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Learning to Fall: The Blessings of an Imperfect Life Paperback – April 29, 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
Living fully in the face of a debilitating fatal illness is the challenge Simmons, then an associate professor of English at Lake Forest College in Illinois, faced when he was told in 1993 he had ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) and had less than five years to live. As his illness progressed, a wheelchair-bound Simmons moved with his wife and two children to southern New Hampshire, near the rugged mountains he once had climbed. Writing in his cabin in view of an old dump, Simmons describes the wonders of nature remembered and still visible from his abode. He tells of his search for life's meaning in a variety of religious and secular texts, among them the story of Jesus, the philosophy of Zen, Sufi and Buddhist masters, medieval Christian mystics, Emerson's essays and the poetry of Yeats. In a wry disclaimer, Simmons notes that learning to live richly in the face of loss is a highly individual undertaking, and adds, "I'm not in the business of issuing directives, offering tips, imposing lists of spiritual dos and don'ts, or providing neat, comforting formulas." Indeed, his little book of thoughtful essays offers no easy solutions to dealing with suffering and sorrow, but it does chronicle how the experience of living at the edge can become an extraordinary connection to the eternal. Agent, Bob Markel. (Jan. 9)Forecast: Few books on loss and death manage to break out to a mass audience, but Bantam's promised publicity and advertising campaign may help this well-written chronicle of a spiritual journey make a strong showing in the marketplace. Xlibris published it last year to much acclaim.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
Stricken with Lou Gehrig's disease (ALS) at age 35, Simmons left his position as a professor of English to return to his native New Hampshire. The author of numerous articles and one previous book, he has crafted essays out of his reflections, understanding, and observations of everyday rural life. Interwoven throughout is Simmons's theme of letting go as a necessary means of embracing life. With a knack for blending the esoteric and the mundane, Simmons presents his own insight into the well-known messages of Western and Eastern spiritual masters, such as Rumi, the Dalai Lama, Thomas Merton, Thich Nhat Hahn, and Meister Eckhart. As a family man with a degenerative disease, he writes with a marvelous understanding of acceptance, always knowing that tomorrow you still have to do the laundry. Eschewing the saccharine found in other works of this kind, these engaging essays are recommended for public libraries. Andy Wickens, King Cty. P.L., WA
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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I think that some of us will relate to his point of view but others won't. You might relate to some of the essays, but not others. Analogies about building houses? Not my thing. I didn't finish some of the essays as it just didn't hold my interest, but that's ok. For various reasons, I didn't really resonate with his point of view, however, I could appreciate it to a degree. I felt compassion for how he dove in and found a way to keep ""Getting Up In The Morning" (my favorite essay). I think all of us with chronic illness or who find ourselves questioning life for whatever reason, have to found our own version of why to keep getting up in the morning. I have great respect for Philip for finding his, and sharing it with the world. I have MS, which is a very different illness with a different set of challenges - but there were some things in this book that I could think about. It struck me as a very academic approach to spirituality. It sounds to me like he rose to the challenge of ALS and did his absolute best to be there for his family, which touches me.
Phillip Simmons, a college English professor, was in his mid 30's when he was diagnosed with Lou Gherig's disease. As his disease progressed, he left his teaching job and retreated to a rural New Hampshire vacation home with his wife and two children. Fortunately for us, he completed this book in 2002, the same year he sucummbed to his illness.
Simmons uses falling as an extended metaphor for what happens throughout life--not only at the end. As he writes in the forward: " ... we deal most fruitfully with loss by accepting the fact that we will someday lose everything. When we learn to fall, we learn that only by letting go our grip on all that we ordinarly find most precious--our achievements, our plans, our loved ones, our very selves--can we find, ultimately, the most profound freedom."
Devoid of self-pity, Simmons draws from a rich mix of wisdom (the stoic Marcus Aurelius, the Christian tradition, the Sufi poet, Rumi, and many others) to help illuminate his journey of living and dying. Despite his lamentation that most of us find life to be "not what we had in mind," Simmons finds depth and meaning in his descent. Amazingly, what makes his account so remarkable is that he seems willing to take it--even embrace it--rather than kicking up dust with a posture of heroic resistance.
Whether we consciously consider our utlimate fate or consign it to a sealed and hidden container to be examined "later," we all know that we are on a river that flows downward to the sea. What is reassuring about Simmon's account is that we can bow to and find meaning in this great, mystical journey.