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Inner Peace: Spiritual strength carries friend through illness

Quite a few of us Ashlanders are getting on in years, experiencing the pathos and pain, along with joy and even wisdom of these “autumn” years.

We let things go. Things fall away and are left behind, like small pieces of luggage that flew from the car’s roof rack — not possessions, however, but keen senses, skills we are no longer able to exercise, people we can no longer greet and hold, even unrealized ambitions.

If we are fortunate, if we have achieved a degree of inner peace, we accept these erosions. Yet we can recognize that the abilities and the people we have lost served their vital purposes, and be grateful that they fashioned who we are. They are still present to memory and in our attitude toward the world. The people who loved us, or whom we admired, are in us and of us still.

Walt Whitman’s poem “There Was a Child Went Forth” catalogs the experiences and people of a child’s world, noting that they “became part of that child who went forth every day, and who now goes, and will always go forth every day.”

One who will always be part of me is the friend who telephoned me the day after I retired and suggested we write a novel together. It was a three-year project culminating in publication, and sales of about 1,000 copies. The experience formed me, became a part of me. “I’m a writer,” I dare to tell people.

Tom was an Olympian, a member of the Harvard crew that represented the USA at the 1964 Tokyo Games. I met him shortly after that. He was a corporate attorney with a beautiful family and successful career. At 6-feet-6, with the handsome features of Christopher Reeve (Superman in the movies), he was an imposing figure.

A dozen years later he began experiencing symptoms of a debilitating ailment. When holidays gave me a break from teaching I would visit him in his office in a San Francisco skyscraper. He would ask me to help him put on his coat, and this world-class athlete walked to lunch a rather awkwardly.

“I’m feeling stronger,” he might say, and he told me of his ambition to challenge his Harvard teammates to a rowing race on his 70th birthday.

Our visits would inevitably end with him saying, ”Give me a hug,” when he was unable to reach out to me. By the time we wrote our novel he had to type using only one hand, which he heaved onto the keyboard with a movement of his shoulder.

His physical strength and grace gradually left him, until today he is no longer able to walk or use his arms. He retains his cheerful presence and his agile mind, however, and continues to practice law from his home office, using a voice-activated computer. He maintains active friendships and has many admirers. He has delayed the progress of his malady through meditation, study, nutrition and sheer perseverance.

In all the contacts I’ve had with Tom during the last 40-some years — every one — I’ve been inspired by his marvelous spiritual energy, the range of his intellect, and his determined and peaceful soldiering on. When I visit Tom I feel myself larger, more significant. He opens for me the gates to beautiful gardens of the mind and makes me feel at home in them. He fires my ambition and teaches me patience. Though he must have his hours of discouragement, I have seen no evidence of them. I know no one who accepts himself, and who lives as fully, as Tom does. He is a spiritual giant and a model of inner peace.

Jack Seybold is a writer and teacher active in local theater since retiring to Ashland thirteen years ago. He has appeared in more than two dozen productions, mostly at Camelot Theater. He also volunteers at the Shakespeare Festival and at the Hospice Unique Boutique.

Send 600 to 700 word articles on all aspects of inner peace to Sally McKirgan innerpeaceforyou@live.com