Monday, April 08, 2013
Mary C. Neal: "To Heaven and Back": a more "usual" account of the afterlife, with more emotion and raw faith
Author: Marcy C. Neal, M.D.
Title: “To Heaven and Back: A Doctor’s Extraordinary Account pf Her Death, Heaven, Angels, and Life Again”
Publication: Colorado Springs: 2011, WaterBook Press, 978-0-307-73171-5, 222 pages, paper, 33 chapters, Prologue, Introduction, Q&A.
Aamaon link is here.
Like Alexander (previous review), Neal is a physician – a surgeon – and is well versed in the mental discipline of science. Her account of a near-death-experience is more “conventional” and less structured than Alexander’s and she apparently did not undergo the total loss of cortical function that Alexander describes.
Mary Neal’s NDE occurred after a drowning resulting from an accident while whitewater kayaking in Chile in 1999. I’ve had one experience myself with kayaking, and I “chickened out” of it; I describe it on the “BillBoushka” blog Oct. 9, 2007. Her description of drowning is not as harrowing as the details given by Sebastian Junger in his 1997 non-fiction classic "A Perfect Storm".
Neal describes the usual light tunnel, and says she was drawn into a large hall, as might be inside a cathedral or castle. She was also told that it was not her time do pass on yet. Her description of “Heaven” is not as structured as is Alexander’s. There is no account of lying mute in a “Core” at first. (By the way, Alexander’s idea also appears in the film “Astral City”, reviewed on the Movies Blog , Nov. 7, 2011, a film I recommend in conjunction with these two books).
Neal also describes conversations with angels, apparently in the Heaven space. They were somewhat indistinct in appearance, with their extremities and features usually covered by cloaks. She also describes the idea that angels can appear on earth – in one case, she thinks that an owl she saw spare her cat was an angel.
Neal’s “attitude” is more yielding and eager to accept the “Will of God” than is Alexander’s. This is a life approach I often see among “evangelical” people, who have sometimes approached me about my apparent lack of willingness to accept “direction” from God. As a teenager, she went on a mission in Mexico where she was expected to help deliver babies, before she had any college or medical training. She seems to have been more thoroughly “socialized” early in life than was Alexander. She often resorts to appeals to faith and scripture in her writing, whereas Alexander does that much less so, preferring to reconcile faith and science or physics at a more intellectual level.
I do think that “consciousness” is on a par with matter and energy and may well precede it. Does that mean that a “God” plans people’s lives in detail? I find that notion contradictory to free will, but there are certain Mobius-like twists to trace. Neal chronicles several other tragic events in her life, especially the death of a wonderful 19-year-old son hit by a car by a driver distracted by a cellphone, as foreshadowed in a way that seems supernatural.
I do feel that there are some critical moments in my life, where things could have gone very differently, that depend on “coincidences” that seem to improbable to be accounted for even by statistics. Most of these have happened “on the road” (my movie review yesterday), with accidental discoveries with epiphany-like qualities that led me to make certain decisions. One of these may have taken me out of the firing like of the HIV virus. That gets complicated, and I won’t get into that here (but it doesn’t call for moralizing – and by the way Neal discounts conspiracy theories, including one concerning HIV).
It still seems to me that a “soul” is an identity of its own, and that it continues to exist after “death”. But a child who dies tragically cannot know the free will of an adult without living again, maybe on another planet (like the purplish outdoor theater world in AMC’s corporate trademark) or in another universe. One cannot express an ego in the afterlife; one must live physically to experience self-hood.
I also wonder if an angel really can exist or live among us on Earth as an “ordinary person”. He or she would seem to be immortal and not need reproduction; that runs into the idea of entropy in physics. In the NBC series “The Event”, the computer whiz Sean Walker (Jason Ritter) discovers his capabilities and possible immortality and realizes he may be “one of them” even though he is out to save humanity from “them”. Neal mentions that angels often intervene on Earth in critical moments, beyond what can be expected from coincidence. I can remember getting a ride on US 301 in Maryland in 1992 when I had gotten lost from my group on a bicycle trip.