This will be embarrassing, but at least it will be short.
The ancient Greeks looked down on anyone who was guilty of false modesty; they felt that if you were a superior person, you should flaunt it. But this ancient Jew feels the opposite, that his modesty is well deserved and any suggestion to the contrary normally makes him cringe. He’s the kind of guy who when a compliment is bestowed upon him looks over his shoulder to see who the intended recipient actually is.
All right, you can see where this is leading. Yes, I am going to devote this essay to some good things that have come my way lately, at least in regard to my professional work. My body is another story; it is always something that continues to need work as it is continuing to decay at a vertiginous rate. But you have heard me sing that plaint before and don’t need to listen to the mournful tune again. Instead, let me turn to some of the things that have made me forget my body for a while and have even cheered me up. They have made waiting to die worth the waiting, for now I’m glad my number hasn’t been called just yet.
And, by the way, in case you’re wondering about the title of this essay, it refers to the fact that I am writing it just as I have reached the venerable age of 82 and a half.
First, some necessary background. In 1981, two friends and I established the first professional organization to foster research on near-death experiences (NDEs) and to provide support services for those who had had such experiences. I named this organization The International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS), established and edited its scholarly journal as well as a newsletter, Vital Signs, and was the first president of IANDS. Of course, I had a great deal of help from other colleagues and my students, which I have always and often acknowledged.
But after a few years, and a second term as president, I turned the running of IANDS over to others so that I could turn back to my real love, researching and writing about NDEs. From that point, I no longer had any formal connection to IANDS.
In the last year, however, the leadership of IANDS sought me out for my putative counsel and invited me to become more involved with its programs. I was flattered but not really tempted, so I declined. But I did agree to write an article or two for its now very glossy newsletter, Vital Signs.
That was my mistake.
For when that issue came out, I was all over it. Not only did it feature my articles, but also some other things about me, an interview, several photographs, etc., all heralded by a huge headline:
20I8 UPDATE from IANDS CO-FOUNDER,
KENNETH RING, PH.D.
I was being memorialized!
Honestly, though I was touched by all this attention, I was more embarrassed by it, as I wrote to the editor. I really don’t like to have the spotlight shined on me, not these days, when I prefer to live quietly in the lame lane of life.
But as things turned out, I guess I’m glad I hadn’t been altogether forgotten. Some examples follow, and, as you will see, they seem to form a pattern with meaning.
For one thing, I learned I had a sort of fan club made up of a bunch of people who had been reading and studying one of my NDE books, Lessons from the Light. The leader of the group sent me this photo:
And about the same time, an artist I knew many years ago but hadn’t had contact with for eighteen years sent me a package out of the blue, a phrase I use deliberately for reasons you will soon understand. In it, this is what I found:
Yep, that was me when I was in my mid-fifties and in my prime. Sort of. Anyway, no one had ever painted my portrait. It will live on after me, if only maybe in my daughter’s attic.
But then I started to receive very warm and appreciative notes from people who had read that issue of Vital Signs. One woman wrote me this:
My Vital Signs came today. I just read your articles in Vital Signs and I posted (below) on my Facebook page because it was a great article. I laughed out loud and every paragraph made me smile. Thank you so much.
In Facebook: I’m not feeling at my best and today when my Vital Signs came, I lay down to read it. It is absolutely the best one I’ve read: Ken Ring is hilarious and so true-to-life –and I laughed and laughed. His energy, his tone, his light-touch are perfect.
Another old friend wrote:
“I loved the piece you wrote for the recent IANDS newsletter! Sheer joy! As one who is also experiencing the breakdown of the physical body, I could relate to how your story seemed similar to mine, although different. I had to laugh hard.”
And then in a subsequent note, she added this:
I am so deeply thankful that you have been such a beautiful part of my life for so many years…What a party we will have when we reunite again in the afterlife! I’m looking forward to it, but until then, I need to tell you how much I love you and how grateful I am to you for being such a wonderful friend to me.
Naturally, I was very touched by her words, but perhaps the most fulsome (in a good sense) message I received was actually an article entitled, Remembering Ken Ring.
What, had I already died? Why didn’t somebody tell me?
The article began, “The last issue of Vital Signs, dedicated to Ken Ring, caught me. I almost cried, loving every page, every morsel of word and sentence, pictures, memories. Oh, my God, how do I express myself here, my story mixed with his?”
She followed up that article with a couple of longer, more personal letters, full of expressions of love and appreciation, which I won’t quote here. But you get the idea. I was getting a lot of love from people who had known me when I was active in my NDE work.
All this made me feel as if I were reading a eulogy before my death.
I began to reflect on what all this attention meant, and eventually I wrote one of these friends the following letter:
I am getting ready to leave. Closing up shop. Heading for the exit. Saying my farewell.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not dying. But I’m getting set for the finale.
Since you read that issue of Vital Signs about me, you already know that I’ve been writing some essays in a series called “Waiting to Die.” I’ve actually written six of them so far, and some of them have already been published or posted on various websites. They’re mostly humorous pieces, written in a light whimsical manner, but always contain something, usually toward the end, with a spiritual message. It’s been fun writing them. If I manage to live long enough to write a dozen or so, I might put them into a little book I’m thinking of calling Waiting to Die: Essays on the Road toward Death.
Of course, waiting to die is not the same as preparing to die. The first is passive, the second, active. And both are different from wanting to die, which is conative. I definitely don’t want to die (at least not yet, Lord), but I am certainly preparing to. For example, I have already given away hundreds of my professional books and made arrangements, when the time comes, to donate my NDE books and those on death and dying to IANDS. And best of all: I have recently been made a wonderful offer from The University of West Georgia to house my entire archive of close to sixty boxes. Yippee! Over the next two months, I will have to get all those boxes ready to be shipped off to their final resting place, so to speak, before I go to mine.
So much, so far, for my preparations to leave, but what has been happening as I’ve been doing so is something else entirely, which has been taking place without, I believe, most people knowing what I’ve been up to lately, namely, getting ready for the last roundup. People have, to my mind, been saying goodbye to me. And in their doing so, I have the distinct impression that it is as if I am a spiritual soldier, and they are saying, as it were, “thank you for your service.” I feel as if I am “being honored” for my work before I die.
For example, take that issue of Vital Signs that you read. Of course, I was pleased to be invited to write some of those little articles for IANDS’ members and to be interviewed for that issue. But what has been particularly meaningful to me are some of the very warm responses that that issue has generated, and none more treasured than the one you wrote to me. Now you know why.
Along the same lines and around the same time as that issue of Vital Signs came out has been my contact with a very distinguished European professor and scholar. I had written a short note to him about his research on a phenomenon I was deeply interested in. It’s called terminal lucidity and refers to a period of complete and clear consciousness that sometimes occurs in severely demented people, such as those suffering from Alzheimer’s, shortly before they die. This astonishing phenomenon has interested me keenly ever since I first heard about it years ago from another NDE researcher. In fact, were I still active in research, that’s what I would study.
Anyway, I wrote to this man, and he responded immediately and warmly. He had read some of my NDE books, and almost made me blush with his words concerning how important they had been to him. A very cordial correspondence has ensued and during the first week, he wrote me six long letters. We were having a kind of bromance, it seems. In his very first letter, he said he wanted to see a book devoted to honoring us “NDE pioneers” who had formed IANDS, and in each of his subsequent letters he kept returning to that point. He’s had some contact with IANDS already, and its president thinks it’s a fine idea, so it may happen. At least this wonderful fellow seems bent on seeing this through. But whether it happens or not, his letters and warm friendship have already meant a lot to me.
So perhaps you can see why I think all this forms some sort of a pattern – that I am being given a very nice sendoff by some of those who know and appreciate my work, and who want to convey that to me before I die.
Still, I don’t want you to think I am putting on airs, even though my hat size does seem to have increased lately. Nevertheless, I continue to suspect that the good Lord must have confused me with somebody else. If so, I don’t wanna know, and if I’m dreaming, please don’t wake me up. It’s still half time, and though the cheers are beginning to fade, they remain like sweet music to my ears. Waiting to die can have its unexpected pleasures – as long as one isn’t in too much of a hurry to get around to it.
Dr. Ring is Professor Emeritus of psychology at the University of Connecticut where he researched near-death experiences. He designed scientifically structured studies of 102 near-death survivors that further developed Dr. Raymond Moody’s early NDE findings. He is well-known for his ground-breaking research of investigating NDEs among blind persons in his book Mindsight. Ken Ring is the co-founder and past president of the International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS) and is the founding editor of the Journal of Near-Death Studies. He has published several near-death experience related books, including Life at Death (1980), Heading Toward Omega (1984), The Omega Project: Near-Death Experiences, UFO Encounters, and Mind at Large (1992), and his most well-known and celebrated NDE book, Lessons from the Light (2000).
Learn more about Kenneth Ring:
- Kenneth Ring on The Purpose of Life
- Kenneth Ring’s Website
- Kenneth Ring on Wikipedia
- Kenneth Ring on Love The Person You’re With
- Kenneth Ring on Near-Death.com
Here’s a direct link to Ken’s new book: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1627876987ref_=pe_3052080_397514860