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Memory of Elsewhere

by Rona Murray

Six and a half years ago a man named Mr. Peacock blacked out at the wheel of his car and smashed into Rona Murray, a Vancouver Island poet and teacher, while she was driving to the grocery store. Her car was crumpled, her body torn, and her view of the world forever altered. Trussed and tubed in her hospital bed, she was wrapped in a kind of delicious, free-floating bliss and a conviction that she was one with the universe. Was it the chemical reaction of a body in distress or a spiritual near-death experience? In Memory of Elsewhere, Murray acknowledges the morphine-and-endorphin cocktail, but firmly believes that for a moment, she tweaked aside the curtain between known and unknown.

All this has more than a whiff of wavy gravy, but it’s hard to write about spiritual enlightenment these days without sounding like a flake. So Murray cites the work of dozens – philosophers and scientists, writers and prophets – to help describe her experience. She’s an intelligent, articulate, and obviously well-read writer, and one wishes she had spent more time on the layers of her own experience, which are the more compelling bits in this slim book, rather than relentlessly bracketing her insights with quotes from Whitman, Jung, and Plato.

There’s a voracious millennial hunger to know the unknowable – witness the glut of books, tapes, and speakers packaged in pastels and stamped “New Age/Spirituality.” But haven’t people always been fumbling their way around the big “why are we here” question? Murray obliquely acknowledges this by assembling her legion of great thinkers. She also refers to the many ordinary folk who’ve been zapped by lightning or whacked by a car and felt the same euphoria she did.

The earmarks of near-death experiences do sound so, well, bizarre that people don’t like to talk about them. In Memory of Elsewhere, Murray takes a good crack at getting the conversation going – but in any conversation, it’s wise to limit the number of names you drop.