Bite club

How bad experiences—or just really strange ones—bring people together. Also, 7 other things worth your time.

This is a story about a club you don’t want to join. It’s an Australian association of people who have been bitten by sharks — along with “victims of dog maulings, alligator bites and even a hippo attack.”

For people unfortunate enough to qualify for membership, of course, it’s a source of solace to be able to share their experience with others who understand.

"My life is shark attacks," said Dave Pearson, who started the group, which now has close to 400 members. “You know if there's a shark attack somewhere in the world, I'll hear about it."

Pearson nearly died a decade ago, after a shark attacked him while he was surfing. When he was still in the hospital, he met another shark bite survivor, Lisa Monday, who had been bitten a few days earlier.

Shark attacks are relatively rare — seven deaths in Australia last year for example, against however many million people swam and surfed in the ocean. Finding someone else who had been through it made it easier to deal with the aftermath of his attack, Pearson said.

"Everybody was there to wish me the best, but until I spoke with Lisa it was like, they didn't really understand what my head was going through," he told AFP.

I happened to read about Bite Club (it’s really called that) at the same time I learned about Dr. Bruce Greyson, who teaches at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, and who has spent decades studying near-death experiences.

Greyson says he’s gathered the stories of hundreds of people who nearly lost their lives, and who describe things like:

  • encounters with friends and relatives who had already died,

  • the experience of having their “life flash before their eyes,” and

  • perhaps most eerily, being able to observe what was going on around them even while unconscious or undergoing surgery.

He says he’s not religious, but he’s convinced that “the evidence overwhelmingly points to the physical body not being all that we are. There seems to be something that is able to continue after the body dies. I don’t know what to make of it.”

Among the wildest examples he cites in an upcoming book is the story of a truck driver who had emergency bypass surgery—under anesthesia, with his eyes taped shut, and of course, his chest split open.

Afterward the truck driver asked about the doctor who kept flapping his arms like a bird. This made no sense until Greyson actually tracked down the surgeon who performed the operation.

Well yes, the surgeon explained; he was known for an unusual practice. After “scrubbing in” for surgery, he always made a point of keeping his hands close to his chest, and would gesture or point for things he needed with his elbows. He looked like a bird.

You’d think these experiences would be rare, but Greyson estimates that 1 in 20 people have had one. (Let’s test that: If anyone reading this has had one and wants to share the story, I’d love to hear it, either via email or in the comments).

The difference, Greyson says, is that in years past, if someone had this kind of experience, they thought they were the only ones. Now, people talk about them, form Internet groups, etc. Basically, they find out they’re not alone.

I think both these stories — shark bites and near-death experiences — are profound enough without me trying to wrap a neat bow around the whole thing.

But it’s a great and unifying thing when you have a dangerous, or scary, or other-worldly experience, and you wind up connecting deeply as a result with people you never otherwise would have met.

I’m not looking to get bit by a shark or come near to death, but I do think I’ll be more on the lookout for other unusual ways to connect. It’s one of the most important things we need right now.

7 other things worth your time

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