America’s Near-Death Experience

Will those who survived the pandemic emerge with a renewed appreciation for life?

Sunlight shining through an opening in the forest

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It’s warming in Indiana, daylight is expanding, and Betty Bartley at The Republican newspaper has prophesied an early spring. We subscribers are privy to the same calendar as Betty, but she has an unerring sense about such matters. We all know some years spring doesn’t arrive until three or four weeks after the calendar has proclaimed it, spring not being so much a date as it is a frame of mind.

The Quaker meeting I pastor has been worshiping via Zoom for the past year, and if Betty is right, we’ll gather outside for worship on Easter morning, underneath the trees, contemplating the Resurrection, the spring sun filtering through the budded limbs, the wild onion, vibrant green and leggy, poking up through the meetinghouse lawn. A hundred quiet Quakers sitting in folding chairs, masked and socially distanced, hoping God will interrupt our silence with the good news that our Promised Land is near.

When I was a kid I read a book of near-death experiences, vivid accounts of people beating insurmountable odds and forever after being happy, appreciative, and unafraid. I wonder if the same thing might be true for entire societies and that those of us who survive this pandemic will emerge with a renewed appreciation for life, like my Uncle Larry did after a teenage boy driving a jacked-up truck crossed the center line and creamed into him, nearly killing him. Instead he lived, and arrived home a month later a changed man, no longer fretting about money or politics or the Colts draft picks.

This past year has felt as if the world has been whacking away at us and all we could do was retreat into our shells.

I said “those of us who survive this pandemic” as if I’ve escaped death, but one never knows. This past December I had a low-grade fever, a nagging cough, and was so fatigued all I could do for several weeks was lie on the couch watching reruns of Hogan’s Heroes. I finally drove to the hospital where a lady stuck a telephone pole so deep in my left nostril it hit my brain, causing my right leg to twitch. Four days later, the hospital phoned to tell me the test was negative, which should have made me happy, but instead caused me to worry even more, wondering what I had.

It wasn’t quite a near-death experience, but it was close. As a teenager I tended toward shyness, so secretly wished for a near-death experience from which I would recover, my personality changed for the better. “Shy Boy Comes Back to Life to Attend Prom with Cheerleader and Lead Football Team to Victory” the headline of The Republican newspaper would read. Unfortunately, nothing bad happened to me and I remained an introvert well into my 30s, when I wrote a book and had to talk about it at libraries and bookstores, so came out of my shell. But that was a long time ago, and now I find myself pulling my head back in like a turtle being poked with a stick.

This past year has felt as if the world has been whacking away at us and all we could do was retreat into our shells and hope the world would become bored and go whack someone else. But the hits just kept on coming — a global pandemic, forest fires, hurricanes, droughts, floods, and Rudy Giuliani. Then to top it all off, my favorite lunch restaurant, the Clayton Café, went belly-up, and with it my social life. Now it is rumored someone has bought the building and is fixing up the kitchen and will soon open the doors, which to me is living proof of the Resurrection, no matter what the skeptics say.

Philip Gulley is a Quaker pastor and author of 22 books, including the Harmony and Hope series, featuring Sam Gardner.

This article is featured in the March/April 2021 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

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  1. Our lives have completely changed since we lost a dear family member to Covid. She was careful, but somewhere along the way, she slipped up and caught it. I’m afraid that much of our country has learned nothing. Even with death, Americans are stubbornly resistant to change. Sensitive readers bothered by the Giuliani comment, who unfortunately devolved from America’s Mayor to America’s Joke.

  2. Good grief!! It’s a humorous article, not political. If Rudy Giuliani finds himself the object of one man’s humor, he has no one to blame but himself. I personally find him tragic!

  3. Why oh WHY did this take a political turn? I was so enjoying it, and the beautiful Easter day. Now it is tainted.

  4. I’ve never had the experiences you describe here. but appreciate your sharing them. I’m so sorry you had to go through that ordeal last December. I get why you were still worried even though you tested negative.

    The comments about Rudy Guiliani were about the man he’s become over the past several years becoming a complete crook and stooge of former President Trump. It’s a shame and makes me uncomfortable to say it, but he is not the same man of 20 years ago, Hugh, as you described in your comments. Not at all.

    Mr. Wolf, this feature mentions Rudy briefly as he sadly is today. He has done a lot of good in the past in turning NY around as you stated. Mr. Gulley mentioned him with several other negative factors because that is what he has become. No one is glad or happy about this, but he chose to trash all the good he did by his own foolish and greedy choices.

  5. You had me until you made it political! I’m originally from NY and Guliani saved the city from destruction. Before him I couldn’t go into the city without terrifying fear as I looked around at all that was happening around me. Thanks to him I would go in and could enjoy the city and feel so much safer.

    You wrote a beautiful article and then the liberal cancer in you needed to poke the joy out of people.

  6. Why the swipe at Mayor Giuliani?

    I’m a native New Yorker who witnessed the resurrection of America’s greatest city that he engineered. It is not an overstatement to give him credit for a historic turnaround. I won’t even mention his performance during 9-11 when he attended the funerals of every heroic cop and firefighter recovered from the ruins as well as many who he had worked with for decades and who were friends and supporters.

    NYC under Dinkens had more murders per year than Northern Ireland had had killings during the entire “Troubles” to date. When Giuliani left office, murders had dropped by two-thirds.

    I fear that you have permitted politics to intrude upon your lovely message. But, I assure you, that if you were looking for a model for a national resurrection you could find it in Rudy Giuliani’s New York City re-birth.


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