His name was Michael. I wasn't aware of his presence until he spoke: "How'd do you like your Mac?" he said. I turned to see a genial soul on the stool next to me, a soft smile on his face, and wearing a baseball cap with "Deluxe" written across the front. "I love it," I said, '"now that it's working again."
It was 11 o'clock on a Wednesday morning. We were sitting at the Genius Bar at the Northridge Apple Store, the hi tech equivalent of downing a few slugs of whiskey together at Harry's Bar. I was in the process of recovering from tech Armageddon. In the space of two days, my computer had frozen, my cell phone gone on the blink (thanks, AT&T) and my car had decided it needed new treads, and I had become, for all intents and purposes, non-functional (at what point did my life become so dependent on silicon chips, rubber and steel?)
Thanks to my extended warranty, the boys at the Genius Bar had installed a new hard drive and I was waiting like an expectant father for my data to reload from an external hard drive. "They even gave me Snow Leopard for free," I said. "Upgrade!," exulted Michael, beaming broadly as he offered me a quick fist bump.
"So what brings you here?" I asked. "Oh, it's my phone," he said, indicating a black iPhone4 he was gently juggling in his right hand. "It's not working properly." He pressed the "on" button and a picture appeared on the screen of a man in a hospital bed with numerous tubes coming out of his mouth and nose. "That's me," he said. "Last month I had three seizures in the space of a few days and died twice." He looked so bright and healthy, it was hard to imagine. "Jesus," I said. "What was that like?" "There was no time," he replied. "I thought I was gone for an instant but apparently I was out for seven days." "And how did it feel?" I persisted, fascinated. I'd never met someone who had come back from the dead before. "It was beautiful, man," he said with a dreamy look on his face. "I was walking down this winding path. My friends were there. And there was no time. It's changed the way I see the world, my priorities, you know? I have to think about what I do with my life from now on."
I told him about an experience I once had when a car I was driving got knocked off the road and crashed head-first into a small lake. "There was a point when I felt I was withdrawn from the whole thing," I said. "Time was suspended and I was just watching it all happen, peaceful, not feeling any pain at all. I didn't come back into my body until the the car finally came to rest and I was able to crawl out of the window, climb on the roof and jump back onto the shore. I was completely unharmed." I joked that the angels must have pulled me out for a few minutes so I didn't have to suffer.
The bustle and business of the store continued around us. Computers were getting fixed, accessories being purchased. Michael and I sat in our own bubble, discussing the mysteries of time and existence. I mentioned how I had spent a lot of my life practicing meditation and how it helped me appreciate a side of life that is beyond the rules and restrictions that normally dictate how we live. Something sweeter, more eternal and timeless. "It seems to me," I reflected, "the secret is to be able to have that experience while still managing to live a regular life." Michael nodded sagely, as if what I had said made sense with his recent experience. "We need to upgrade, man, we need to upgrade," he said.
At this time, my computer beeped to indicate that it had finished its cycle of restoration. My data was back. I could go on living again. I stood and shook hands with Michael. "It's been a real pleasure talking to you, " I said, and it had. As I packed my computer up and headed for the door, he shouted after me: "Don't forget to get an upgrade, man. Don't forget to get an upgrade."
PS. I never did figure out why Michael was there at that time. He told me that his appointment at the Genius Bar was at 12.30pm. By the time I left , after talking to him for maybe 40 minutes, it was still only 11.55am.
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