Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site

Near life experiences

By the time we get old enough to feel the physical effort of getting out of bed, to hear ourselves making the grunts and groans our parents used to make moving their old bones around the place when we were kids, we may well have notched up a few close calls.

Moments when the TV show of our lives may have been cancelled without notice, and normal service may not have been resumed.

I can remember running across a pedestrian crossing as a boy in grade two. I was on the way home, happy as Larry, the wind in my hair and my brain in neutral, when I felt the current of a car’s slipstream as it roared past me, missing me by what seemed millimetres. I only heard the car later as it screamed away, not stopping.

A handful of semi-serious bingles come to mind. One was as a passenger in my own vehicle in blinding afternoon sunshine, when cars were written off in a symphony of screaming metal in front of me and behind me. The multiple pile-up required ambulances, fire engines and police vehicles.

I recall being behind the wheel on a different occasion and feeling naked terror as a car ignored road rules and rammed my jalopy amidships, spinning it around and around. An aged person died subsequent to that event.

I was once stationary at the lights, at another time in another vehicle: I was about to drive through the intersection, when a car ran a red light going who knows how many kms above the speed limit. Another second, a few metres further ahead, and I would have been dead.


'We sometimes waste our lives by obsessing over our finite existence. Perhaps if we spent more time in our gardens, in parks and the scrub, we’d be more aware that we are alive.'


Those memories were probably conjured by the news that, at the time of writing, at least 16 people had lost their lives over the Easter long weekend. Well, that grim reality prompted these vignettes, as well as the weekend experience of getting behind the wheel with my novice, 16-year-old L plater, and talking to him about driving being both fun and a life and death responsibility.

Life and death. Are they two contrasting points on a X and Y mortality axis, two words to describe different stages of the one mysterious continuum, or Zöllner’s lines, running parallel as we trudge along, never to cross?

Like villagers dwelling under snow-heavy peaks, forgetting the possibility of an avalanche, or folks living within cooee of an active volcano blithely ignoring the chance of eruptions, we all live with death looming over us. We choose to ignore its presence, generally.

I remember feeling numb and bleak in 2015, resigned to living or dying, depending on a surgeon’s skill; being wheeled into surgery past doors emblazoned with ‘warning: lasers’ signs.

More recently, a few weeks ago, I clumsily toppled off a caged trailer and fell onto stones, landing on my face and neck (which became my punchline later when I walked it off: ‘thankfully I landed on my head’). Apart from a gashed scalp and a bruised ego, I was unscathed.

Of course, my melodramatic gasping aside, none of those experiences qualify as near death experiences. I never lost consciousness in any of those scrapes, nor was I seeing white lights; I never felt out of my body, lost brain activity during deep general anaesthesia, or suffered cardiac arrest.

What I did find, then and now, is that these bogeyman moments, these fearful remembrances of my use-by date, push me to cherish my near life experiences – those times beyond routine mundanity, by-the-numbers boredom and ennui when we transcend our complacency.

Taking pride in, and loving, a child’s wit, observations, accomplishments. Joy at intimacy with a partner. Kindness given and received. Peace mingled with a sense of loss, talking with people like Jonno (not his real name) who talks you through what his garden used to be like, before flooding. Checking out his bedraggled fruit trees, re-shaped garden beds, topsoiled lawns, pruned hedges and swept paths. As John Bunyan may have put it, the water stood in his eyes as he reflected on the floods, the loss of life and ongoing desolation of his small community.

Be it in my front yard, the wife’s herbs and veggies in the back yard, or the orchards and bush where I walk the dog, nothing gets me out of my head and makes me more conscious of the gift of life, than fronting nature. More and more, I see the notion of divinity, of God, as conjuring a peripatetic, perhaps over-worked gardener.

Be it as portrayed in the Jews’ Edenic idyll, the Christians’ yoyo-ing from Gethsemane to a Revelations-tinged nirvana, the Muslims’ virgin-packed Jannah for the righteous, the Hindu’s love of sacred garden designs, the Buddhists’ belief that gardening reflects the impermanence and fragile beauty of life. There is a tranquillity in nature that hints at different priorities; another realm, a disconnected calmness.

I love to sit and hurl ropes, balls, chew toys and coloured teething rigs to our pup, Tia. The Bordoodle delights in retrieving them almost all the way, then hiding with them under my chair. Meanwhile, I view with quiet acceptance the liquid amber that’s steadily cracking, lifting the garden path. I imagine I’m not alone.

Eighty per cent of Australian households (some 10 million homes) boast a garden. The ritual and journey of gardening can be frustrating, rewarding, even awe-inspiring. However, as the ABC God Forbid 'Daily Rituals' podcast notes, most people tend not to view gardening as a religious practice, despite how devotedly they may practice it.

We sometimes waste our lives by obsessing over our finite existence. Perhaps if we spent more time in our gardens, in parks and the scrub, we’d be more aware that we are alive. More joyful at that very thought.




Barry Gittins is a Melbourne writer.

Main image: Chris Johnston illustration. 

Topic tags: Barry Gittins, Life, Mortality, Satisfaction, Divine, Gardens, Nature



submit a comment

Similar Articles

The magic of Dessaix's Abracadabra

  • Gillian Bouras
  • 28 April 2023

While our lives plod along in an ordinary groove, the great writers astound us and lift us on to another plane. The state of reading, Dessaix believes, is one of intense attention: in every true reading of literature in adult life, we revert to that early attitude of plasticity and innocence before the text.


The book corner: A history of Australian women in science

  • Andrew Hamilton
  • 21 April 2023

Taking to the Field highlights overlooked women who made noteworthy contributions to science in Australia, despite gender-based limitations. This thought-provoking book delves into the complexities of gender and science, revealing a more nuanced and diverse history than previously assumed.