September 26, 2018

The Blessings of a Brush With Death

Editor’s note: On Nov. 17, the Journal ran a story about the Nov. 3 car accident that almost claimed the life of beloved local teacher and performer Marcus J Freed. Now, 6 1/2 months later, the British-born actor, educator and author tells his story.

I was less than 60 minutes from death. Lights were flashing. Monitors were bleeping. Medics were doing everything they could to save my life.

Last November, my walk to a Shabbat dinner did not go as planned. While crossing Olympic Boulevard, I was hit by a white Lexus and thrown onto its hood. I fell to the ground and the next thing I knew, I was getting up with blood on the side of my face.

“I thought you were dead, for sure,” an onlooker said.

Four of us gathered on the pavement: me, the driver and two witnesses. I was in shock and asked to be taken to my friend Metuka’s house. The Lexus driver was a blond 20-something named Jonathan. Of course, I should have asked for his contact details but I was suffering a major brain hemorrhage — the kind that kills you if you don’t get to a hospital within two hours — and I wasn’t thinking straight. I gave him my business card and asked him to follow up, but I never heard from him again.

Artist sketch of the hit-and-run driver and a white Lexus similar to the car from the accident.

Within 30 minutes I was unconscious.

“Marcus, you are in Cedars-Sinai hospital,” a female voice said. I looked up and several faces surrounded me. “We have to cut off your shirt.”

This concerned me. “It’s a floral print shirt from a shop in London called Marks & Spencer’s,” I explained. “Would you mind carefully taking it off, please?”

“We can’t do that. You are wearing a neck brace. We are not allowed to move you.”

“OK.” I was disappointed because it was a lovely shirt, but they had a good point.

“Marcus, your brain is bleeding and we are preparing you for brain surgery.”

“Really? When can you get me in?” Maybe they had a spare appointment in the next few days?

“Right now,” she shot back. “Or you might die.”

“Oh,” I replied. “Thank you for everything you are doing. I’m going to close my eyes for a bit. Hope it goes well. See you on the other side.” Never let it be said that the English stop being polite under pressure.

“I focused on handing my soul over to God. ‘B’Yado Afkid Ruchi’ (Into your hands I entrust my spirit) is the final line of ‘Adon Olam.’ That was the only thing that was in my control. The choice was fear or faith, and I chose faith.” — Marcus J Freed

My mind immediately turned to my spiritual training. This was a potential moment of death and I was ready. The most important thing to do was to elevate my thoughts. If I got upset, scared or tried to hang onto life, there was a danger that my soul could get stuck between worlds as a wandering spirit or ghost. I focused on the one thing I could control: trusting God.

I saw two squares of light, one white and one gold. This was a near-death experience. I felt the white light represented my coming back to Earth and reawakening in the “Marcus body”; the gold light was my gateway to the next plane of consciousness. I had a brief flash that my parents would suffer some trauma if I passed on, but they would recover. I focused on handing my soul over to God. “B’Yado Afkid Ruchi”  (Into your hands I entrust my spirit) is the final line of “Adon Olam.” That was the only thing that was in my control. The choice was fear or faith, and I chose faith.

What happened next was extraordinary. My parents immediately flew to Los Angeles. I was besieged with visitors in the intensive care unit. Four days later, my brain hemorrhaged again and I underwent a second surgery. My friend Audrey Jacobs pulled together a miraculous crowdfunding campaign. The reach was astonishing. It felt like I had died, visited my memorial service, seen who had attended and heard what they had said. My heart cracked open with love.

Six months later, the brain injury has healed but my physical recovery is slow. I use a wheelchair for longer walks on Shabbat. Because the Lexus driver never followed up and the Los Angeles Police Department closed the case, I hired a forensic artist and had composite sketches done. I filmed the witnesses and made an online campaign video. Some English celebrities in Los Angeles, including James Corden, retweeted the video.

Was this event a tragedy or a blessing?

The rabbis teach us that everything is ultimately a blessing, even if that blessing is not instantly revealed. I believe it. This life-changing event has revealed tremendous love from family and friends, and deepened my love for so many people.

Being forced to slow down has made me focus on repairing the areas of my life where I was underperforming. This recovery period has given me time for internal work, to see where I can improve as a human being.

One hundred percent recovery is possible; to get back to where I was before and surpass it with new improvements. It’s like an upgrade.d

I am slowly getting back my work as an actor and business coach. My accident was a God-given gift that has made me focus on why I am here on the planet.

“Man’s days are numbered,” Job said, and I am more aware of that than ever. For years, I suppressed the more controversial stories that I wanted to bring to stage or film, for fear that I would upset people or face rejection, but coming so close to death has reminded me that I only need fear God.

When it comes to speaking deeper truths to motivate my business coaching clients, I have found few things more life-affirming than coming back from near death after a double brain bleed.

My current theory is to “never waste a good accident,” see the good in and appreciate all of these blessings. There won’t be any yogic handstands or surfing or break dancing for a good while yet, and no big parties because public gatherings are still too loud and overstimulating. There will be no driving after dark because lights are still too bright. But there are so many things I can do, and I focus on those instead.

Getting hit by a car was one of the best things that ever happened to me.


Marcus J Freed is an actor and business coach. You can see his “manhunt” video at marcusalive.com.