“Come Back Later” by Alice Smith in an interview with Bernice Murphy

WN Bernice Murphy.JPG
Illustration by Beth Pukala

“Come back later.” These words resonate clear as a bell when I recall what happened to me two days before Thanksgiving 2010. Sitting in my favorite chair, listening to the radio in late afternoon, I turned my head to check the time. Instantly, a bright white place appeared and I heard multiple languages that sounded like jibberish to me. “Jesus are you there?” I asked. I heard a gentle, peaceful voice say, “Come back later.”

The following day I recalled my state of mind and the circumstances. Had I taken too much medicine? Was I sleeping? I recognized that this white place and tender voice came late in the day when I am usually at my best. It was the same restful feeling I have sharing a cup of tea with a friend.

I manage my stress with aerobic exercise and am able to stay in shape. Trying to forget what just happened over the last 24 hours, I gathered myself to play piano with my duet partner. Climbing the stairs to her apartment was exhausting. I couldn’t breathe. I told my friend I couldn’t stay. Something was wrong. I drove home, walked in my house and dropped my purse, coat and music. It was hard to move.

‘Come back later’ was my spiritual medicine.

I called my brother and survived with him at the wheel driving like a maniac while delivering me to the emergency room. I walked in and again dropped my purse and coat from lack of strength. I thought I was dying. The physician said I was a lucky lady to be alive because a pulmonary embolism results in many deaths. He joked about how impossible it is for anyone to walk into the emergency room with a heart rate of 30 beats per minute. He also said, “Someone wants you around for a long time.”

I was admitted for 24 hours. Left alone I tried to make a connection between the hospital’s whiteness and the bright, white place I saw in my living room. The IV, blood tests and nursing care helped save my life, and I know that the words, “Come back later” were my spiritual medicine. Jesus knew my condition way before I did, and He sent me a message that this would not be my time to die.

In truth this was the best Thanksgiving for me. I heard from Jesus, I reacted appropriately and I am eternally thankful.

Note from Alice: I interviewed Bernice after the 11:30 AM Mass. Announcing that she had a few minutes to run home before the Symphony at 2:00 PM, I promised to go quickly. She told her story and revealed two more. “I don’t tell this to many people,” Bernice said. “They’ll think I’m crazy.” I reassured her that she is not crazy! Our society needs to hear more stories that happen in our lives to make sense of Jesus’ presence. Bernice knows this and felt relieved to have her story out in the open.

Biblical Note: Praise the Lord! Let all that I am praise the Lord. I will praise the Lord as long as I live. I will sing praises to my God even with my dying breath. Psalm 146: 1-2 (NLT)

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