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Posted on Nov 16, 2012 in Daily Discovery

I Ran Into the Corridor…Naked.

“I drew this bath to relax, and I’m going to do it,” I muttered to myself. My mind was buzzing; my very skin felt alive, crawling and tightening with each breath I took. I pressed the heel of my hand to my chest. I really was beginning to feel uncomfortable.

The water finally rose past my waist. I turned off the tap and made myself lie back, determined to get some rest.

I allowed my eyes to drift shut, letting the hot water seep into my pores, and sank almost unaware into a fitful doze.

I dreamed of the Piper Alpha again.

It was a recurring nightmare. I wasn’t on Occidental’s platform offshore Aberdeen, Scotland, when it blew up on July 6, 1988. I was on a rig further south called the Interocean II, but in most every dream I had, I was trapped inside one of the two fire accommodation modules as a fireball engulfed the platform. I would huddle in a corner, the intense heat burning the tears from my eyes, acrid fumes from the blazing hydrocarbons infiltrating my lungs while I waited for a rescue that never came. I’d slowly suffocate as the accommodation module separated from the main platform and dropped into the North Sea, carrying my body and those of eighty- seven of my comrades to our watery tomb.

Or I’d be one of the seventy-eight men who, faced with a choice between burning alive or jumping to his death, decided to take his chances with the sea. I’d plunge into its icy depths from two hundred feet up, striking the water hard enough to crack bones but not hard enough to kill me. I’d still be conscious when the saltwater quickly replaced the oxygen in my lungs, engorging them as I gagged and struggled in a futile attempt to reach the rescue boats.

I wrenched awake.

I can’t breathe.

I waited for the dream to release me, but the crushing weight on my chest didn’t ease. I clutched at it, trying to draw a breath and failing, opening my eyes wide, seeing… seeing …

A white light heading straight for me.

Harsh and bright like a knife’s edge reflecting the sun, the light raced toward me with the speed of a Japanese bullet train.

And I knew, as certain as I knew my own name, I was about to die.

Turns out your life really does flash before your eyes.

That instant seemed to hang suspended before me like a diamond on a chain, and I saw scenes of my life in each isolated, crystallized facet of the gem. My childhood in the Fifties in Yorkshire, England. My loving but disappointed father. My supportive, generous mum. My first post as a novice roustabout on an oil rig. My marriage to my practical, ever-patient Spanish wife, Isabel. The birth of our beautiful baby girl, Laura, and then, three and a half years later, our cheerfully gurgling son, David.

I saw them as they were now, too. Laura a headstrong sixteen-year-old, David an accommodating, placid almost-man, both waiting for a father who would never come home again.

I saw every important moment of my life, each a link in a long chain of events leading to this very instant. Flashing colors played across the scenes, touching the faces of the people I loved, the friends I knew, the men with whom I’d worked. Red, yellow, green, blue, over and over again, in predictable, repeating patterns that began to make sense: red with the doers, yellow with the socializers, blue with the relaters, green with the thinkers. Somehow, the colors were connected to everything. Like a prophetic Morse code, there was a message hidden in them, and I could almost make it out.

Steve was in my vision, as well. I could see him telling me how everything happens for a reason, everything is connected, and I was meant to be a part of it. I, he—everyone—was a part of something larger and unimaginably complex, and for the first time in my life, so close to death, I finally had an inkling of what he’d been trying to tell me.

In a sudden flash of intuition, it all made sense. The colors, the people, the connections.

“Steve was right!” I gasped.

It wasn’t fair, I thought. The white light was coming to take me away, but I still had so much to do. I couldn’t die yet; I wasn’t finished.

Not by a long shot.

If I was going to go, that damn light was going to have to come and get me.

I leapt out of the bath with one thought: Find Steve. If nothing else, I had to tell him he was right.

So what if I was wet and naked? I didn’t have time to dry off, to put on clothes. Those were minor inconveniences in comparison to the incredible gift of wisdom I’d just been given. My wet feet skidded across the slick bathroom tiles, but I didn’t let that slow me down, either. My breath was coming shorter and shorter. Who knew how long I had left to live?

To read more from At the End of the Day: How One Man Learned to Live Like He Was Dying, please visit our look inside section.