Philip Simmons is associate professor of English at Lake Forest College in Illinois where he taught literature and creative writing for nine years before being disabled. In 1993, at age 35, he was diagnosed with ALS, commonly called Lou Gehrig's disease, a fatal degenerative neuromuscular condition. In this inspiring collection of twelve essays, Simmons finds meaning all around him and bravely illustrates the art of "rescuing joy from heartbreak." The author resolutely refuses to dwell on his illness, choosing instead to emphasize "the blessings shaken out of an imperfect life like fruit from a blighted tree." Many of these pieces were written from a small cabin in the woods of New Hampshire.
Simmons is a masterful storyteller with a knack for delivering aha! moments. For instance, in one chapter he ponders the preponderance of unfinished houses in his neighborhood. People try to finish them but something always seems to distract them and take them away from the project. Simmons points out that the same thing often happens with our lives. Nothing ever turns out to be exactly what we expected.
The challenge is to stay with the unfinished and the flawed. Or as Simmons puts it: "We cannot summon the future, we cannot remake the past. The present moment is the unfinished house in which we dwell." Throughout this absorbing work, the author returns again and again to the spiritual practice of paying attention to what is right in front of us, of patiently stepping aside from busyness in order to savor the inconsequential, of devoting ourselves fully to the tasks at hand. Whether writing of New England's mud season, the mysteries of a dump, the blessings of silence, or the joys of integrating science and mysticism, Simmons enlarges our capacity for delight in the pleasures of an imperfect life.
In one essay, the author salutes Jesus for plunging into his suffering instead of trying to evade it. Whereas our culture views falling as failure and defeat, Simmons reframes it as a spiritual art, a deepening into life that opens us to the grace that is always nearby.