I was one with the universe. Everything around me was aglow in the summer sunlight, twinkling with a profound luster. I was floating serenely in my VW through the time-space continuum. My consciousness was wide open. And then, in an instant, everything went black.
I was twenty-two, and had just spent three days in meditation at a Cistercian Monastery near Dubuque, Iowa. Out there in the middle of the cornfields, behind the stone walls, it was a world of quiet, calm and peace. In other words, there wasn’t much to do but meditate. And the free food wasn’t bad either.
I decided to check out Eagle Point Park on the Mississippi before heading back to Iowa City. I was cruising down a Dubuque residential arterial street in my ’63 Beetle in an unfamiliar part of town, entranced by the play of the sunlight on the dappling leaves of the giant elms overhead.
The last thing I remember was gliding into an intersection, and suddenly the profile of a 1969 Ford station wagon appears dead ahead. Where did that come from?
Everything had been so perfect; I couldn’t integrate this highly un-synchronous intrusion into the continuum of my bliss. I momentarily contemplated the possibility that my expansive self would just float through the apparition and re-assemble on the other side of the hulking Ford. Then, like the shutter of a camera closing, everything went black.
Some indeterminate amount of time later, the iris of the camera opened again, but only to a pin-point. What had been a seemingly infinite expansion of consciousness outward in every direction was now replaced by the most narrowly focused fragment of awareness I’d ever experienced.
I was now only aware of the most elemental reality, and only just barely so: that I was sprawled on the pavement in the middle of the intersection. A voice screamed inside my head: “Get out of there!” In a rush of adrenaline, I somehow managed to crawl or slither to the nearest curb. I rolled onto my back in the soft grass.
The shutter iris opened slightly wider. Now I was aware of my back screaming at me. I began a rudimentary self-diagnosis. I could see all my limbs. Surprisingly, there wasn’t any blood. But as I worked my way downwards, I realized I couldn’t move or feel my feet.
The idea of spending my life in a wheelchair pressed on my mind like a suffocating weight. I looked up and saw concerned faces staring down at me. I turned my throbbing head to look at the intersection. The Ford Country Sedan sat there with a crumpled right front fender. But my VW was nowhere in sight! Had it magically floated though the obstacle and left me behind to confront the Ford alone?
I remember telling the ambulance crew my concerns about my spine’s health. Once they scooped me up in the clam-shell board and loaded me inside the meat wagon, blackness took over again.
I remember little of the hospital except the on-call radiologist’s annoyance at having his Sunday golf game interrupted. The next thing I (vaguely) knew, I was being discharged. I was shocked and confused. I needed to stay! Where was my doctor father who always met me at the hospital after childhood accidents and made sure I got proper care?
Feeling had returned to my legs, but my brain was utterly scrambled. I was not ready to get kicked out of the hospital.
A cop took me back to the station. I sat dazed in the lobby, hunched over and holding my aching head. I felt a big lump high on my forehead, under my long thick hair. I had absolutely no idea why I was in Dubuque or how I got there.
I was living out a nightmare. Everything I looked at triggered an intense memory of a dream that somehow seemed to correlate, provoking an endless flood of déjà-vu. Or was I dreaming simultaneously while being awake? I couldn’t tell. Acid was nothing compared to this bummer.
Eventually I remembered about the monastery and used the phone to call them. Someone came for me. The drive back to the monastery unleashed more of the same: everything I saw unleashed a flood of old and forgotten dreams. Or so it seemed.
The monks put me straight to bed. After a couple hours of sleep and a plate of home-made cookies and milk, I mostly returned to the world as I had remembered it, although it would be a while before that process was complete.
It took me awhile to figure out exactly what must have happened: Obviously, I ran through a stop sign. It had been at least partly obscured by a parked truck parked just before it at the curb. I may have caught a momentary glimpse of it, but way too late. I was a bit spaced out from all the meditation. I probably tried to turn right just before I hit the Ford, because my Beetle hit it at about a 60 degree angle.
The VW bounced abruptly off to the right, and the impact popped open the door. Due to inertia, I ejected, striking my head on the way out (no, I wasn’t wearing a seat belt). My back bounced off the wagon, leaving a tell-tale dent (on the Ford’s passenger side front door). According to the cop, he thought it was a miracle that I didn’t get squished between the two cars. My VW made a perfect right turn, rolled down the road driver-less, and finally came to rest in a gas station a block away.
Here’s the real irony: I’d been told the Ford was totaled, due to hitting it right at the front suspension. I had no idea what kind of shape my car was in, but assumed it was totaled. I had a friend drive me up to get my tools and other things out of it. But once I started pulling on the crumpled hood and front fenders, it was obvious there was no deeper damage. I yanked the fenders off, tied down the hood, and drove it back to Iowa City, where I knew of a junked donor-wagen sitting in someone’s woods. Soon I was driving a black and white Volks.
I eventually got over the severe concussion that the doctor had totally missed: “Got to get back to my golf game!” But it took over a month before I felt fully myself. Unaltered consciousness never looked better.