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kottke.org posts about Christen O’Brien

How It Feels to Almost Die (and Come Back to Life)

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 11, 2019

Many years ago, Christen O’Brien had a massive pulmonary embolism and it almost killed her. In a Medium post from January, she shared her personal experience about what it felt like to almost die.

Realizing that I was dying was like being pushed into a pool. You have no thought but to hold your breath and start swimming. It was the most out of control I’d ever been in my life, yet the only option was to succumb peacefully. I could hear the percussion of my heart beating wildly, recklessly. My breath only reached my trachea now, its pathway closing in rapidly. My palms spread open to the sky, just as my dog moved to stand over me. I am here with you, I am here to protect you.

She is an angel, I thought with that same clear certainty.

She moved her body next to me, and I looked up to the sky in what I thought would be my final moments.

The clouds.

The clouds.

The clouds.

Recently, she wrote a follow-up called How It Felt to Come Back to Life.

Coming back from death showed me that the journey of life is not what we often believe. On the surface, it appears as a journey outward — toward things, people, organizations, achievements. But in truth, it is a journey inward — toward the soul. Toward becoming who you actually are, no matter how far outward you may have to travel in order to discover that all the answers are within you, where you belong.

It would be easy to misread this post as a celebration of near-death, but that’s not O’Brien’s intent. Don’t get it twisted: almost dying is not a stable way of experiencing bliss or contentment or soul-closeness (and YMMV anyway). Her point is more that in this modern world we do not know ourselves well enough to live fully and completely. But as she says, “coming back to life is not something that requires a close brush with death” — it’s something we can all do.