I was standing on the step that says, “THIS IS NOT A STEP”, and the ladder popped out from under me. My forehead hit the earth first. I lifted my face just enough to get my hands to it, as I did, my eyes looked at earth as it spread across the farm field to trees up the trunks to leaves, then blue sky. I could not discern my physical body from the body of the earth herself. Emptiness and silence filled everywhere. I can quote words of religion, science, song, and poetry to describe it, but they do not approach the experience. My body was the earth-body, indistinguishable as when in my mother’s womb. So is this body going to stand again, independent of her, or shall I lay myself down now? I was witnessing the farm as a place without me being there as a man. No desire arose to be with anyone anywhere. I had no sense that I was needed. The earth, my body, would go on without me being here as my body, or as the character I emanate in our culture.
All my greatest keepers of the earth, the men and women who have given me the contents of my mind, were then, where they were, when they were here, and nowhere else. They were now in the silence of the one body. They were the living spirit now. There were no “I”s, just one galactic I.
During the emptiness, the calm feeling was an option to lay down and return to the earth, and my hands moved to my face to find out what had happened to it. The shock to my body sent me into the state of shock; an emotionless motion-filled selfless will to live: no future calling me, no desire to escape living through the circumstances. It felt as though the roof of my mouth had cracked open. My face was just two inches off the earth as I felt for what damage had been done. I pressed my fingers against the bones of my nose and cheeks, informing me they were not shattered. I then could feel my heart beating and with each beat, a pulse of blood came into my mouth. The roof of my mouth was cracked open. Ian came and asked, “ Are you all right? ”I answered with a, “Ya”, blood gushing out of my mouth. I then remembered that at about my present age, my dad, who I did not live with during my life, was sitting at his desk, his aorta broken open and bleeding internally, he passed out on his desk and he died. A co-worker called 911, ambulance nurses did what they did and brought him back to life.
That memory made it clear to me that I could truly die from this fall. No anxiety, no fear, no hurry, came with this revelation, it occurred within the great silence, the eternal peace. Actually, as I am writing this, I realize until now that I never knew what the word “peace” was referring to. It is certainly a unique discovery that the peace I sang for at the no-nukes rally years ago I have found to exist by living daily with the certainty of my own death. And death and birth, even unto all the life in between, does not exist spiritually in any relation to any way we have of imagining them with our minds. This doorway of death, this great peace, was facing me and me alone, I could just let go.
My spirit softly and silently said, “not now” by guiding my thumb into my mouth. High in the soft spot at the roof of my mouth, I pressed, and the pulsing stopped. If I took my thumb away to try to speak, blood gushing into my mouth with each heartbeat. Just when I thought, “Perhaps I will need a doctor to fix this”, I heard Ian asked, “How are you, man?” I said, “Ian, this might be a 911.” He said, “OK we’ll get you to the hospital.” There was no anxiety because there was no suggestion in my being that some other worldly person, place or thing might save my life. We were then clearly all in Spirit and this was life unfolding in harmony, all our life events combined, in one emptiness of this, our true lives. In the silence, I knew no one but spirit can arrange the doors of birth and death. Occasionally, I felt gusts of emotional concern flow through me. This concern for me came from the eyes of my co-workers. It went away when they did.
I wore no shirt or shoes. My hands were covered in blood, my face was covered in blood, my chest, pants and feet were splattered with blood. Ian said, “I’ll go get you some shoes.” I laughed silently, yet quite uproariously within myself, thinking of how Ian was thinking of me needing shoes to go into the emergency room. I stand up from death going into a world with people who don’t let bare feet in their petroleum-coated boxes. Ian thinks Jeff will need shoes… shoes! I ‘d farmed for three years barefoot every day and I need shoes to wear into the emergency room of a hospital because it was a place of civilized people! I’d been handed a towel which I held with my left hand over my face, my right thumb pressing on the roof of my mouth. If I took my thumb out, the pulsing began again, and if I tried to talk the blood pulsed out of my mouth. Ian arrived with the Eco and I got in and sat with my face toward the floor of the car. Ian placed his right hand on my back. “We’ll get you to the hospital.” He left his hand on my back except to turn corners.
Regularly, to help his emotions, and thinking he was offering me encouragement, he gave me continual up-dates on how close we were to the hospital by saying, ”We’re on the Northway… We’re half way there… We’re almost there….. We’re at the hospital .” I had no emotions about his concern then, but writing this, I cried.
A bit into the drive it occurred to me that if I passed out my thumb would come out of my mouth and I could perhaps bleed to death on the shoulder of the Northway halfway between the ladder top and an operation table before anyone discovered what to do. I had an idea I had to tell Ian, then my mind said, “No, you’ll frighten him.” My mind answered, “Fuck that! Ha, ha, ha, are you kidding me? Ha, ha, ha! You’re actually thinking of risking your true death just to spare Ian from being frightened by having to imagine your death in his mind? That is so fucked up, ha, ha, ha!” Again I was laughing, but only within myself. So I pulled away the bloody cloth, turned my bloody face to Ian and said, “Ian, of I ass ou u’ll ha wo hull oer an hick her hum inwho ah roof a my outh who hop ha beeing.” My thumb was pressing on the roof of my mouth, and if I let go, blood began pulsing in to my mouth. “What?” Ian said, I said it again. “I can’t understand you man,” he responded. Whether I got clearer, or whether his ability to translate improved, I don’t remember, but he finally understood me to say, “If I pass out, you’ll have to pull over and put your thumb in my mouth to stop the bleeding.” To assure me he could do it, he repeated the sentence. I put my face toward the floor of the car looking at my bare feet, and my mind went below them, knowing of the tarmac webbing over the Adirondacks, and below them, the magma unto the center of the world, the grandmother of all earthen embodiment.
The look on faces the Emergency room people was, “Would you look at this.” Ian gave them the information they needed. I was immediately led behind the front desk to a chair where a medic asked what was wrong. I told him I fell off a ladder face first to the earth and that, “It feels like the roof of my mouth is broken.” He looked at it with a flashlight and said, “It appears to have a hole in it.” He handed me a cotton gauze and with it I returned pressure with my thumb. Then he used a machine to read my pulse. Having witnessed my pulse as gushes of blood into my mouth, I again laughed. He had a machine that would show him numbers, and he would say to me, your pulse is so and so, as if that is what I would remember about my pulse.
My wife Mary arrived. She was very relieved to see that I still had a face she could recognize. They told her I fell off a ladder onto my face and she of course had to witness what-so-ever her mind brought up. We were led to a room to wait for the doctor. A nurse led me to the bed and propped up the back, but no place near horizontal nor stillness was comfortable to me with a head full of clotting blood. Arriving at the hospital did not make me then feel as if I were finally safe. Safety was faith, stepping willfully and with purpose, into the next unknowable moment. I knew true safety, when I felt peace at the door of death.
But when I was looking around the hospital, a sweep of witnessing filled my mind and flooded my heart and caused me to cry with enormous love and thankfulness. I could see and feel with all my senses that these people and these machines and these rooms were here specifically to give to me the ability to keep my life. (I felt so much love for the here- now-as-is of the hospital at that exact moment, I cried as I do, when I witness the true reality around me, as a womb of one body, and all that is happening is happening for the love of human beings.)
Mary sat down and opened up her homework notebook and began grading third graders’ papers. The bleeding stopped. I felt unusually clear and healthy and began doing Qi Gong motion exercises; bare feet, farm earth and blood speckled farm pants, no shirt, uncombed shoulder length brown hair swinging my hips waving my arms turning my head from side to side. A young intern looked in. Her face told me she was on her way to tell the head nurse about what she’d seen. The doctor came in. She asked the expected questions. The most important information to her seemed to be that I had never lost consciousness. She asked if I was allergic to anything and I said, “Western Industrial Civilization.” She lifted her face from the paper and calmly looked at my face, greeting me being me, her eyes meeting my eyes she said , “Me too…..We’ll get you into X-ray.”
The X-ray machine made a sound that indicated that there was a small animal scampering within it. I inquired with the young female x-ray technician as to who was inside the machine: animal, alien, the government, divine consciousness? She attempted to maintain her professional duty-filled mind and repeatedly said, “Chin up.” and, “Hold real still.” She heard the noise too, and just hadn’t thought of how peculiar it was that such a high-tech machine made an animal sound. She, of course, couldn’t totally give her mind to the mystery of this culturally defined moment coming from this odd talk from her present 52 year old head injury patient, but we were laughing so often that I had to get X-rayed twice, which is of course just what my anti-industurial-Native American-C-oop working-organic farmer self loves to have happen. But all ideological definitions had popped out from under my feet. Not a single electron spinning around any of the atoms in my body were moved to resist this innocent, lovely young woman, naive to the sources of the forces of the technology she had in her hands here to help heal me. Two sets of X-rays seemed to be in perfect harmony with the rest of the day.
The computer screen offered us a picture of me: bone man me. Skulls are beautiful. I imagined this photo at home on the shelf with the family photos. Clearly, this was God’s creation. This skull of me did not refer to any character of culture-me. This went to my, our, relations to stones of light. The miracle of our being here, which is religion’s job to reminds us of, and which I first completely understood, when I watched our son’s head emerge from my wife.
We waited. The X-ray reader found no broken bones. The doctor said I was good to go home. I never once felt pain. After a week’s time I hacked up the last wad of booger-blood bleed stopper. It was my psychological and emotional selves that had the most healing to go through. For two months there was the awareness that any moment could become the moment I leave this body that my spirit is in.
Someone told my friend, and rock climbing partner, Trevor, that I fell off a ladder at the farm and had to go the emergency room. He responded, “Jeff fell off a ladder?”
That was the question my friends were asking and I was asking myself. How could I have fallen? How did I not witness and correct the moment I fell out of balance? Nearly anyone watching a 52 year old man wearing only pants place a wobbly wooden ladder in dirt and climb to its very top to stand straight up and raise his arms, reaching for a bar, potentially beyond his reach would think …that guy is taking a risk. But, there is no sensation in me that I took a risk and so received a fall. I know my body too well. I was was a highbar man in gymnastics, a life long rock climber, I practiced Qi Gong for several years. I always worked barefoot. So how did I fall off the ladder? If I was taking a risk, a risk to achieve what goal? What was I seeking to achieve by standing on the very top of a ladder? Or more mysteriously, what was I seeking to achieve by falling off? It couldn’t simply be to hold the greenhouse pole 11 feet up while others screwed it into the uprights. Why did I take the risk? Each time I asked, I got a different story.
For love of tomato plants
On the farm I had grown 1300 tomato plants 9 feet tall. I prayed to the tomato plants, wrote poems about them, gave them reiki, talked to them, mended their stem wounds. When I got to work, the day I fell off the ladder, I walked to the green house and there they were, all 1300 of their living bodies, torn out of the ground and laying on the earth. We were building a new greenhouse. I didn’t have time to proscess the emotion. The plants fell to the ground and so did I.
To escape the anger on the farm
The day of the fall very powerful mental tension was flowing around the farm. Everyone felt it, the unspoken word had us all in agreement — we were all guilty of not working hard enough. I wanted to escape. As I reached for the pole I saw the sky. blue, pure, warm, empty sky. I reached for the sky to catch me in its infinity.
I was pulled by the black tree
The morning of the fall I was sitting before work when an image of the farm came into my presence. I saw in my mind’s eye a giant tree of black energy whose trunk was at the center of the farm land and whose branching canopy covered the farmland. The huge black tree fell straight down along its trunk into the farm land and disappeared.
I wanted to see the the World Tree?
For 20 years I have written poems, essays, made drawings, puppets, plays, given lectures and preformed rituals all celebrating the existence of the tree of life, light, law and love that trunks through the center of our world and surrounds it in light. I wanted to see that tree.
To show my loved ones, life isn’t a party?
Amongst the young people at the farm there was too much drinking and too much talk of drinking. I drink, but not like this. Witnessing how much of the life force of these young vital human beings was given to honoring the state of drunkenness I cried in sorrow for them. Weeks after the fall, my friend trevor, who wondered how Jeff could fall of a ladder, got to ask me me, “Cochran fell off a ladder? How’d that happen?” Without thinking before speaking, I surprised even me by responding, “Life is not a fucking game, we all needed to be told, and I was the one to take the fall.”
I took a risk.
Days later, I remembered that as I set up the ladder, I saw that the southeast foot of the ladder was two inches off the ground and that I thought it would sink to level when I stood up on it because it was in the dirt. When I climbed the ladder, I climbed up bearing my weight on the north-west side of the rungs, so that my weight would level the ladder legs. The moment my weight came to balance on the top of the ladder, on the step named “THIS IS NOT A STEP,” the southeast foot of the ladder found it was two inches too short, just as my eyes saw my hands being two inches too short of the pole, as my weight centered, the ladder swiftly tipped into the hole. If my thought limits life to what we can see in the physical world, this is the only risk I took. I climbed an unbalanced ladder