Road of Many Ways (2)

John’s Story

It was during the Second World War, south of Imphal. The Japanese were advancing. The town was under heavy attack and, some miles away, we stood athwart the enemy line of advance. It was a very short, sharp engagement. I went ahead to my so-called forward platoon consisting of about a section-and-a-half — some fourteen men (all who had survived). As I spoke with the sergeant in command, the Japanese launched their attack with a mortar barrage and I was caught in the open.

It was all over very quickly. I lay on the ground. The sounds of battle had died away. It had moved on. I wondered how long I had been lying unconscious and then, as I lay there, I realised that it wouldn’t be long before the Japs arrived. Wounded as I was they would make pretty short work of me.

It wasn’t a pleasant thought but it led my mind away from the immediate prospect of death to the memory of a little pamphlet which I had read somewhere, one put out by an organisation in Britain. Funnily enough, it had stuck in my mind. It was headed, ‘What to do in case of Sudden Death,’ and had been published by a group of Spiritualists. I remember I had been mildly amused by it at the time: now I wished I had read it. Maybe there was something in it after all.

Then I looked up. A Jap was standing there watching me, looking down at me, and I remembered thinking, “This is it. Here it comes.” But nothing happened. I looked up into quizzical eyes. Those eyes were laughing, yet not maliciously.

“What are you doing lying there?” he said in English. “That’s a ridiculous question,” I replied.

“Is it?”

“Yes.

I can’t move and I can’t feel much. I think my spine is smashed.”

“Try moving a leg. Go on, try.”

There was something about this situation that I couldn’t put my finger on. Here was a Jap, an enemy, in the midst of a field of battle telling me to move a leg, and me with a hole in my back that seemed large enough, in my imagination, to put a couple of fists through. But there was something reassuring about him, in what he said and the way he said it. So I tried. My leg moved. No pain.

“Now try the other one,” he said. It moved. Again no pain.

“Now try standing up.”

Well, this was quite shattering, but I tried, and I stood up! I can’t describe that feeling. Having lain there in fear and terror then suddenly to stand up and feel totally whole and well. It was incredible.

“What’s happened?” I asked hesitantly.

He smiled again and raised an eyebrow. “You really should have read that pamphlet, you know. It would have helped you immeasurably.”

“You mean . . . you mean I’ve had it?”

“Yes,” he said, “you’ve had it. And I’ve had it. Not only have you had it, but you’ve had the war too. That lies behind you even as your body lies behind you now.”

I looked back. Another shock. On the ground behind me lay my shrapnel-shattered body.

“But when. . . when did I die? Was it the moment I saw you?”

“Die?” he said. “You didn’t die, you merely laid aside a body which was of no further use to you. Nobody dies. A body becomes useless and is cast aside like an old suit of clothes. Yes, sometimes cast aside lovingly if it has served well; at other times regretfully because it has served too well; and at other times lightly because one has suffered too much. But no, I know what you mean. The moment you cease to live within the confines of that body, the moment the body ceases to be your suit of clothes, at that moment you die.”

Then he said, “Do you remember that there was much pain, that the barrage continued and then the battle passed over you?”

“Yes.”

“And there was a moment of unconsciousness? A brief moment? Then you opened your eyes again. The sounds of battle had faded away. Had moved on, you thought. But it was not the battle that had moved on, for it still rages. It was you who had moved on and away from it.

I have been standing here waiting for you to realise that something was different, waiting until it was time to come forward and speak to you. When the realisation came to you that something had happened — that death, if it wasn’t already there was not far off — then was the time for me to speak with you. But you had already passed out of one world into another, and it is because of this that I came to be here with you.”

In all the time in which I have been engaged upon my own particular task — that of meeting newcomers from the battlefields of the world — nothing has ever been quite as wonderful to me as my own arrival.

I tell you, it was no valley of the shadow, and although I wondered about it for some time I certainly found no throne of judgment.

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