I was an atheist who died and discovered I was wrong. A "straight-A" kid willing to worship only the preachings of scientific method, finding all religion and spiritual mumbo jumbo to be a crock o' shit.
That is, until I stopped breathing.
The moment came unexpectedly one night as a teenager. My first thought: strange to exist in a world without breath. It was magnificently beautiful, peacefully alight, and eternally true. So true, that words fail to picture it honestly, even here. How does one speak of the eternal when life is so full of endings?
For years afterwards, my near-death experience felt like a dirty little secret. At 18 years old, I was an angry mess and hell-bent on digging my own grave. Extreme as teenagers are wont to be, I pushed that envelope just a bit further. Maybe it's that same trait which compels me to apply for a one-way trip to Mars today. I questioned irrationality, authority (for its own sake), and all systems that seemed to fail the human need to thrive. Children are born this way. We medicate, eradicate, and shame them to be otherwise.
After coming back from the dead, I knew anything was possible. I wanted to do everything I had been too scared of doing. I began exploring fearlessly. First, my brain required a context to hold the near-death experience. So I read up on world religions, moving quickly from Christianity to Buddhism to Islam. Then, I dove further - the mystics, Sufism, Rumi, the Tao. Getting closer.
Finally, I found the "New Age" section in the bookstore and saw "Near-Death Experiences" as a category. Yes, I flew through a tunnel. Yes, I saw a land of energy and essence. Yes, I too, merged with the light. Home at last is my story as well.
Stuart Chase says, "For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who don't believe, no proof is possible." That's how I live. As if a heaven exists to catch me after death.
I gave away all my belongings after the near-death experience and took a little schoolbag with me to hitchhike through the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico. I ventured further into the vast jungles of Thailand for a stay at a Buddhist monastery. I took my passion for climbing to a remote forest in Croatia, only to be thwarted by throngs of German teenagers attending an MTV Europe rave. I saw sailboats while in Croatia that spurred my decision to join the UCLA sailing crew back in Los Angeles - renting a 27' sailboat with my girlfriend to live on for a year. All those limitations I learned as a child were revealed to be false. The sunset in Norway during winter will change you forever.
Life, as we desire, is possible. It's not only possible -- it's why we're alive. Everyone will have a last breath. I'm lucky to get two this lifetime and I'm not wasting it. Hopefully, my final one will happen on Mars.