The Man Who Died

Dear Senderos,

I’m working on a post about today’s investment markets as well as strategies I think are useful. As that is not a topic to approach with haste, I decided to leave it for next week.

We are wheels up in a few hours for La Estancia de Cafayate. I cannot begin to express how much I’m looking forward to getting home.

It’s not that there is anything horribly wrong with Vermont, or the US. Rather, I find the lifestyle here to be lacking by a few handfuls in what I consider the most important ingredients for a high quality of life.

One way I might express it is that the US tastes like skim milk compared to the rich milk straight from the teat. I won’t wax on, but only because I need to get on with the final preparations for our imminent departure, but I could.

Instead, I want to leave off by sharing a true story I wrote for the writer’s group I belong to. For reasons you will shortly appreciate, I am sharing it as a book-end to last week’s article on Mortality.

The Man Who Died—a True Story

“I died once,” Stein said, raising the highball glass to his lips.

“Died? Really?”

“Yeah, I had a heart attack. About five years ago,” he replied, taking a deep drag on his cigarette. “I was technically, literally, dead for over five minutes. In fact, the doctors had already stepped away, figuring I was gone, when I came back to life.”

Shifting in my chair to look at my companion, I observed him rattling the ice cubes in his glass in the general direction of the white-jacketed waiter.

Stein wore his sixty-odd years as heavily as the gut straining his shirt buttons, his hair a yellowish gray, his face a furrowed plantation of mottled rows cut from within by the whiskey in countless glasses such as the one he continued to wave, more stridently now, in hopes of catching the waiter’s attention.

I had known him for less than a week, meeting him soon after arriving in Accra as part of an international polo tournament. Stein had played polo when he was younger and fitter, but now he worked on the sidelines as part of the club’s tournament committee. It was a role he played with abandon, doggedly hosting those of us on the visiting team at a nearly undammed stream of official breakfasts leading into lunches followed by dinners and topped off with late-night parties such as the one we now found ourselves at.

The night was warm and filled with the scents of lush vegetation I associate only with Africa, the perfect stage setting for the poolside party swirling around us.

“What happened?” I asked as the waiter refilled his glass.

“It was at a party,” he said, turning his large face to mine and taking a big pull from his replenished glass. “One minute I’m dancing with my wife, then ‘boom’! Just like that, I’m on the ground. They rushed me to the hospital, and that’s when my heart finally gave out and flatlined. To this day, my doctor can’t believe I came back.”

“Not that it’s any of my business, but given you had a heart attack only five years ago, don’t you think you might take it just a bit easier? You know, with the smoking and the drinking? And maybe try to drop a little weight?”

“Ah, but you don’t understand!” Stein paused to put his drink down and light another cigarette from the embers of the dying butt in his bloated fingers.

Discarding the used butt onto the grass, he crushed it under his heel. “You know how people talk about going to the white light? I saw the light. I went into the light, and it was the most peaceful thing I’ve ever felt.”

“Seriously?”

“Yes. It’s indescribable, but I remember letting go and once I did, I felt this peace, this sense of harmony throughout my… my… I don’t know, I guess, my soul. It was as if I was floating in the amniotic fluid of my mother’s womb, with no worries, no real thoughts, just warmth and peace.” His eyes softened at the memory.

“What happened next?”

“I don’t know,” he answered before returning to his drink. “But somehow my heart started beating again. So here I sit.”

“You’re a lucky guy. But still, don’t you think maybe you should make some changes in your lifestyle? Considering the risks and all?”

Stein’s eyes met mine.

“You still don’t understand, do you?” he said. “I was dead, so I know what it is to be dead. And it was the most at peace I have ever been at any time in my life. So I’m not afraid of death.”

Stein polished off the contents in his glass, set it on the side table, took a last drag of his cigarette, and let it drop to the ground. “I know where it ends, and I’m looking forward to it.”

Until Next Week!

When next I write, it will be from the courtyard of our home in the sunny Northwest of Argentina.

And on that happy thought, I bid you farewell and a warm wish that your trail leads you to your own version of paradise.

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