In a Twilight Zone episode from the first season in 1960, Jack Klugman is a trumpet player who is down-and-out.

Joey Crown “decides that his life is worthless, and steps into the path of a speeding truck.”  (Wikipedia.)

But Joey gets a second chance.  He is not dead, only in limbo.  Another trumpet player tells him he can go either direction.

“With the player’s encouragement, Joey remembers that even at its worst, life still has enough good in it to be worth living, and he chooses to go back.”

He returns to his former life, and finds some of the good things he over-looked while still alive.

As Joey plays his trumpet for a new friend (a girl), Rod Serling intones one of his most famous observations, “Joey Crown, who makes music, and who discovered something about life; that it can be rich and rewarding and full of beauty, just like the music he played, if a person would only pause to look and to listen.”

The episode reminds me of an essay I read several years ago about man’s struggle to keep moving forward.

Upward reach in the heart of man

copyright by Vincent O’Neil April 2002 – used by permission

Some years back, a person close to me wanted to become a ghost. It was a serious effort, not a traditional “cry for help.” He was very careful to pick a quiet time of the week, to tear off the label of his pill bottle and flush it down the toilet so any rescuers couldn’t identify the medication, and to only take one pill at a time to prevent vomiting.

Everything was going according to plan, and the haze was descending, when this incredible thing happened. He broke out of his stupor long enough to move his truck! The details are sketchy as to why he needed to move the truck, but the point is, he broke away from his effort long enough to attend to an earthly matter. When the police were called in by a suspicious landlady, the effort to move the truck had awakened him sufficiently to save his life.

Now then, why on earth did he find it necessary to move the truck? I have come to the conclusion that as sincere as he was to kill himself, there was a “spark” somewhere deep inside him that fought for life.

It has been this spark of resistance to death that has fascinated me for many years – just what is it that keeps us keeping on?

A small percentage of all suicide attempts actually succeed. That life spark is stronger than all the misery and pain life throws at the hopeless. I think of street people as another example. Why don’t they give up the spark of life, since most have already turned away from those things that connect them with their previous lives?

It is hard to extinguish that spark in patients with serious illnesses, like terminal cancer. I have known personally several people who rejoiced at each new treatment as they lost their hair, and eventually their dignity. It was only in the very last days that most of them “let go” and accepted the inevitable. It is the nature of humans to fight to the last breath. Why?

Skeptics have figured out that people who have had a Near Death Experience were actually hallucinating. They have decided there is a certain place in the brain (red spot) that produces the images when the brain is deprived of oxygen. This spot hasn’t really been located, but the skeptics postulate it is deep enough to not yet show up on instruments. Electronic leads attached to our heads indicate lack of responses on an electroencephalagram, but this NDE Imaging Center (my label) is deep enough to go undetected.

URITHOMIf this is true, how do the skeptics account for recalled images outside the operating room? Often, the patient “floats” down the hall and overhears relatives, or travels home to see grandma. That is some hallucination!

Instead of this NDE Imaging Center, what if there really is a place deep inside the brain (blue spot)? Only this time, it is that mysterious center that contains the spark of life, that unquenchable desire to live? For now, lets call it the URITHOM Center. More on that in a minute.

Kathy and I were talking about one thing and another the other day. We were sharing ideas left and right, and I felt comfortable giving voice to thoughts I had not previously been able to articulate.

“I don’t believe it is possible for us to mentally snap,” I said in the middle of our talk. “At least, not as much as the bad guys claim. I believe 99.99 percent of the time, we can pull back our fist even up to one second before we strike someone. Or ease up on the trigger before we pull it all the way.”

“Perhaps,” she said. “But I think a lot of those killers and such are wired wrong from the start. They don’t snap, because they are mentally ill to begin with.”

I agreed. Then, Kathy took the conversation to a new level. “It’s all part of our reaching for a higher level – trying to elevate ourselves closer to God. It doesn’t matter what we call God – it is all that same striving.”

Kathy continued, “In fact, there are philosophers who don’t believe in God who try to define this effort to transcend earthly ties. It has been assigned different definitions over the years, but this urge to rise above it all is the focus of many philosophies.”

Kathy is reading Schopenhauer at the moment. It is tough material to understand, so I turned to the dictionary. It defines transcendentalism as, “a philosophy that asserts the primacy of the spiritual and transcendental over the material and empirical.” The dictionary goes on to assign the words “visionary idealism.” The simple definition of transcend is, “to rise above or go beyond the limits of.”

As our discussion deepened, Kathy looked at this attempt to rise above it all and compared it to serial killers. “They are striving to reach this nirvana, even if they don’t think about it in those terms,” she said. “In effect, they project themselves as superior – even godlike. They are special and very unique. That is why they often leave clues behind on purpose or even write mocking letters to the authorities.”

Different strokes for different folks. Serial killer or terminal patient, there is something inside every human that strives for something better, including another day of life. The next logical question then becomes, “How did that spark get there?”

One direction for that discussion is God. Some omnipotent, omniscient power must have installed that spark inside each of us. It is as much a part of our genes as the sex drive.

Call it serendipity or coincidence, but later that same day we had the television on when we heard the exact same thought. The speaker was quoting a poem, and even though he was using it in a different context, it fit perfectly into the discussion Kathy and I were having.

Who Thou art I know not,

But this much I know:

Thou hast set the Pleiades In a silver row;

Thou hast sent the trackless winds Loose upon their way;

Thou hast reared a colored wall ‘Twixt the night and day;

Thou hast made the flowers to bloom And the stars to shine;

Hid rare gems of richest ore In the tunneled mine;

But chief of all Thy wondrous works, Supreme of all Thy plan,

Thou hast put an upward reach In the heart of Man.

Harry Kemp, “God the Architect,” 1948

Exactly what we had been talking about – the upward reach in the heart of man. For now, and for lack of a better explanation, I have identified the unofficial “blue spot” in our brain as the URITHOM Center – The Upward Reach In The Heart Of Man Center.

“I wonder if it is necessary to identify the URITHOM Center as an organic place,” added Kathy. “Perhaps it is a form of energy – a force – an essence?”

Whether encapsulated deep in the brain, or as part of “The Force,” or as part of a special gene, or perhaps even the soul, the idea of a URITHOM Center gives us much to ponder. If true, it connects inexorably to God, to life after death, and perhaps even to the meaning of life itself.

Whatever it is called, or wherever it is located, it IS real.  Life “can be rich and rewarding and full of beauty . . . . . if a person would only pause to look and to listen.”




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