Looking Past the Great Dying to the Next Great Living

- Posted by Quaker Earthcare Witness in 2023April-May-JuneBeFriending CreationNumber 1SpiritualityVolume 36,  | 4 min read
Big tree in front of blue sky and green grass
Photo by Kathy Barnhart

by Allen McGrew.

Six months before I joined Quaker Earthcare Witness Steering Committee, I was stricken by a nasty infection that got into my blood and precipitated a near-fatal cascade of platelet death, septic shock, that plunged my blood pressure to 35/50, overwhelmed my kidneys, and induced a heart attack as the clumping platelets transformed into tiny missiles simultaneously assaulting every organ in my body.

Somewhat amazingly, I remained conscious throughout the event. I vividly recall a nurse asking me to describe the pain, and as I looked up at her I suddenly realized that I could not see her face. Where her face had been, there was now just a warm, fuzzy glow. In a sudden panic, I looked around at the other medical staff and realized that I couldn’t see them either, until at last I found my wife’s face. Of the seven or so people working over me in the trauma room, her face was the only one that I could see—my last tenuous thread of connection to the living world.

Al McGrew. Older white man in hiking gear next to a rock

I just kept thinking that I wanted to find my way to that transformed state of consciousness that I know as being in meeting. If I could just do that, everything would be okay. In a moment of inspiration, my wife began coaching my breathing, just as I had once coached hers through the traumatic birth of our second son.

Somehow, I survived. I woke, or perhaps more accurately, was re-born the next morning more alive, more buoyant than I had ever felt in my life. Each day since has been a bonus day. Each bird, each flower, each rainbow, each belly laugh with friends, even each rain cloud, even each poignant moment of grief, is a moment I might not have lived. Of all the blessings I have experienced since that day, I count as the greatest the opportunity that arose a few months later to serve as the QEW Steering Committee Representative for Ohio Valley Yearly Meeting.

As I faced in my personal health crisis, so also is our planet now facing a dangerous infection, an infection that is careening out of control into a kind of planetary septic shock. We stand on the verge of a dangerous nonlinear death spiral that has been introduced into the planetary blood stream by the most powerful creature ever evolved. But I refuse to believe that the infection is human beings. Was the poison introduced by the Aboriginal Australian or the San people of the Kalahari or the Inuit—each with thousands and even tens of thousands of years of history living in healthy community with the co-inhabitants of their respective ecosystems? No. The poison that threatens us is an idea, an ideology of separation and domination and mastery over the living world and one another that poisoned the consciousness of what we name as “Western civilization.”

It was human beings who saved me and who restored to me that great gift Life. Recalling the fuzzy glow that I saw where their faces had been, the realization suddenly dawned on me a couple days afterward: “I saw their Light.” Despite the pain and the trauma, I did find my way into the Presence, and it did save me. The Presence was in them, in my wife, and in our relationships with both the human and the extra-human world. The Presence is Life itself, and it would have saved me, even if my body had perished.

I can testify to this: We are held in the palms of a Life larger and more beautiful and more enduring than any of us can imagine. It is this same transformative insight that is our Quaker Earthcare Witness to the world. If it is an idea that is killing us, it will be a more powerful idea that saves us. And just as I woke the next day to a life restored and more vivid than I had ever known before, so too can our children or our grandchildren or our great grandchildren to the seventh generation one day awaken to a new life vaster and more beautiful than we can ever imagine.

This is the vision that animates me and brings me to life as I serve with dear F/friends on Quaker Earthcare Witness’ Spiritual Nurturance Committee or Mini-Grants or elsewhere in our organization (F/friends who I remind myself I might never have known).

Friends, the labor is worth the effort because the labor is Love itself. The labor is Life itself.
Yes, I fear that we and our children will live to see too much death— deaths that will threaten to slay our souls. But I live and work in the confidence that the Life that embraces us is a Life beyond death. The Life that enfolds us transcends our failings and our human weaknesses. It gives us life and we owe it all the life that we can return to it.
Two days after my crisis, my wife bumped into the same nurse who had asked me about my pain, and she confided that I had given them quite a scare.

They didn’t know if I was going to live or die. They didn’t pause to wonder if I was going to live or die.

They just worked.
They just worked.
That was their Light.
Friends, I see your Light.
You know our witness.
You know our Need.

Please live as generously as Life and Spirit have given to you.

Allen McGrew is a QEW Steering Committee Representative for Ohio Valley Yearly Meeting, clerk of QEW’s Mini-Grant Working Group, worships with Dayton Friends, and is a professor at the University of Dayton.