In "The Wheel of Life," Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, an early pioneer of studies on death and dying, reports interviewing tens of thousands of people, whose vital signs had stopped but later were revived.
Death, says Kubler-Ross, occurs in distinct phases. The accounts given by subjects ages 2-99 and culturally diverse were too similar to discount. The floating out of bodies, the tunnel, the light, meeting with deceased family members--she heard it all over and over again.
One woman reported floating out of her body, hearing doctors pronounce her dead, and watching them cover her with a sheet. A young resident, in his nervousness, told a joke; Mrs. Schwartz, on being revived, reported it back to him.
Those who entered what she calls Phase Four reported being "in the presence of the Highest Source. Some called it God. Others reported simply knowing they were surrounded by every bit of knowledge there was, past, present and future. It was nonjudgmental and loving."
In this phase, people reviewed every thought and action of their lives. They reported being asked the question, "What service have you rendered?"
"It demanded that people confront whether or not they had made the highest choices in life. They found out whether or not they learned the lessons they were supposed to learn, the ultimate being unconditional love."
What service have you rendered? It's a question directed out and away from the self.
It's a good question.
And today, as I turn 40, is a good time to start answering.