I know all this.
Anyone who knows me well knows that I just about drowned in a septic tank when I was a teenager. I've got a million stories, but that one's guaranteed to elicit an interesting reaction...particularly the way I tell it. I've got it into an almost-comedy routine. I always conclude with "All in all, a shitty way to go", and people laugh, and from that moment on I'm the guy who almost drowned in dogshit. It's worth it, because milking that story for laughs kills most of the terror in it.
But the fact remains that I came very close to death that summer day. Probably a lot closer than even I realize. The fumes alone would have proved lethal were I in that hole much longer. That I could well have died and didn't isn't why I believe in God. I believe in God because I can't explain why I didn't die. More: that I don't think it can be explained without invoking something supernatural, some Higher Power which passeth understanding.
In all the scores, perhaps hundreds of times I've told the story, I've only rarely mentioned the pipe. The completely impossible pipe. You'll only hear about the pipe if I really trust you. I'll usually double back to that point in the story after I've finished the tale and gauged your response. I do this because quite frankly, while I have no problem being the guy who almost drowned in dogshit, I have no least urge to be the loony guy who believes in invisible pipes. Also, I know I appear to be a pretty unreliable narrator, given that I'm right in the middle of a traumatic experience.
First, I'd like to dispense with that 'unreliable narrator' dogshit. I've read many an account of near-death experiences, and almost all of them mention a heightened perception, also a slowing of time. Both these things I remember vividly. It seemed as if I was in that tank for an eternity, if not two. Certainly more than enough time to make note of my surroundings, which did NOT include a pipe floating at just the correct depth to allow my head to break the surface of what, I learned later, was a nine-foot-deep septic tank. I tell you now that pipe wasn't there. It couldn't have been there, else I would have bounced off it on the way down, or while I was thrashing around in the beef stew trying to figure out which way was up. (It seems obvious in retrospect, but you can't know how obvious until you experience it: shit is dark. REALLY dark.)
There is simply no way that pipe could have existed. There's no reason for a pipe to traverse a septic tank, and certainly no way this wholly imaginary pipe could have taken even my hundred and twenty pounds of weight.
And so it didn't exist...until it did. Until I began to tire of treading the heavy sludge. My legs sank, and I started to sink with them, and then my feet were resting on a good thick pipe at least six inches in diameter. Wide enough for me to walk it without the least bit of hesitation, and strong enough to let me do it. I walked from side to side in that tank, clutching the extremely slippery walls, still screaming for help and beginning to despair it would ever come. I could hear the dogs on either side going crazy. I could see the sky, four feet and a million miles away. Then I saw Bernie's hand reaching down and I grabbed it and was hauled to safety.
I can't explain it. I don't think it can be explained.
So I was telling this tale today for the eleventy-dozenth time...and for the very first time I realized I'd always skipped right over the other flatly impossible thing that nevertheless happened.
Rewind the tape: fzzzzurble bidle wisssht toblervidle schtetl zzzurp I exerted more effort. I was a scrawny kid, but I had some strength in me: I managed to get under the plate and began to lift it up. It was freakin' heavy. I took a step forward to get some leverage and was suddenly falling.
Now fast forward to the denouement: whirrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrzzht
I had been incredibly lucky: the iron plate had not fallen back over my hole...I must have given it just enough of a shove as I was going down.
Yeah, incredibly lucky. Impossibly lucky, more like. Consider the physics of this: heavy iron plate, scrawny kid lifting it from the ground to the vertical. Kid takes a step forward to get more leverage, which makes sense...except kid steps squarely into the black hole that plate had been covering.
If I had that iron plate vertical or very near to it, sure: then I could perhaps have given it enough of a shove to get it the hell away. But I didn't. I barely had one end at my waist, which is the whole reason I stepped forward, not to mention the reason I stepped forward without being able to see what I was stepping into.
Something saved me at least twice that day. An avowed atheist can choose to call that thing "shit luck", so to speak, and that's fine. Me, I call it God.