Beyond the Veil- Chapter 1 Excerpt

Sidelined By Kent Johnson

My first wife, Carol, always said logging was a good way to get killed. But when I was out of work in the summer of 1987, it seemed like the best way to provide for my family.

Years earlier I was in the army. I had been com- missioned as a chaplain and was stationed at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, with Carol and our four children. When the mother of Carol’s friend died from breast cancer, Carol became concerned about some soreness she was experiencing. She had it checked. They found a malignant tumor so large that the doctors gave us little hope. Carol went through the mastectomy, the chemotherapy, and the radiation treatments, but died in December 1984.

I’ve always felt that she was somehow instrumental in my meeting and marrying Crystal. Crystal moved into our old Orem, Utah, ward with her four girls after Carol and I left for Fort Sill. Following Carol’s death, the bishop introduced Crystal and me and even double dated with us. We were married a short time later.

My older brother, Mike, had done more logging than I had and helped purchase a nice stand of trees in the Payette National Forest. The trees averaged six thousand pounds, were sixty to seventy feet tall, and eighteen to twenty-four inches in diameter.

Mike and I and a friend, Art Troutner, were logging the sale on May 22, 1987. About 11:30 a.m., Art came over to where I was and asked for help on a tree. He had wedged it on the back cut, trying to get it to fall uphill, but it had bound up his saw.

When I examined the tree a little more closely, I found a pitch seam on the uphill side. That usually indicated the tree was unsound and could split, creating what we called a “barber chair.” If the tree splits as it falls, it will sometimes kick the base of the tree out from the stump, leaving a slab on the stump resembling a high-back barber’s chair. It’s an extremely dangerous situation.

I told Art to start cutting with my saw. When the tree started falling, he was to run along the slope of the hill perpendicular to the fall of the tree. I would pull his saw out as soon as it became loose and run the other way.

The tree split as I suspected. Art ran, I got the chainsaw out, dropped it and ran in the opposite direction. The tree, however, did not fall exactly as we had expected. As we measured later, I was twenty-eight feet from the stump when the tree split and barber- chaired. The base of the tree trunk, sharpened by the chainsaw cuts, leaped from the stump in my direction, spearing me in the back at shoulder height. I felt my back snap as I was driven into the ground face-first, filling my mouth and eyes full of dirt. The tree trunk then slammed down on top of me.

As the weight of the tree pushed down on me, I felt my spirit leave my body. I knew immediately I was dead. There was no question. It was all over.

The first emotion I felt was terror. I did not want it to be over. I wanted to be with my wife and kids. I had things to do, things to accomplish. The terror was soon replaced by disappointment.

When I was in high school, I was starting line- man on our undefeated football team. I’ve thought the disappointment I felt at the accident was probably like being pulled out of a championship football game, put on the sidelines, and told you were through playing. For the rest of the game, you had to watch. I did not want to watch, I wanted to play. I wanted to be in the action.

Following the accident, I felt a great acceleration of speed, like I was traveling fast through the darkness that had now closed in around me. I also noticed that my mind was alert and crystal clear. I could comprehend everything. I was not constrained by my body. I noticed that the pain was completely gone and I had no discomfort at all.

The earlier fear and disappointment were replaced by peace and a definite feeling of well-being. Every- thing was okay. Everything was just as it should be. As this feeling came, I emerged out of the darkness and was aware that I was not alone. I felt the presence of people before I actually saw anyone.

As I looked, I saw my first wife, Carol, my mother who had died in 1977 from a stroke, and my Grand- father who had died in 1974. He had been in his late eighties or early nineties when he died.

It seemed natural that Granddad should be there. He was always our family patriarch. He was always firm and stalwart in his testimony of the gospel. When he was younger, he was friends with President David O. McKay. My mother suffered from illnesses when she was young, and Granddad had once asked President McKay to administer to her.

In his blessing, President McKay told her that she would live to raise her children. My youngest sister was in college the year Mother died.

Being reunited with my loved ones, especially my first wife, filled me with the greatest feelings of love, acceptance, and overwhelming sweetness. I was reminded of Lehi’s dream and his description of the love of God. He described it as “fruit . . . desirable to make one happy and . . . most sweet, above all and . . . it filled my soul with exceedingly great joy.” The fruit was so desirable that he wanted more than any- thing else for his family to partake of it. Nephi said it was “most desirable above all things . . . most joyous to the soul.”

No better words in the English language can describe this total acceptance, love, and tenderness.

We began conversing, but not with words. Communication was total and absolute and seemed to be pure thoughts communicated from mind to mind. There was no possibility of misunderstanding.

They had come to meet me and escort me to the spirit world—if I chose to go. They told me that I had a choice. I could stay or go. They did not try at all to persuade me one way or the other, but they expressed concern for Crystal and the kids if I decided not to return.

Carol was not jealous of Crystal at all. There was not the least bit of pettiness, envy or resentment. In fact, she stated that she was pleased that we had been sealed in the temple and was concerned for Crystal’s well-being if I left.

I was overjoyed to see her and bask in her love and warmth and was not eager to be separated again. She told me not to worry about our separation, that time was not the same in the spirit world. She said life was short and that I should return and complete my responsibilities to Crystal and the children. Then we would be together again.

Granddad had white hair but appeared to be in his early forties. Mom was in her late twenties or early thirties, like I remembered her when I was young. Carol was as I remembered her in her middle to late twenties. She had brown hair. All of them wore loose- fitting, white robes. Mom’s and Carol’s robes were the same basic design, though slightly different.

When I emerged out of the darkness and was met by Carol, Mom, and Granddad, I noticed that we were at the scene of the accident, standing in the air above the ground about ceiling height. I could see Art sawing the tree to get the weight off of me. Then I saw him check for pulse and respiration. He thought I was dead and ran to get Mike, who was working about a half-mile away. This, however, was not the focus of my attention. I was much more involved in the sweet reunion with loved ones and not concerned with what was going on below.

I remember expressing concern over being crippled. I knew what I had felt when the tree hit me, and I could see my body underneath the tree. I did not want to have the test of a handicap for the rest of my life. I felt that was probably one test I couldn’t handle. They knew my thoughts and told me that if I chose to return, my body would be okay. I then agreed to go back if my body would recover. I don’t remember any farewells or good-byes. The next thing I remember, I was back in my body. I immediately wiggled my toes and fingers to make sure I was not paralyzed. It hurt so
badly, though, that I didn’t try to do it again. Mike and Crystal have told me things I said by the tree and at the hospital that I can’t remember. It makes me think that more went on than I recall. I know I can’t be sure where certain impressions came from. When Art and Mike returned, the first thing I said was that I needed to sell the motorcycle or Aaron, my oldest son, was going to kill himself on it. This thought had not occurred to me before. In fact, I had just fixed it to get it in good shape. Mike was a trained emergency medical technician and made sure I didn’t try to move until he checked me out thoroughly. While he was doing that, he asked me if I had been in communication with Carol, Mom and Granddad. I said I had, but I wanted to know why he had asked. He explained that when he came to the scene, he had felt their presence. I thought it peculiar that he would mention all three.

Mike and Art spent another hour clearing a space in the trees and brush for the pickup so I could be loaded and taken to the hospital. While they were doing that, I was fading in and out of consciousness. I did not think about what had happened to me. I was just trying to cope with the pain and hang on. It wasn’t until the last day in the hospital and the first few days at home that I was able to recall my out-of- body experience and try to sort things out.

When I arrived at the hospital, they were immediately concerned about internal injuries. They found that my shoulder blade was broken into six pieces, my hip had been pulled out of the socket, and I had broken one of the small bones that proceeds laterally from the vertebrae. My back felt like jelly. I guessed it was probably like deer meat that has been shot.

The doctors couldn’t imagine why the force of the tree trunk, which was great enough to shatter my shoulder blade, had not crushed by back and ribs. They were also surprised that the sharpened, jagged base of the tree had not broken any skin. My clothes were torn slightly, but no blood was anywhere.

As I had time to think about what happened, more details became clear to me. I’ve felt what it is to feel and enjoy the love of God. I learned that the other side is organized by families. Those people who live worthy are patriarchs and matriarchs over their families. I also received the strong impression that positions at work, in society, and in the Church are not important at all. What matters is how we treat people, whether or not we are kind to them, and what kind of relationships we build with our families. Church positions are good, because we can use them to help people, but the position itself means nothing.

All of these things were conveyed to me when a falling tree enabled me to pass beyond the veil.