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Death Almost Came Without Warning

October 20, Acharya Bill McKeever faced the possibility that he could die that day. Once recovered, he wrote this letter recalling the experience.
____________________________

Dear Family and Friends,

I just wanted to relate an experience I had on Tuesday. It was a beautiful fall day, sunny with luminous light. The water of Williams Lake, where I live, was calm, like glass. I decided to go out canoeing on the lake. For some unknown reason, I didn’t put on a life jacket, which I always do, without fail. The lake looked so calm and safe and inviting.
To cut to the point, as I was canoeing along the far side of the lake, which is undeveloped and uninhabited, the wind began to pick up on the water. I began to paddle home. Suddenly a gust of wind caught me off balance. In a second the canoe had flipped over and I was in the water, which was very, very cold. I crawled on top of the overturned canoe, but my body was in the water up to my neck, and it was very cold indeed. In an instant, my idyllic fall canoe ride had turned into a life-threatening situation. The cold was seeping away my body heat at a rapid rate. I knew that if I wasn’t rescued rather quickly, the situation would deteriorate.

I roused my voice (adrenalin is very effective), and called out “Help, help!” about every fifteen seconds. The nearest homes were across the lake, a distance of several hundred yards. And it was two o’clock on a weekday afternoon, not a time when people tend to be home, much less out in their yards. Much to my dismay, all my calls of help resulted in no apparent response. I was getting desperate. I was too far from shore to push the canoe to land, and with my heavy coat, corduroy pants and shoes on—not to mention the cold—swimming was very difficult.

After about twenty minutes of being in the cold water, I realized that if I were there much longer, I would lose consciousness. I thought, “This is a stupid way to die, and who would have thought I’d die today?” But then I realized that is the nature of death: it may well come without warning when and how you least expect it. I thought about what a drag it would be for the good friends I live with, Paul and Christie Cashman, to come home, not find me here, and eventually find my body floating in the lake. I thought of my kids finding out, and how I would miss being able to experience their lives. I thought, “What a crummy time to die, with so much good happening with the Sakyong and in Shambhala now, with so much to do.” I had to abandon the canoe and try to swim to shore.

the syllable ki

the syllable ki

I called out a few more times “Help, help!” Then, digging deep in my heart, I called out, “Rinpoche, help me now, please!” Then, thinking of the Werma sadhana, I called loudly “KI KI!” At that moment I saw a couple walking along the road across the lake, waving their arms at me! I knew that if I could only get to shore and hang on for a while, I would be rescued. But the swim to shore was the most dangerous part. My waterlogged clothes and shoes dragged me down and the cold made my body unresponsive. I was just beginning to swallow water and go down when my feet touched the lake bottom, and I could slowly walk to shore. My legs were so stiff I couldn’t crawl out onto the land; I had to pull myself up by some small trees. I was half on land, half in the water, and almost unconscious when I heard sirens and saw a police car, then a fire engine, across the lake. Then a voice called out “Rescue boat coming. Stay there!” (As if I could go anywhere.) Then a little red zodiac boat came motoring across the lake with two burly firemen from the neighborhood Spryfield Fire Dept. They expertly whisked off my wet clothes, wrapped me in warm white blankets, and set me down in the middle of the rescue boat. White robed, I felt like Shiwa Okar as they quickly ferried me back across the lake to the Cashmans’ dock, and into a waiting ambulance.

We're relieved with you, Acharya McKeever!

We're relieved with you, Acharya McKeever!

When I got to the hospital, I was suffering from hypothermia. My core body temperature was down to about 85 degrees. It took six hours to get my body temp back to normal and to stabilize my heart rate. I am fine now, none the worse for wear, but deeply appreciative of the fragility and uncertainty of this life.

Paul and Christie Cashman, who were out for Christie’s sixtieth birthday dinner, ended up spending the evening in the hospital ER with me. Nothing like vajra friends! And I was relieved and very happy that I would be around after all for my son Edward’s three-week visit to Nova Scotia, and that I would see my other sons, Noah, Jonathan, and Monty again, and their wives, girlfriends, and children!

I am very grateful to still be here with you all.

Bill

the syllable ki

the syllable ki

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8 responses to “ Death Almost Came Without Warning ”
  1. Anyana Banerjee
    Jul 25, 2010
    Reply

    Wow, what an amazing story. Thank you so much for sharing. I feel very grateful in this moment that you are still alive and that we are all living in a very precious time with the unfolding of VCTR’s terma cycle. Thank you for reminding me of how fortunate we are and how fragile life is. Thank you.

  2. Betsy Pond
    Jan 7, 2010
    Reply

    Wow! This is an amazing story. I’m so relieved that you are OK. Sending heart warmth to you, as now it’s even colder!

  3. Anne Saitzyk
    Nov 15, 2009
    Reply

    oh my gosh. You are a treasure. I’m so glad you are still here and stronger than ever. It was wonderful to see you at congress and lovely that you remembered me from my Warriors Assembly of 2004 I think? Your memory is amazing!

    much love and gratitude,
    Anne

  4. Bill,

    Thanks you for sharing this inspirational story. I miss you and hope you make it back to NYC before long.

    I am sure you will remember my daughter Sage who added her own special energy to your 2004 Datun. She is now 7 and is probably the wildest, most outrageous, and biggest hearted little girl you could ever hope to meet. In our house we have three rules, “The Big Rules”, from which other rules are derived:

    1.) You are not allowed to die stupidly or get yourself badly injured.
    2.) Don’t hurt other people
    3.) Try to help

    The first rule governs situations like running in traffic, crossing the street without a grownup or looking both ways, not mixing orange juice and bleach, not setting fire to random objects and the like.

    While I was deeply moved and inspired by the image of your thinking of the Werma sadhana and yelling ‘Ki Ki’, I have to say that I think the larger take away is that your should always wear your life jacket.

    Much Love,

    Jonathan

  5. Congratulations !
    Isn’t it wonderful to live in a society that provides rescue boats and all the rest to those in need ?
    Shouldn’t we all, rich and poor get a chance to be rescued at some point when facing a terrible disease ?
    Shouldn’t we all joyfully pay our taxes with that in mind ?

  6. phyllis segura
    Oct 25, 2009
    Reply

    Did you forget to say that you were whistling “Dixie” all the while? Raise a cup to you!
    all the best.

  7. Cassell Gross
    Oct 25, 2009
    Reply

    Acharya Billy Bob, You’re a MIRACLE once again.
    Never a dull moment in your world. Love you dearly,
    Cassell

  8. All of us who know you, Bill, a so glad that you are still with your life, your family, friends. It was not time. You still have too much to offer.


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