I began reading ``Parting Visions'' (Villard Books, $20) by Dr. Melvin Morse late one evening. I got nearly 100 pages into this fascinating book about pre-death visions, psychic and spiritual experiences ... but I couldn't go on ... sleep overtook me.
At about 4:30 a.m. the rain woke me. I couldn't get back to sleep so I picked up the book again.
I turned the page and came to a piece titled ``I Want to Take a Big Bite Out of Life.'' I suddenly realized that I was reading about two wonderful Davis people, Dr. John Jones, who died in 1991, and his wife, Nancy.
Later that morning I called Nancy to let her know John's story had been included in the book.
She described how she'd read earlier books by Morse (``Closer to the Light'' and ``Transformed by the Light'') and was moved to write to him and share John's experience.
John was a bomber pilot during World War II. He was leading a squadron of B-24 bombers across the Mediterranean when he pulled back on the controls and found the plane would not respond. As the plane plummeted toward the sea, he was sure it was the end of his life.
``Suddenly he had the sensation of passing through a long tunnel. At the end of the tunnel was a brilliant light and a person standing in it. He knew the person in that light was Jesus. He felt a deep sense of peace and well-being,'' Nancy wrote to Morse.
The plane, for no apparent reason, righted itself and flew low and steady over the water. This experience had a huge impact on John's life.
``I will never be afraid to die,'' he later told his wife .
He spent a year in a prisoner of war camp in Germany, then returned home where he graduated from the University of Tennessee Medical School.
He devoted his life to serving the medically under-served, helping to found the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic in the 1960s and, later, the Davis Free Clinic. now the Community Clinic.
Still later, he had two open-heart surgeries. But Nancy said he never had another experience like he did in the B-24. He also never asked the other men in the cockpit if they had seen what he'd seen (Morse says sometimes visions are shared).
``I think he was afraid he'd get a Section 8,'' said Nancy. Many times people who have visions think they're crazy. Part of Morse's book includes assurances that these visions are real (opposed to dreams) and are not to be feared but are to be cherished.
Last week, when I talked to Morse by phone, he was delighted to find out I knew two of the people cited in his book.
``There are no coincidences,'' he said, laughing. Morse, a pediatrician who practices in Seattle, said it was important for him to include John's story in the book.
Anytime a physician acknowledges belief in something as difficult to understand as a vision, it bolsters the Morse cause, which is a simple but deep belief in the spiritual side of man. He says medical school drums that appreciation out of most physicians.
``People who have these visions learn that death is not to be feared
and they live life to the fullest,'' said Morse. He includes other stories about parents whose dead children have reappeared to them and spouses who have seen or received some sort of reassuring message from a loved one.
``We assume people who see God or have visions are weirdoes or flakes but in fact they are uniquely healthy mentally,'' he said. Morse takes the medical facts Ï that visions due occur Ï and reinterprets their existence more widely emphasizing the normalcy of such events. These are not pathological events, he insists.
Morse believes the source of these visions lies in the brain's right temporal lobe. The visions do not come from a neurochemical release or the stress of dying and are not hallucinations induced by grief
``Dr. Jones had an extremely healthy right temporal lobe,'' Morse said. People who have healthy right temporal lobes have strong spiritual feelings and intuitions, believe in God and in humanity. Morse, who is Jewish, said most Mormons also fall into this category.
``I want to have a pre-death vision,'' I said.
``I know,'' he chuckled. ``I want one, too. But they come to us unbidden in time of need. I believe these experiences re-affirm our less dramatic ordinary intuitions and feelings.
``The point of my book is that for too long we have looked at spiritual experiences as separate types of entities to trivialize and dismiss. But I say premonitions and pre-death experiences can be differentiated from fantasies and dreams...and are all cut from the same spiritual cloth. Psychics or mediums won't help,'' he added.
More research needs to be done, but Morse predicted that within 30 years a scientist will win a Nobel Prize for consciousness research.