Excerpted from The Ultimate Journey: Inspiring Stories of Living and Dying, edited by James O'Reilly, Sean O'Reilly and Richard Sterling. Copyright (c) 2000. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved. THE ULTIMATE JOURNEY: AN INTRODUCTION (James O'Reilly)
Death, vast and mysterious, surrounds us whether we give it little thought or a great deal of thought. Seasons come and go, family, friends, strangers, and enemies all die, young and old, the sick and the strong alike. The world turns. Your heart beats. And you wonder, where did your beloved go? Where is he now? Does she see me, hear me? The life of the body ends at death, but the soul? Does love, which towers over all we do in our brief lives, endure? Are we immortal or are we petals on a flower, or both? Your heart beats again, in an immense galaxy, in an ocean of night vaster than the ability to comprehend. The world turns again. Your lungs fill, and in their emptying, you wonder who fills them, over and over and over? Who or what gave you the breath of life, who will take it away? Who is at the forge, working the bellows of all beings?
This book is a conversation with great writers about living and dying. They all have something important to say about near-death experiences, the culture of death around the world, and the meaning death has for the conduct of one's life. A little boy comes out of a coma with a startling message. A couple survives certain death in Afghanistan, but doesn't understand how. A woman struggles to grasp the meaning of visions she has in Brazil. A writer in India discovers that he really doesn't want to know the hour of his death. A Tibetan Buddhist describes the marvelous death of his master and its lessons for all of us. A physicist relates an amazing out-of-body experience. A blind Frenchman returns from the brink of death in Buchenwald free of all fear, able to see more clearly than those with sight. An explorer in Greenland encounters a place that is simply beyond strange. A musician makes a practice of comforting the dying. During a Day of the Dead celebration in Mexico, a pilgrim encounters an old woman who knows more than seems possible. A priest helps a young woman find forgiveness and start life over again. A mortician buries his father. A traveler witnesses a sky burial in the holy city of Lhasa. A writer discovers the hidden gift of a fatal disease. A woman goes to Rwanda to help the survivors of genocide recover hope and faith. A teacher discovers the identity of the "angel" who greeted her following two near-fatal accidents. Moments of synchronicity, the numinous, the marvelous, the strange, abound in these pages.
Why would a travel publisher want to produce a book about death? The answer is simple-travel mirrors the journey we all face, the journey on which we are already booked. When we travel, we cut ties, leave family and home behind, to face new worlds. Much like death, travel changes us, leavening our pride, changing our assumptions-in short, transforming us. Death is the final train leaving at midnight.
Soon after we began working on this book, we realized that "death" was such a huge and fascinating subject, we could happily compose ten books instead of one. During this long process our editorial team gathered at Sleeping Lady retreat center in the Cascades, near Leavenworth, Washington. The beautiful setting for our sessions, one might think, was in stark contrast to the subject matter. But in fact, the mountains, the rivers, the forests, and the books and stories we read and discussed formed more of a symphony to us than a lugubrious undertaking. As we neared the end of our preliminary editorial work, our unanimous sentiment was that we felt privileged-uplifted-to have read so much about the final journey. We felt that our lives and indeed our own deaths had in many ways been affected by these stories.
We think that this will be true for you too, and the more you read of The Ultimate Journey, the more you will let go of whatever fears you may harbor about your demise, and come to feel that the moment of death itself is no more to be dreaded than a visit to the dentist. It is, according to the thousands of people who have experienced "clinical" death and come back to life, merely a passage, not an end. A journey, if you will, into a bigger life, a journey from reality into Reality.