I have been very close to death on at least 3 occasions. The first was when I was born. I came into the world dead and had to be resuscitated. Hearing the doctor, nurses and my mother arguing about my condition, and debating on whether I should be saved, caused me severe emotional trauma for many years. Only when I was able to figure it out was I able to remove its power over my well-being. The second time is the subject of this article, so I’ll wait to get into it. The third time was in my twenties and was self-induced through abusive over-indulgence. Apparently, I survived them all as I am here today writing this article.
I have been asked to talk about the second near-death experience many times. It has always seemed to make a strong, positive impression on people and help them open their eyes to the Unknown Reality around us. So, I felt it might be good to go over it here in detail. What follows is an accurate dramatization of the events that took place.
I was around eleven years old and in the fourth grade. We had been invited to join some family friends for a weekend outing at their vacation home in a place called Boiling Springs Lakes, North Carolina. This is a heavily wooded area in the south-eastern corner of the state, 22 miles from Wilmington in what was in 1973 a very remote region with a population of only around 250 people. It hosts a natural boiling spring that according to the town’s website “pumps out an astonishing 43 million gallons of water every day”. Also, a large recreation lake, if also has around 50 smaller springs of varying size and depth that pockmark the landscape.
We were visiting my mother’s friend and co-worker, a widow and mother of a pack of kids that ranged in age from a year younger than me to several years older than my sister, who was 2 years my senior. My sister had a crush on one of the boys, who was about her age, named Paul. I had a deep crush on his twin sister Pam, which she found cute, much to the chagrin of their youngest sister Ann who was suffering the pangs of unrequited love for me.
They had a vacation home in the woods within an easy walking distance from one of the smaller springs. In 1973, that equated to a relatively new and well-maintained double-wide mobile home that belonged to the elderly parents of my mother’s friend. We arrived in the early afternoon and settled into one of the bedrooms, which had been designated for the kids use, piled wall-to-wall with sleeping bags and pillows.
The older kids were all teenagers, and the eldest Mark drove a black Chevy Camaro. He died a couple of years later, and left his surfboard to me, which is not related to this story, but I had totally forgotten about it until just now. I also recall that my sister’s crush was really Mark, but she had one on Paul as well. Let’s just say that they were all very good-looking people.
As soon as we got there, the kids were all anxious to head out to the springs and go swimming unsupervised. Mark was 17 and didn’t think we needed any adult babysitters. He assured my parents that he would be in charge and keep us safe. Everyone wanted to go to a big spring, that had a rope swing and a rocky overhang for diving. My mother adamantly refused to allow my sister and me to go with them if that was the plan. My sister was not the best swimmer at the time, but I had a fear of the water and could not swim at all. Well, that’s not exactly true. I swam like a fish under water, as long as I knew the water was shallow and I could stand up any time I wanted. My mother was insistent that we only go to a spring that was not over my head unless the adults were with us.
My mother was very overprotective of me. She had four children at the time, and I was the youngest, last and only boy. That was not the only reason for her over-protectiveness. She had lost a son, my older brother Bill. He had been 11 when my sister was born. He adored her and cared for her all the time. Bill was a diabetic and needed regular insulin injections and the occasional bite from a Hershey bar that my mother always had on-hand. When he was 13, he contracted influenza. The combination of diabetes and the flu took a toll on him, and he developed pneumonia and other complications. He died suddenly, and my mother was devastated. She also learned that she was pregnant with me.
The loss of her beloved Bill was heartbreaking, but when she found out she was pregnant, she took it as a sign. She was very careful during the pregnancy and was delighted beyond imagining when I was born, and she saw that I was a boy. That quickly changed when she realized I was not breathing and not moving. Nearly losing me before I even drew my first breath made her protect and nurture me for the rest of her life. So, as the kids begged for her to give in, she stood firm and insisted. I would have to stay in the trailer and play canasta.
Paul and I were like brothers. He was my best friend, maybe my only friend. Paul, Pam, and Anne wanted me to go and pushed the others into agreeing to go to the “baby” spring. With that, my mother made Mark draw her a map of the roads and trails that lead to the spring, which was a short five-minute walk away and down one corner. We all quickly ran to our room to change into our swimsuits, which was more than a little awkward and thrilling as I got very quick open views of both Pam and Anne’s naked bodies. They were very open and it surprised us, but we laughed it off.
We all piled out of the house in a pack and started walking and running across the road. Some of the boys were tossing a football around, trying to impress my sister. We were all happy and filled with the joy of innocent youth. We quickly arrived and the spring and jumped in, splashing about. I was in my element. I was swimming underwater across the spring to stand up and shake the water off.
“I thought you couldn’t swim,” Mark commented giving me a curious look.
My sister spoke for me, as she was prone to do often, frequently when around older boys. “He can only swim under water if it is only up to his belly button,” she replied, laughing in an unintentionally hurtful way. The older kids laughed even louder and started teasing me. Anne came over to me, seeing that the joy that I had been feeling a moment ago was instantly replaced with shame and sorrow at my humiliation. She took my hand and said, “It’s okay, Bandor, I like it in the shallow water. I’ll play with you.”
At that moment, I loved her and for the first time realized that she was even prettier than her full-chested sister Pam. She and I sat down and played in the mud, ignoring everyone else. But, that was to be short-lived. Soon the older boys were bored out of their minds and started suggesting strongly that we disobey my mother’s wishes and go to the deep spring with the rope swing and diving rock. Mark, contrary to his earlier portrayal before my mother, was the instigator of the rebellion.
At his urging, due in no small part to her heart palpitations at Mark’s bare chest and musculature, not to mention the way his cut-off jeans short-shorts showed off his pronounced bulge, my sister reluctantly turned against me when I refused to break Mom’s mandate.
“Come on, Bandor, don’t be a bay,” she began a bit too harshly, then seemed to regret what she had said and softened a little, “Mark says that there is a beach with a shallow area you can play in.”
Mark walked up and put his arm around her shoulders, “Yeah, Ban, you’ll be fine. I’ll take care of you. I won’t let anything happen to you.”
Anne rose to my defense, “Go away!” she shouted at her big brother, “We don’t want to go with you.” So, we split up. Mark, Pam, and my sister went to the big spring, and I stayed behind with Anne. Much to my surprise, Paul decided to stay with us.
“It’s ok, Bandor. We went there this morning, and we have all weekend. We can go later to have a look if you want.”
“I don’t have to get in?” I asked seeing a potential way to go along without going entirely along.
“Yeah, don’t let them bully you,” Anne chirped in, then added, “but, it is a lot of fun. You should at least see it.”
With that, I made up my mind.
“Ok, count me in,” I pronounced, standing up, “Let’s go.”
We got out and walked through the woods for quite a while. The path twisted and turned and I was utterly lost. Without them to guide me, I would never have found my way back to the house. After a while, we could hear the sounds of laughter, and as we came out of the woods, we could see the spring. It was about a half-acre in size, just appearing out of the black, tar-like soil typical to that part of North Carolina, like what it was, a big round hole filled with water. There was an ancient-looking oak tree to the right with a big branch extending out over the water, from which an old tattered rope hung. Off to the left, the ground was broken and rocky, with a large boulder that extended out into the water.
Pam was laying on the boulder, basking in the sunlight, in shorts and a halter top. Mark and my sister were on the opposite bank in deep conversation. As we came into the clearing, Paul let out a whoop and shouted, “Come on!”. He took off at a full sprint. Anne laughed and chased after. I watched, hesitating, but was just happy to be able to be included. I giggled as well and ran after Anne.
Paul reached the edge of the spring by the oak tree. He leaped and grabbed onto the rope, swung out over the water making a Tarzan-like yell and landed in the water with a large splash. Anne was next, and when she reached the edge dove forward, arms outstretched and hit the water with a tiny splash and disappeared from view. I was right behind her, and just before I reached the edge, a thought entered my brain, but I ignored it. It sounded like a voice that said one word. “Don’t!”
I ran into the spring, lost my footing as there was no ground to step on and fell forward, taking the water face-first and gagging on a big mouthful. The spring was apparently bottomless, and I went under. The water seemed brown and hazy. I could see the sun shining through the surface with a strange orange light. I tried to stand and couldn’t. I trashed out with my arms and felt nothing. I was sinking. I panicked.
I thrashed wildly and needed to breathe. I was choking on the water already, and then suddenly I broke the surface splashing wildly. The sky was bright blue, and everything shone brightly. I could hear the other kids laughing. Laughing. Laughing. I raised my arm, trying to grab on to something, to someone but couldn’t. I attempted to call out but was choking and gagging on the water, and my voice came out as a ragged, gasping croak that sounded vaguely like “Help!”.
I went under as I tried to gasp for air and more water poured into my mouth, throat, and lungs. I went down again. The lack of oxygen and my wild thrashing was causing my muscles to become quickly fatigued. It was getting hard to move. I tried to pull myself up through the water as if that would somehow work, but only managed to sink lower and faster. I tried to feel for the bottom, to spring off of it, but couldn’t find anything to push against.
Ten minutes earlier…
My mother, father and her friend were seated around the kitchen table with two decks of cards. They were drinking coffee, and my mother was shuffling the cards, in preparation for a 3-handed game of canasta. We loved to play the game, and I was often her partner. She glanced down at the hand-drawn map and stared. Her eyes grew wide. Her hands started shaking, and she spilled the cards onto the table in a messy pile.
“No!” she called out, “Bandor!”
Her loud outburst made my father jump, and her friend stare at her.
“Jesus, honey,” my dad responded, looking surprised, “that the heck.” He began trying to help her clean up the cards, but she only stared and shook visibly.
“You have to go to him,” she began, grabbing my father’s hand in her hand, squeezing it in an iron grip that was icy cold, “Bandor is in trouble. He needs you. Now!” She was practically shouting. Her friend looked on with concern.
“Liz, I’m sure they are fine,” her friend said, trying to comfort her, “Mark is with him, and he won’t let anything happen. He is very responsible.”
Mom turned on her with anger on her face and practically hissed, “No he’s not!”
She turned back to my father, “You have to go now! He’s drowning! He needs me! He’s drowning!”
At that, my father and mom’s friend stopped and stared at her. Dad was still trying to come up with an argument, but her friend, who was a Wiccan, took mom’s other hand.
“What happened?” she asked.
“He is drowning. It is too deep,” my mother replied more quietly as if she was going into shock. Before my father could respond, her friend stood up.
“You have to go, Bob. Now,” she stated flatly.
My father looked at her like she had taken leave of her senses, that whatever my mom was feeling was somehow contagious.
“You cant be serious,” he started, but she cut him off.
“I am, and you have to go.” she picked up the map and showed it to my father, and started to explain it to him. “You take Mulberry down to Ash here and turn right. The spring is down about a quarter of a mile on the right.”
Dad reluctantly stood up, shaking his head. “Whatever,” he grumbled as he took the map and started to turn away, muttering about women under his breath.
My mom almost screamed, “No!”
Dad jumped, “What?” he shouted back.
“That’s not where they are,” Mom stated, matter-of-factly.
Her friend looked at her with a puzzled look on her face, “No, honey, here’s the map. That’s where they were going.”
Mom seemed to be lost in a fog or a trance and spoke in a quiet tone, calmly.
“They went there,” she started, “but they left and went to another spring. Bandor didn’t know it was deep and jumped in. He’s drowning.”
She turned to my father, tears running down her face, “Give me the map,” she said, sternly leaving no room for argument. Dad handed her the map, and she took and picked up a pen and started modifying the sketch, drawing in new streets and putting arrows next to the roads indicating where to go. The way there was complicated with numerous turns. She marked a circle showing the spring and put a large X on it.
“That’s where they are,” she said as she handed the map back. “The last part is a dirt access road that leads right up to the spring. “Now, go.”
He took the map and looked at it, moving slowly to leave. Mom suddenly screamed out at the top of her lungs “Go!”
Dad reacted like a scared dog and ran out of the house to the station wagon and tore out of the gravel driveway heading in the direction indicated on the map.
In the water…
I broke the surface a second time and croaked out a weak “Help!”. I heard someone shout, “Where is he?” Someone was crying, “Find him! Find him!” and I realized it was my sister. I saw Paul and tried to reach for him and sank under the water again.
A voice in my head said “Swim!”.
“I can’t,” I said back to the voice.
I wasn’t thrashing. I felt a strange lethargy and movement was difficult as my limbs appeared as if they were 10 times their usual weight.
“Yes, you can. Swim!” came the voice again and I realized it was my mother.
“I can’t Mom. I’m scared. I don’t want to die.” I said or thought. I looked up. There was a glowing ring of light still with this orangish tint to it. I could see the shape of people, their legs kicking, someone was diving down, but not near me.
I’ve heard it said that when you are drowning, you only come up three times. I don’t know if that is a universal law, a myth or just the law of averages. For me, it was accurate. I broke the surface again, one arm weakly raising. I heard someone yelling “There he is! Get him!”
Then I was sinking.
I was calm. It was like I was resigned to my fate. I had tried. God knows I tried to swim. I struggled to move. But, I couldn’t. I was too tired. Too weak. I just wanted to sleep. I felt surprisingly warm. I looked up again and saw the ring of light again, but now it was not orangish. It was white in the center, fading to purple at the edges and seemed more a sphere of light with 3 dimensions than just the light on the surface of the water.
“Bandor,’ my mother’s voice spoke again. I could tell she was crying. My mother was a tough “broad” in the most respectful sense of the term. She didn’t cry. In fact, I don’t think I’d ever heard or seen her cry before. I saw a shadow above me. It was getting closer, and I could see it was a boy about my age, maybe a little older. It was not Paul. I knew who it was immediately. I recognized him from the photograph my mother kept inside a locket close to her heart.
“Don’t cry, Mommy, it’s okay. Bill is here. He says he will stay with me. I won’t be alone.”
She was crying louder, and she pleaded with me, “Please, Bandor, you have to swim baby.”
“I can’t, I don’t know how.”
“Yes, you can swim underwater! You’re great at it. You swim like a fish.”
“You have to try! Please for me, just try!”
“I’m sorry, Mommy, please don’t be mad at me. I tried.”
Her tone suddenly changed. She was angry. She scolded me.
“Dammit, Bandor, swim!” She cursed at me! She never swore at me. It shocked me and got my attention. I looked up, Bill was drifting away and the light was losing its bright intensity and turning a shade of brownish-orange.
“God damn it, Bandor William Tyrell! You swim now, or you will be in so much trouble!”
“Yes, Mommy. I’ll try” I said and gathered all my remaining energy and strength and tried to will my arms to move in a breaststroke. They wouldn’t budge. I was growing said. I didn’t want to let her down.
Then, I saw Bill, and he reached out and touched me, and I felt a small bit of energy flow into me, and I fanned my arms out. My right hand hit something firm, yet kind of soft.
On the surface…
Paul was frantic trying to find me. He swam around screaming my name. Mark dove into the water and the girls were all crying and calling out. Then Paul jumped with a start.
“He’s here!” he yelled and then rotated over and dove down, kicking hard. He grabbed my hand and turned to the surface pulling me up with him. Mark swam over, and the two of them pulled me across the water to the little patch of dirt by the oak tree. Mark was saying over and over, “I’m so sorry! I’m so sorry!”
The station wagon slid to a stop in the dirt access road, 10 feet away. My father threw open the door and ran around the car saying “No, no, no, no!”
He fell to his knees next to me and a folded napkin with a hand-drawn map, with a circle and an X on it fluttered to the grass next to him. He rolled me face down and pushed on my back, forcing the water out of my lungs. He flipped me on my back and tilted my head back, pinched my nose shut, blowing air into my mouth and lungs. He did it again and again, growing frantic.
In the Light…
I was standing at the entrance to a stone temple. Bill was next to me. He was closer to the door and was waiting for me. I was happy. I felt love all around me. I saw a throne inside the temple, and it glowed with a golden light. An older man in dark robes, with a long white beard, saw me and smiled. He shook his head, no.
I heard him say, “Not yet.”
Then I was flying backward through a tunnel of cascading light. I half-vomited, half-coughed, and water burst out of my mouth and nose. I drew in a shuddering wet breath of air and coughed loud and hard. I gasped for air, coughing and sputtering. I opened my eyes and saw my father looking at me. My sister was crying, holding my hand. Paul was beside me looking scared. I saw the others around me staring at me.
“W-hat happened,” I stammered out.
Paul smiled and said, “I guess you were right. You can’t swim!”
Yours in Light,