THE BLIZZARD HIT more suddenly than predicted, dumping several inches on us by noon and stopping traffic dead in all the streets leading from our town to the outlying country. I was rushing to an appointment and, impatient with the slow progress of two people in front of me, I skirted around them, slipped on an icy hill and was momentarily airborne. When I fell back to earth I hit my head, hard.
I seemed to see it all from without: here was an icy hill slanting upward to the pale sky, bordered by converging black lines; and here was I, sailing toward the sky feet first in a great skidding arc, until the lines met and the picture went black.
Some minutes later I came to, brushed myself off, went into a friend's shop, and nearly passed out again. My friend called 911 and eventually an ambulance appeared. It's a trust exercise, said the EMT, as he lifted me onto a spine board. My part was simply to let myself be floated out the door. Our ride to the hospital took 45 minutes, long enough to discover that the EMT, senior warden for a nearby Episcopal church, was an extremely interesting fellow. So it was that, though it formed no conceivable part of my plan for the day, I found myself discussing Hooker's three-legged stool and other fine points of Anglican ecclesiology while strapped to a board, shivering under mounds of blankets, in a slow-moving ambulance.
We arrived to find the emergency room in disaster mode, with many stretchers in the hallway. I had to stay strapped to the board for some hours until a doctor could check me out; and then, oh, blessed release! A CAT scan and a few hours more to wait before I was cleared to leave, still dizzy and shaky, but basically all right.
Now what made this incident particularly interesting was this: like Socrates in the Phaedo, I experienced the proximity of pleasure to pain, of confusion to clarity. "Who's William James?" my husband asked, testing my coherence. "1842-1910," said I. It may have been the adrenaline, but I was feeling hyperlucid. Best of all, a host of preoccupations were shaken clean out of me; I was free to think more interesting thoughts.
It reminded me of the time I fell down a long staircase at the home of some English friends while holding my two-year-old child. I ricocheted from wall to banister all the way down, saw stars, and landed at the foot of the stairs with the child unharmed on my stomach. Once back home, I wrote my friends to say "this time I mean to fall up your stairs"--for I had finally decided to become a baptized Christian, as if that nudge down the stairs had shaken off the last vestiges of uncertainty. …