A few weeks ago I met a woman named Mary Jo on her way to a doctors appointment. She walked very slowly and with a severe limp. She was difficult to understand when she spoke and wore very thick glasses. Sitting next to me, she struck up a conversation. I listened closely and soon was able to understand her garbled speech - though it took a some time and effort. It was with great effort she communicated and I was compelled to reciprocate. I learned much from Mary Jo that day - from things about her life - to heaven - to how to keep long hair from being frizzy. She was full of life - despite her physical condition.
Her growing up years were difficult. She was born cross-eyed. Often the butt of many jokes and ostracized by peers, Mary Jo contemplated suicide on several occasions. In 1999, Mary Jo was in a deadly car accident. She was driving, her dear friend was in the passenger seat and her daughter and grandson were in the back seat. Her friend was killed instantly and Mary Jo was severely injured. Her daughter and grandson miraculously escaped with only a few superficial scratches and scrapes.
Mary Jo remembers the accident and being rushed to the emergency room. She also remembers dying. Her spirit rose from her lifeless body as the doctors worked furiously to keep her alive. Always a lover of butterflies, she saw what she said were rainbow-colored butterflies filling the room as she rose higher and toward a great light. She knew she was in heaven and this is where I got particularly curious.
I asked her all kinds of questions. Did she see anyone she knew? What did everything look like? How did it feel? What did she hear? Did she meet Jesus? I was in a question-asking frenzy, flinging questions faster than she could answer. Once I realized how obnoxious I was being, I sat quietly to let her continue.
"Rainbows," she said. "Everyone is the color of rainbows." "You can tell the difference between male and female and you can tell the difference between those who were human and those who are angels, but you can't tell any difference in races. And it doesn't even matter. All you feel is love - just love - pouring out of everybody. You don't care if you see friends or family because you love everyone you meet with the same love you have for your friends and family. It just doesn't matter. And it sounded like nothing and everything all at the same time - so loud it was silent. We didn't speak. We didn't need words. The love that was pouring out of everyone communicated all we needed."
Finally, I repeated one of my questions. "Did you get to meet Jesus?"
"No." It was the first time during our conversation that I sensed bitter-sweetness in her voice.
"Was it your choice to come back?"
"No. They told me I had to come back here or I would have stayed. I can't wait to go next time and stay forever."
When she re-entered her body, she saw the rainbow-colored butterflies again. She had been dead for over two minutes and saw the look of relief on the doctors' faces as she heard the monitor begin to beep with the beat of her heart. That's the last thing she remembered until she awoke, six months later.
She suffered some brain damage and was in a full-body cast. It took many more months of rehabilitation before she was released from the hospital. Now, she lives in an assisted-living community and most of her family thinks her story about heaven has to do with her brain damage and coma. But she was there.
It was time for her appointment, so she stood up, kissed me on the cheek and said, "If I don't see you again here, I'll see you there. I love you."
Tears began to form in my eyes and I had to force down the lump in my throat. "I love you, too," was all I could say.
Love beyond words.
Rainbows and butterflies.