The first big magazine feature we ever wrote was about near-death experiences (NDEs). We have vivid memories of taking a prop plane from Washington D.C. to Charlottesville, Virginia, in order to interview a pair of psychologists who specialize in studying the effects of NDEs. What struck us most about their research was how the whole “walking down the long tunnel of light” experience changed folks’ priorities once they healed up. True, there was a tiny subset of NDE survivors who fell into deep depressions, having concluded that death is too terrifying to contemplate. But the vast majority became more caring, more giving people—they truly developed a newfound appreciation for the gift of life.
Our fascination with the way NDEs influence behavior continues to this day. And so when we learned of Jaswant Basuta‘s seldom-told story yesterday, we instantly knew we’d have to post about it. Basuta is commonly referred to as the 271st victim of the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing; he was ticketed for the flight, but missed boarding by a matter of minutes (though his luggage made it on the doomed plane). What’s particularly memorable about Basuta’s brush with death is that his life was essentially saved by his own minor sinfulness:
Some relatives from nearby Southall had come to see him off at the terminal and they decided to take Jaswant for a drink in the bar upstairs.
Jaswant was by no means a heavy drinker but on the odd occasion when there was cause for celebration, he was partial to a Carlsberg Special Brew.
And what with all his relatives here, today certainly was a special occasion. No doubt about it. One drink led to another. And another. And slowly Jaswant wasn’t in such a rush anymore.
“When his glass is empty, make sure you pour him another,” his brother-in-law said to the barman. The barman duly obliged.
Finally, he insisted he really must be going and it was only as he tore himself away that he realised the time was rapidly approaching flight time: six o’clock.
“Pan Am 103, New York, Gate Closing,” was flashing on the departure screen.
Please go read the whole thing. Basuta is a private man, so apparently didn’t share many details of how the experience changed him—save for the fact that it made him a more religious, more humble person. But we’re dying to know more—particularly the specifics of how he’s acted upon his stated impulse to dedicate his life to others. What has been the impact on his relationship with his wife, who believed for several hours that Basuta was among the Lockerbie victims? And how does he process the fact that his own intemperance is what ultimately saved him from death?
In the future, perhaps medical science will develop a treatment that simulates the effects of NDEs, and thus transforms thousands or millions of people into humble do-gooders overnight. Though, granted, it could be hard to find human guinea pigs willing the chance the bright, white tunnel.