember it! Well, I refuse to be held responsible if it goes unfulfilled! I refuse to be responsible! Do you hear me? How can you hold someone responsible for something you won’t even let them know? How dare you! How dare you call yourself fair and just!”
One day, in the midst of my raging, a voice that was not my voice slid quietly into my mind. Had I not recognized it, I possibly would have immediately committed myself into the nearest “safe” place where medication was considered part of the daily diet.
“Do you see the bee?” it asked gently.
“Do you see the bee?”
“What does a bee have to do with this?” I felt more than a little belligerent.
“What purpose does the bee serve?” So softly, lovingly, the Voice prodded.
I considered the question, not willing to shut off communication now that it finally was happening. “I suppose you could say it feeds the world. If it didn’t pollinate the plants, all life would cease—or at least all of it on land.”
“Do you suppose the bee is aware of its purpose?”
I smirked. “No, I seriously doubt that it has given it a single conscious thought.”
“And yet it fulfills its purpose splendidly simply by being what it was created to be, wouldn’t you say?”
“Yeah, I guess it does.”
“And so it is with you.”
Silently I contemplated this concept, without wanting to accept it.
“All things have a purpose essential to the whole. If any would fail, all would fall. Each fulfills its purpose by simply being what it is. Conscious awareness isn’t necessary. Besides, knowing mankind as you do, what do you suppose would happen if each of you knew your specific purpose?”
“Ah, that’s easy. We’d insist on doing it our way instead of your way and undoubtedly screw it up!”
“So stop worrying about it and just be the best you that you can be.”
I took that advice, and the sense of failure that plagued me became meaningless, while my life took on a focus that carried me through the crises fate continued to plunge onto my path.
Twenty years later I again found myself on my deathbed. Now I remembered these things and was not afraid. I knew I was dying—again. My family and friends knew I was dying. Soon. We were by now resigned to it.
Pervasive weakness conquered the last remnants of strength, and I could barely lift my hand. Agonizing pain gripped me relentlessly, but at least the violent vomiting and nausea had abated. A heart attack followed too closely by acute gall bladder and liver disease had left me within days of death.
So, I thought, my purpose was finally fulfilled. Mission accomplished. Perhaps now I would find out what it had been.
Listlessly I looked at my mother standing in the dim room next to my bed. Her steel-gray hair was tousled. Tears oozed from her clear blue eyes and coursed down her pale, smooth cheeks.
“Are your affairs in order?” Her soft voice tried too hard to be steady. “Are there any arrangements you need to make?”
I had made no arrangements for anything. I hadn’t planned on dying, and it was too late now. I hadn’t the strength to even think about it, never mind get out of bed to see a lawyer about writing a will, or making funeral plans.
“No,” I answered.
My granddaughter, Jericka, stood next to her: the joy of my life, the one I lived for. I’d raised her from the day she was born. My daughter had been a mere child at her birth and was now lost in her own hell into which I could not reach. Jericka and I had become as close as any two people could be. We could read one another without words— she, peering over the edge of pubescence, breasts straining to bud, promising eventual full-bloom, full life—and I, life-weary and worn beyond willingness.
I stared at the jelly-jar glass stuffed with the dandelion bouquet she had brought me earlier—and remembered another day, the day she had taught me about dandelions.
Was it last spring or the spring before? We walked along our road, flanked by Picasso-splashes of spring flower colors. Jericka was enthralled by their abundance, needing to know the names of each one—“What kind is this, Nana? And that one? And, ooh, that purple one over there, what’s it called?”—burying her nose in some to absorb the sweet fragrances.
We came to a field carpeted in eye-shattering yellow. “I want a yard just like that,” she declared, “with lots and lots of dandelions.” When I told her most people consider them to be weeds, she scoffed. “How could people think such a beautiful flower could be a weed!”
Gently plucking a fully blooming dandelion with one hand and a lollipop of fluffy seed with the other, she studied them intently for a moment before wanting to know how one became the other. Satisfied with my brief explanation, Jericka-the-imp, with her sideways grin and flirting eyes, blew the seed into my hair. “You look like the baby chicks!” We laughed: Our chicks were getting their adult feathers and looked like harassed little cartoon warriors with their cottony down poking out in every direction….
…I would miss her—her honest simplicity, her fresh view of life. I looked into her Van-Dyke brown eyes, fringed with thick black lashes.
She knows, I thought. I could see it in her face. She didn’t believe it until now…but now she knows I’m dying.
I’ve never seen anyone look so lost. Eight years old and wondering, “What will happen to me? Where will I go when you’re gone, Nana? Who will love me then?” She spoke not a word with her mouth, but every fear, every question, every pain was written clearly in those soul-deep eyes and trembling lips.
Her anguish pinched my heart, eclipsing my own pain. My love for her filled my soul, and an irresistible yearning replaced my resignation. I prayed.
“Dear God, You know I’m not afraid to die. But I love this child so much. She needs me. She has no one else who will care for her like I do. To the world I may be a weed, but to her I’m a dandelion—a dandelion with a vital mission. Surely I’m not yet finished here, am I? Please, for her…let me live.”
I used to work in the medical field, so I know how much difference the will to live can make—and the importance of something to live for. I wonder, though, how often we confuse the will to live with feeling worthy to live.
Life still stuns me with its dark side.
But I live, with purpose—and I am not afraid.