The following is
Essay #12, The Body Is A Sometimes Thing, of Dr. Ring's new book,
Waiting to Die: A Near-Death Researcher's
(Mostly Humorous) Reflections on His Own
Fear of Death,
receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers
are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead
are raised up.
-- Matthew, 11:5
Death is no more
than passing from one room into another. But
there's a difference for me, you know.
Because in that other room I shall be able
-- Helen Keller
man, with a paunch, is sitting on a doctor's
examining table waiting anxiously for the
doctor to return with the results of his
The doctor comes
in, looking solemn.
"I'm afraid it's
your body," he intones.
I am that man.
Surely Yeats did not have me or my body in
mind when he wrote his immortal lines,
"things fall apart, the center cannot hold,"
but they are apposite, I'm afraid. Somatic
entropy is icumen in.
I don't want to
bore you with a list of my various
infirmities and debilities since I already
regaled you with those woes in the very
first essay in this series, which I wrote in
December, 2017. I'm tempted just to write
something along the lines of, "suffice it to
say, they have all grown worse." But I will
resist that temptation if you will indulge
me for a few moments in order to give you
some specifics. Besides, as usual, I have an
ulterior motive for mentioning some of them,
which will shortly be revealed.
To begin with, I
now list. That is, these days when standing
or walking, I am no longer an orthogonal
being. Instead, following my political
proclivities, I tilt to the left. Generally,
I am not aware of this until I run into a
lamppost or something, which is a painful
way of being reminded that I now am an
embodiment of the same principle as the
Leaning Tower of Pisa. (You can see
photographic evidence of this if you scroll
back to the tenth essay in this series where
there is photo of me, tilting, while wearing
a University of Heaven t-shirt.)
And then there
is my difficulty in walking, quite apart
from my wayward posture. For one thing, I
have now acquired not just a paunch of my
own, but a pot. I joke that having once
written a book entitled Heading Toward
Omega, I could now write another called
Heading Toward Rotundity. Hell, I am only
heading toward death, but I have already
achieved full rotundity. And this in a man
who was once described as a "slender
mustachioed researcher." The pounds don't
come off easily any longer; they adhere,
having found a cozy home of their own in my
belly and seek to expand like a balloon
filling with air, even when I think about
consuming another York Mint Patty. The
result is, I no longer just walk; it's more
that I now waddle, and sometimes wobble, in
the general direction of my destination,
drawing piteous and condescending stares,
and sometimes curses, from the buff young
Marinites who have to swerve to avoid
hitting me with their bikes on the walking
path that runs along the creek adjacent to
But that's only
the beginning of my current travails. Worse
still is what causes me to mutter, "ai, ai,
eye!" Yes, it's my eye, or rather it's the
lack of vision in one of them. (And, BTW, I
can't resist mentioning to you that for
years I saw an eye doctor named -- Dr. Ai.
No, I am not kidding. He was a retinal
specialist, and that was really his name. I
managed to refrain making the obvious joke
whenever I saw him.) But back to my eye.
I have had
glaucoma for over twenty years, and recently
it's got quite a bit worse. When you have
glaucoma you are regularly tested to see how
much peripheral vision you have lost. Would
you like to see the latest results for my
right eye? Please take a look at the diagram
on page 4.
Ignore all the
numbers. Just look at the picture with all
the black shading. Wherever you see black,
that's what I don't see. So, you can see
that I am completely blind on the left side
of that eye, and have only a little sliver
of vision in my right visual field. In
addition, I have what's called a macular
pucker (or wrinkle) in that eye that
interferes with my central vision. When I
try to look at the Snellen chart (the chart
that eye doctors use to check your vision),
the best I can do is 20/200.
So to put all
this into technical terms, that eye is shot.
In order to see anything, I have to depend
on my left eye, which isn't nearly so
compromised by glaucoma, but it ain't so
beginning to get an idea of my visual world?
Unfortunately, my vision has deteriorated
quite a bit since I started writing these
essays. Nowadays, I don't see as much as I
infer the existence of what we were once
pleased to call the external world. I mean,
if the street where I walk was there
yesterday, I assume it must still be there
today. But my vision is getting to be a
joke. For example, the other day, as I was
completing my warm-down after my stint on my
stationary bike, I happened to pass by my
next door neighbor, who was walking her dog.
I did recognize that a dog was coming toward
me, but I failed to recognize my neighbor.
Just call me Mr. Magoo of Marin.
++++++++++++++++++++ PHOTO #1 HERE
Well, you can
see -- no pun intended since that verb is
largely conjectural for me now -- that I
have my reasons for hoping that I won't have
to wait too much longer to have better
vision. No, there is no operation that can
The only thing
that can -- is death! And now I will tell
you why I have cause to think that one day,
perhaps before too long, I will have perfect
One of things
that first struck me so forcibly when I was
starting out on my life as an NDE researcher
was how often my respondents would comment
on how well they could see (and hear) during
their NDEs. Here are some of those remarks
from my first book on NDEs, Life at Death.
I could see very
clearly, yeh, yeh. I recognized it [her
body] as being me.
My ears were
very sensitive at that point... Vision also.
everything clearly and distinctly.
everything was clear. My hearing was
clear... I felt like I could hear a pin
drop. My sight -- everything was clear.
It was as if my
whole body had eyes and ears.
Years later, one
of my students, who had had an NDE, and who
had previously lost most of the hearing in
one of his ears, told me he could hear
perfectly during his NDE.
And it's a
similar story for people who are poorly
sighted, but not during their NDE. Consider
the following case of a 48-year-old woman
who reported this experience following
post-surgical complications. All of a
Bang. I left.
The next thing I was aware of was floating
on the ceiling. And seeing down there, with
his hat on his head [she is referring to her
anesthesiologist]... it was so vivid. I'm
very near-sighted, too, by the way, which
was another one of the startling things that
happened when I left my body. I see at
fifteen feet what most people see at 400...
They were hooking me up to a machine behind
my head. And my first thought was, "Jesus, I
can see! I can't believe it, I can see!" I
could read the numbers on the machine behind
my head and I was just so thrilled. And I
thought, "They gave me back my glasses."
enormously clear and bright... From where I
was looking, I could look down on this
enormous fluorescent light... and it was so
dirty on top of the light. [Could you see
the top of the light fixture, then? I
asked.] I was floating above the light
fixture. [Could you see the top of the light
fixture?] Yes [sounding a little impatient
with my question], and it was filthy. And I
remember thinking, "Got to tell the nurses
astonishing than the fact that those with
defective vision seem to see perfectly
during their NDE is the finding from my own
research on the blind (he said modestly)
that clearly shows that even persons who are
congenitally blind -- people who obviously
have never seen in their lives -- can and do
see during their NDEs. As one of these
persons who I interviewed for my book,
Mindsight, where I present about thirty of
these cases, and who had had two NDEs, said:
"Those experiences were the only time I
could ever relate to seeing, and to what
light was, because I experienced it. I was
able to see."
comes from a woman named Vicki who was 43
when I first met and interviewed her in
Seattle. In the course of her interview she
told me that during her (second) NDE, when
she was 22, which took place in a hospital,
she found herself up by the ceiling and
could clearly see her body below (she
recognized it from seeing her hair and also
her wedding ring). She continued to ascend
and eventually came to be above the
hospital, where she saw streets, buildings
and the lights of the city. She also told me
that she saw different intensities of
brightness and wondered if that was what
people meant when they referred to colors.
Vicki was only
one such case of the congenitally blind who
reported some kind of vision during their
NDE; as I've mentioned, there were others.
How such eyeless vision, which I called
mindsight, can occur is something I
speculate about in my book, but the fact
that it occurs is incontestable, however
inexplicable it appears.
What does all
this research have to tell us about the kind
of body we may find ourselves in after
death? Of course, no one can say with
certainty, but the implication is that it
will be one in which all of the senses we
have in our earthly body are somehow able to
function with perfect clarity. And if that's
so, it stands to reason that whatever
infirmities or physical limitations we have
here will be absent there.
Think of it this
way. When we dream, we are usually not aware
of any bodily limitations. Indeed, we may
not even be aware of having a "dream body."
I know that in my own dreams, I am aware of
myself, but not my body. Now, don't
misunderstand: An NDE is in no way like a
dream; it is far more real. From the
standpoint of an NDE, it is more real than
what we call life, and certainly more real
than even the most vivid dream.
Nevertheless, our dreams are perhaps the
best intimation of the wonders that await us
after we die. And in that state, the one
that we can anticipate when we die, all
bodily malfunctions appear to be
contemplate such possibilities, I know it
makes it a lot easier for me to deal with
the signs of my own creeping decrepitude and
my increasingly poor vision. I know that
they are only the temporary impediments of
my aging body.
In any case, you
can now understand that I am not just
waiting to die. I'm waiting to see.
Kenneth Ring's New Book:
Waiting to Die:
A Near-Death Researcher's (Mostly Humorous)
Reflections on His Own Endgame