Oct 102015
 

Note: The following will be published in the November-December issue of Neighbors of Batavia Magazine. I am thankful to Suzanne & Steve Heronemus for their friendship, kindness and wisdom.

Twenty years later, the paradox grows even more relevant. We long for stable, creative lives. What if that is impossible?

Many years ago, I worked with a large trade association. The president, who founded the association 25 years earlier, was nearing retirement. I requested an opportunity to chat about his thoughts on retirement, and the history and future of the organization.

Early in our time together, I asked what would most benefit the association going forward. “If we had a more predictable income stream—if we enjoyed more stability—we could plan so much better,” was his immediate reply. Later in our conversation, as he reflected on his tenure, I asked what he would miss most. Again, without hesitation, he exclaimed, “I’ll miss the early years. There were days we came into the office not knowing if there would be a future. It was a very exciting, creative time.”

It wasn’t long before I realized the paradox defined by the incongruence of his recollections and his dreams. He relished the chaotic nature of the early years…the moments that demanded creativity and innovation beyond what they thought possible. What he hoped for going forward was control and stability…a future barren of the creativity that uncertainty demands.

Nature is inherently creative. It continually crafts new ecosystems and species, and does it by remaining on that edge between order and chaos. To introduce planning, stability and control into natural ecosystems is to plant the seeds of their own destruction. On those occasions, for example, when we impose control by preventing chaos-inducing fires, forests build unhealthy levels of underbrush. When fire eventually comes—and it always does—it is intensely hot and destructive, often beyond that which the ecosystem can survive.

When I ask people to recall a time of deep learning and creativity, they are reminded of junctures imbued with confusion, turmoil and disarray. They recount the death of a loved one, the loss of a job or unexpected physical displacement. In those moments, of necessity, we must regain our footing, and redefine who we are in relation to life itself. Living on that edge, the insights we gain help us create new futures for ourselves and those around us.

I have spent time recently with a man who has become a friend and treasured teacher. Steve Heronemus was diagnosed more than ten years ago with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis—ALS. Today, he is wheelchair-bound, can no longer speak, and receives sustenance through a feeding tube. And yet, he wrote a book, Shells: Sustained by Grace within the Tempest, using his eyes and infrared sensors to choose letters on a computer. He is working on three more.

On September 5 of this year, using only two fingers and his teeth, he sailed on Lake Michigan solo on a specially equipped boat. He has sailed twice more since. His dream is to help create a fleet of boats that will make the joy of sailing accessible to others who have limited physical ability. Steve is fortunate to have Suzanne—who is one of the most resilient, resourceful and creative people I have ever met—as his wife. She just smiles and rolls her eyes when Steve reveals ever-more audacious dreams.

When you converse with Steve, using only his eyes, he forms words and sentences that exude wisdom. He refines the ore of his life, through the pain and heartache of ALS, into the lustrous gold of understanding, joy and love. Steve says ALS has been a huge gift, and that he has never been happier. The chaos of ALS has forced him to focus the remainder of his days on only that which has meaning. His smile…his joy…his generosity, bring tears to my eyes in this moment as I fumble for words to scratch at the depth of my affection and appreciation.

It is exhausting, and often terrifying, to live on the edge of chaos. Just ask Steve and Suzanne. Are the creativity, wisdom, inspiration worth the oft-paralyzing fear and arduous struggle? Steve Heronemus shouts, with his very life, “YES!” Who am I to say otherwise?

 

Note: I highly recommend Steve’s book, Shells. It is filled with wisdom. There are short, inspiring documentary films of Steve’s recent victory on Lake Michigan. Search YouTube.com for “The Hero in Heronemus.”

Dec 082012
 
Note: The following appeared in the January-February, 2013 issue of Neighbors of Batavia magazine.
 

I have read many books in my life, and always viewed the time spent dwelling in the pages as no more than a conversation between me and the author. I have been wondering recently, however, how those moments are made possible by far more than just two individuals. How much more remains a great mystery.

No author can arrange words into meaningful thoughts without the voices of teachers breathing their influence into the subtleties of the wisdom. The teachers in my life not only held up a candle to illuminate new ways to understand the world, but also held up a mirror to enable me to see something within to which I might have been blind; given me the gift of self-understanding. As I read, it is stunning to consider the thousands of voices speaking through every thought as an author sits at a keyboard or with pen in hand; the author, midwife to wisdom inspired by those who have come before and articulated through the author’s unique life and experiences.

And reader, it’s useful to remember that I comprehend the world through unique lenses life has given me. Those lenses, too, have been ground and tinted by thousands who have helped me birth the language of my life. I see through a grandmother who gave me unconditional love; a Math teacher who helped me learn about learning; a thirteen year-old on the suicide hotline desperate for words of comfort and reassurance; a wife who remains my most loving and helpful critic; teens at Operation Snowball who have helped me peer into my blindness; the homeless and disabled who teach me the limits of my ability to come to their aid. The list goes on and on. With each new experience, the language of my life becomes more complex and nuanced, and I understand others in new ways.

But the moment of meeting between me and an author is not limited to the thousands of voices that speak through them and those that shaped the language through which I listen. The book itself could not exist without hundreds who felled trees, turned them into pulp and paper, and those who carefully printed and bound the pages. There were those who critiqued, edited and refined the author’s ideas, and thousands who distributed the volume to warehouses, booksellers and eventually to the hands that cradle and read.

But it is short-sighted to suggest that this moment of meeting contains only the wisdom and efforts of humanity. What of the miracles of nature that preceded them? What of the fibers and ink used to reveal the words, thoughts and wisdom. The fibers emerged when raindrops from the heavens and a beam of light from a star collided with seeds buried in the Earth to create new life. If the inks are oil-based, the molecules you touch as you turn the pages could literally be from mammals that lived millions of years ago.

And finally, take a moment to look at your hand. Each molecule you see, and each one you touch on every page, were, billions of years ago, part of an ancient star that exploded, coalesced into the Earth and became the trees, inks and humans that made a moment of meeting between author and reader a reality.

William Blake once wrote, “To see a world in a grain of sand, and a heaven in a wildflower, hold infinity in the palm of your hand, and eternity in an hour.” What you might have thought, moments ago, to be simply a community magazine, you might now see as infinity in the palm of your hand.

As I am gifted with one more new year in my life, I hope to see more of the moments of 2013 as infinity in the palm of my hand. And to know that, as many ancient traditions suggest, if we listen carefully…and perceive deeply…each moment contains much, if not the entirety, of the Universe.