Do you believe in heaven? Mary Neal says she knows there is one: She’s been there. And back.
Her experience made her the reluctant author of the New York Times best-seller “To Heaven and Back.” It recounts her life, her death and her life-changing trip to heaven, and tells why she was sent back: So she told us on the TODAY show this morning. Since getting assigned her story, I’ve been bombarded by friends asking me: Do you believe her?
Here’s the quick recap: Dr. Mary Neal, a spinal surgeon from Jackson Hole, Wyo., was kayaking in Chile when, although very experienced, she got trapped underwater. Through a series of what I would call incredible circumstances, she was revived and returned home.
No one with her doubts she drowned; she hadn’t had a breath of air for at least 15 minutes. Mary says that’s when she went to heaven — and didn’t want to come back.
As she told NBC correspondent Kristen Dahlgren: “I could feel my spirit peeling away from my body, sort of like peeling apart two pieces of tape. And then, when I felt my body released from the boat, I could feel my spirit released from my body.”
Mary says she was greeted by angels — beings she felt she knew. Mary (she’s so friendly you are compelled to call her by her first name) talked about a brilliance that enveloped her. Eventually, she was told by these angels she had to go back to her body.
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Typically, this kind of story would earn a very dramatic eye-roll from me. I describe myself as a Jew-nostic: I’m not sure I believe in God, but I fast on Yom Kippur just to hedge my bets (not to lose weight, mind you — breakfast is one of my favorite meals!)
But Mary’s so matter-of-fact about what happened; there’s no drama to her story, no breathless recantation of her miraculous return to her body. She sounds like she’s recalling a really fun vacation... and then she left her body and met with the locals and visited the cool amusement park. Except in her retelling, the natives are angels and the best ride is to heaven.Video: ‘Pops’ had ‘huge wings’ in heaven, boy says (on this page)
Do I believe her? Here’s what I do believe:
Mary talked about a calm that came over her. I get that. Once, while rafting down the roaring Zambezi River in Zimbabwe with some gal pals, I was catapulted out and swept under the boat. I distinctly remember pushing the bottom of the raft, as if I would have some superhuman strength to move it and the 20 people in it out of my way. No such luck. While I wasn’t down there long enough for my life to flash before me, it was long enough to realize I couldn’t breathe and I would die. And I felt peaceful.Video: Is heaven real? Author says yes (on this page)
Suddenly I popped up and my friend Dotty snagged me by my shorts, giving me the most welcome wedgie ever. In celebration I threw up half the Zambezi. Perhaps, as with Mary’s account, it just wasn’t my time as judged by God. Or it was simply the fabulous flotational quality of the aptly named life preserver.
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Do I believe Mary? This is clearly no delusional woman ranting about the afterlife. Mary’s calm and methodical and precise recollections, plus her background as a surgeon, convey the gravitas to make me take her at face value. So, if a supreme being has chosen Mary to make me into a believer, there couldn’t be a better choice.
But before I decide, can she find out if Cary Grant can serve me some non-caloric Mallomars while I am being serenaded by Ella? That might be the clincher.
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