I spent 12 years as a policeman in New Orleans before I left to become an insurance claims adjuster. It made a huge difference: Not only was my job safer, but I loved the work and was making more money than before. It paid so well, in fact, that eight years ago my wife, Linda, and I were able to buy a new home. We moved in with our son, Brian, on a gorgeous spring afternoon. Everything was right with the world.

The moving company had already come and gone. Later, while we were busy unpacking boxes, I remembered some things I’d left in the car: a folder full of important papers, some jewelry and a gun. When I was a police officer I was required to carry a gun at all times. After I left the force, I no longer carried a weapon, but I liked to have one around for protection, a .25 caliber pistol that I kept in a big envelope.

I walked out the front door and looked at the cloudless sky above my new neighborhood. I couldn’t imagine my life being any better. I got to the car and collected the jewelry and folder, as well as the gun. Carrying it all, I walked up the steps and toward the front door. On the brick porch I tripped and stumbled. As I did, I saw the pistol sliding out of the envelope.

Time seemed to slow. I heard what sounded like a gunshot. That couldn’t have been my gun. The safety lock’s on and the gun’s not cocked. The shot was followed by a harrowing scream.

Suddenly, it was as if a light switch had been flicked off and I was left in pitch darkness. There was no noise. It was as though the world had ceased to exist. Where am I? I wondered.

Vague shapes started forming in front of my eyes. In the dimness I saw a man who looked familiar. With a start I realized I was looking at myself. My body was surrounded by a bright aura.

Was I having an out-of-body experience? That must mean I was dead. No! It can’t be. I saw my arms dangling limply at my sides and my knees beginning to buckle. I was about to collapse.

Before I hit the ground, another form miraculously took shape on the porch. It was a beautiful woman, who stood about six foot six and had shoulder-length blond hair. Her face was the most beautiful I had ever seen. And she too was surrounded by a bright aura.

The woman wrapped her arms around my body and gathered it close to her, embracing me as a mother would cradle a child. I saw my head slump down against her chest and my eyes close.

I wasn’t dead, but I was watching myself die. And there was nothing I could do. But then the woman spoke to me. “Don’t worry,” she whispered and stroked my cheek. “Everything is going to be all right.”

Very gently, she laid me on my left side on the porch, nestling my head on my outstretched arm. She looked down at me, then vanished.

At that instant, it was as if the light switch was flicked back on and time was moving at its normal pace again. The world around me took shape: The birds were singing, the sky was cloudless and bright blue, traffic was buzzing on the nearby road. But I was no longer looking at myself lying on the porch. I now was lying on the porch.

The front door of the house flew open, and my wife and son raced outside. “What happened?” Linda said.

My mind was scrambled, but slowly things started coming back to me. I remembered tripping on the porch, and the pistol sliding out of the envelope.

My gun must have gone off when it hit the ground. The scream had come from my own mouth.

“I think I’ve been shot.”

Brian ran back inside to call 911. Linda got down next to me on the porch, talking in a soothing voice and stroking my arm. Blood streamed from my mouth and I couldn’t move. I could see Linda touching me, but I couldn’t feel her hand.

It seemed forever until the ambulance arrived. By the time we got to the hospital I was barely conscious. I was whisked into the emergency room, where a doctor said, “Mr. Jackson, we need to perform an emergency tracheotomy to save your life. Do we have your permission to proceed?” I nodded, and he began to make an incision in my throat. It was at that point that I passed out.

I didn’t know where I was at first, or why I was there, but when I came to I was in the ICU with all sorts of tubes and machines attached to me. The pain was so intense and so constant that I could barely sleep. And I was given so many drugs to kill the pain that I began having delusions: I thought everyone, including the doctors and my family, was conspiring to kill me.

It didn’t help when Linda reported what the doctors had told her: The bullet had caused massive damage to my throat, then lodged in my spinal cord. The attending physician warned that even if I survived the surgeries necessary to repair the damage to my spine, I might never be able to speak again, would need a respirator to breathe, and would live the rest of my life as a quadriplegic. “You’re strong,” Linda encouraged. “You can get through this.” But the news was still so hard to hear. Why, God? I wondered. Everything was going so well.

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