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The Rediscovery of the Human Soul
Living the rather romantic life of an author in New York, Hollywood and the Northwest, going abroad into savage cultures on expeditions to relax, I did little about my search until 1938 when a rather horrible experience took my mind closer to home than was my usual mental circuit. During an operation I died under the anesthetic.
Brought back to unwillingly lived life by a fast shot of adrenalin into the heart, I rather frightened my rescuers by sitting up and saying, “I know something if I could just think of it.”
In my woods cabin in the Northwest I had quite a little while to think of it. The experience had made me ill enough to keep me in a reading frame of mind and I didn’t get far from a teapot, a blanket and books for some weeks.
The alarm caused those “nearest to me” when I sought to regale them with this adventure of death, amused me. That they were not disturbed that I had actually and utterly died medically and coroneresquely, they were dismayed that I would talk about it. Deciding it was not a popular subject I nevertheless looked into the rather extensive library I sported and found that the thing was not unknown in human experience and that a chap named Pelley had even founded a considerable religious study on it. Quite plausibly he went to heaven and came back and lived to tell of it.
The psychiatric texts which I kept around for unpronounceable ailments to put in the mouths of my fictional doctors were as thoroughly alarmed as my near of kin. They called any such experiences by a nice ugly name, “delusion” and made fat paragraphs out of its mental unhealthiness. Only in that matter of unhealthiness could I agree with them. I always have, always will and did then consider that dying was unhealthy. They also seemed to feel that people who died ought to stay dead. Concluding that the littleness they knew about such happenings was best expressed by the voluminous inconclusions they wrote about it, I turned to the classic philosophers and while these had much to say, very little of it was concisely to the point.
I realized, after wandering through some five hundred pounds of texts, some things which altered my life quite a bit more than merely dying. During those weeks in the cabin my studies pressed me toward some conclusions. I concluded first that dying had not been very damaging. I concluded second that man, as a learned whole, knew damned little about the subject. For better or worse, I concluded that man had better know not just a little more about dying but a lot more about man.
And that shaped my destiny.