They asked him a question over coffee. These were the people who had known him and worked with him in the past on trying to publish a bi-monthy newsletter containing articles about freethought, rationalism and the agnostic approach to issues. They had tried to temper him in the past. His statements about the foolishness of faith and the pointlessness of religion were often too strong and turned off many readers. Now, as they sat with him, they had to ask.
"How did a rationalist become a mystic?"
The question came to him from many people, from many angles across the tennis court of his life. He was prepared for the questions. For more than a year he had been his own harshest critic. The man had an experience with death and returned. The experience had deeply changed him, and yet he fought the experience from every angle. These were just sick and twisted dreams, the result of the pills and the liquor he ingested in an attempt to end his life. The chemicals had impacted his ability to reason and caused hallucinations. These things he had seen and continued to see were products of an overactive imagination and a temporarily warped sense of reality.
The First Year
The most obvious effect of his experience with death was a renewed sense of confidence and a lust for life that had been absent in the past. This he could deal with and accept. It made him stronger and allowed him to do things he previously believed were impossible. His shyness and crippling insecurities seemed to melt away completely. Where he had once been deeply troubled by every setback in life, no matter how minor, most things now seemed to roll away. He was able to let go of things rather than hold onto them and try to keep them alive. He was a different person.
Aside from the visible difference in his personality and approach to life, the man pretended not to notice any other changes in himself. It was all just a crazy dream. Life would go on now and it would be better. He felt stronger and more able to confront disappointment and failure. Somehow he managed to become the person he always wanted to be.
Why are you dating all these women?
I decided to find out if I could date fifty women in one year. I succeeded, but it was the most hollow victory of my life. It reached critical mass when one of the fifty women decided one date was not enough. She asked me why I was doing it and probed me for answers as to what I was trying to make up for. She was the first person I ever told the story of my death to, almost a year after the experience. She continued to press me. I was twenty-nine years old and previously had five girlfriends. Two of them I had no real physical relationship with. Two of them had cheated on me regularly. Chris saw the pattern. I was angry and trying to exact some form of revenge by proving to myself that I could be desirable to women.
"What do you really want?
I know it isn't me, so don't worry about my feelings."
For a long time I told myself that the reason for my suicide was relationships that went bad, deep financial troubles and my failure to finish college and lead a normal life. There were deeper issues, and their were connected to my insecurities and fear of failure. Chris continued to prod me, asking me about my past girlfriends and how I really felt about them. They all seemed rather uninteresting to me in retrospect. I couldn't remember ever really being "in love" with them. They weren't in a category of someone I could truly say I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. Except one.
"Then find her again and stop trying to prove you are some kind of stud."
I found her again. So much was going through my mind and my soul. I felt that reconnecting and building something with the woman I truly loved would make the dreams and visions go away. The closer I got to her, the stronger everything became. The realization hit me. So much of the reason I had been depressed for so long was the sense that I was not good enough for the woman I loved. A burden was lifted when I confessed the depth of my feelings to her. She always knew, but hearing me speak the words changed her. Yet we had come so far and it was impossible to pretend and go back to the beginning as if nothing had happened. Regardless of what happened, I told her that she was and always had been "my muse." She preferred that role, although she never believed she was enough to inspire anything.
The Second Year
Trying to convince the woman I had known and been in love with for ten years to become my "girlfriend" was an error in judgment. Our relationship had progressed beyond that stage and I was avoiding seeing the conflict. She could see that I was different and was both pleased and frightened by the change. She wasn't sure who I was because she remembered me the way I had been, timid and afraid. The passion returned, we confessed our feelings, and then everything fell apart. The dreams came back stronger than ever.
"Everything here will fall apart.
You must go where there is no snow and find her.
There is nothing for you here now.
This is the life you gave up on."
Pretty much anything can be explained "rationally." My suicide note that somehow moved from the kitchen table to the bottom of a desk drawer? In my drunken stupor I had a change of heart and moved it. My encounter with a ghost on the staircase? A mad hallucination. The journey down the river, through the light and into the desert where I met an older version of myself? Drugs and liquor had caused my mind to experience deep and disturbing dreams that seemed very real. The fact that the amount of liquor and pills I consumed that night were "enough to kill a water buffalo" according to a poison control center? I have a very strong tolerance and my will to live was stronger than my will to die. I merely fought to live because I really didn't want to die and everything else was a creation of my imagination.
I believed in this rational version of events for more than a year after my death. I tried to dispel the ongoing vivid dreams as nothing more than my overactive imagination. I began to go mad, as the further I tried to distance myself from the death experience and the dreams that followed, the stronger the dreams became. There were warnings that I was on "the wrong path" and that I had to stop the "denial of my true self." A woman continued to appear and insist that I needed to find her. Eventually, in an attempt to prove that these were only mad hallucinations, I decided to listen.
The Third Year
I always wanted to move south and get away from snow and winter weather. So, I said "yes" to going where there was no snow. I spent a year travelling south and looking for a new place to put down stakes. Whenever I went to Florida I felt a strong pull, as if I were in the right place, so I restricted my explorations to Florida. I was about to move to Cocoa Beach when Christine, the sister of my roommate's girlfriend came to town for the weekend. We got involved and she implored me to visit and stay with her in Orlando.
The first night I spent in Orlando visiting her, she took me to a restaurant for dinner and drinks. The waitress was the woman from the dream. All my rational attempts to explain this as a coincidence fell apart. She appeared to glow and seemed to recognize me. Something strange happened that night, and Tina the waitress could not stop coming to our table and asking me if I needed anything and if I was from out of town. The energy was so strong between us that Tina didn't even seem to notice Christine was there. She sat down and talked to me and asked me many questions. The look on her face was similar to the look on mine. It was as if there was nothing else real in the room. Christine was furious at being ignored.
"Do you know that girl or something?"
It was the point at which I took a leap of faith. I realized that I could continue to insist that it was all a crazy dream or I could follow the path that seemed to stretch out in front of me. I chose the latter and never turned back, except in moments of doubt. These doubts are important, for they allow you to focus. Yet, a leap of faith requires that you accept what would otherwise be considered "absurd." The physical appearance of Tina was enough to cause me to re-examine myself and take the leap. I moved to Orlando.
My faith has been rewarded many times, and many times my doubts have been answered with signs and events that taught me something about myself. I believe, but it is my own religion, and I've never expected anyone else to understand or accept it. Not even Tina, although she was simulataneously disturbed and fascinated by me and wanted to know the whole story. She felt like she had been expecting me but could not understand why. Neither do I, but sometimes what we do has influence that stretches far beyond the obvious.
In answer to your query, yes, I shift between third and first person on purpose.