Second of two parts. Read part one here.
For much of his life, James Chauncey said, he tried not to talk about his near-death experience as a 7-year-old boy.
Now, at age 73, he has changed course and written a book about his vision of paradise called "Eyewitness to Heaven: A Glimpse Into the Obscure" (Tate Publishing).
About 15 years ago, facing an uncertain future with cancer, he agreed to write down his childhood experience for his adult daughters, Chauncey explained in a recent telephone interview.
"I wrote about 20 pages," he recalled. "My daughters wanted to know some of the reasons I am the way I am."
Later, he said, he locked his writing away in a box, angry with what he thought were admonishments from God to share his story with more people.
"I spent a lot of time in prayer and in agony, asking myself 'Why am I doing this [book]?" he said of his ultimate decision to go public.
Chauncey said at points in his life he had grown weary of people thinking his experience is fabricated.
"I start telling someone face to face, and I can watch their eyes glaze over," he said.
Chauncey, a retired construction-industry expert living in Fayetteville, Ga., believes he was given the option of returning to his earthly body after "dying" of bacterial meningitis at Children's Hospital at Erlanger here in 1946. He says he was escorted to heaven by two angels and given the option of returning to life on Earth to intervene in a coming confrontation between his mother and father.
Chauncey said he was given a vision of the future -- if he remained in heaven -- which included this scene at his family's home on Walden's Ridge:
"I looked toward my house to see a sheriff's patrol car and an unmarked car parked near the front steps of our house. Dad was being led down the steps by two deputy sheriffs."
An angel in heaven told him that his mother had died and his father was being blamed, Chauncey wrote in his book. Chauncey believes he was sent back to Earth to intervene and to prevent his parents from having the fateful fight.
After being pronounced dead, he was found miraculously alive at the hospital hours later, according to his book. The story was covered by Chattanooga newspapers, and he was dubbed "The Miracle Boy."
As his boyhood unfolded, Chauncey said, his mother and father began to fight one day at Sunday dinner. His mother threw a salt shaker at his father, and things quickly escalated. His mother grabbed a gun, his father an ax, and Chauncey said he rushed between them at the behest of an angel who had arrived on the scene.
Having fulfilled his mission, Chauncey believes the remainder of his life has been spent quietly working, raising a family and marking time until he returns to heaven.
As a boy, he faced ridicule at school from teachers and students who didn't believe his account of his journey to paradise, he said.
Chauncey said he accepted Christ at a tent revival before his bout of meningitis. In his younger adult years, he was not always a churchgoer, though, he said.
Because his religious beliefs are essentially built on eyewitness evidence of an afterlife, he has not taken the traditional path to faith, he said.
"I have no fear of death," he says flatly. "There's something over there a lot better, and I'd like to get [back] there."
Mark Kennedy is the editor of the Times Free Press opinion pages and writes the Sunday “Life Stories” column. He also writes a Saturday automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for Best Community Lifestyles four times during his tenure. Before Chattanooga’s newspapers ...