In 1993, Illinois English professor Philip E. Simmons (1958-2002) was diagnosed with the degenerative and ultimately fatal Lou Gehrig's disease (ALS) at age 35.
"The muscles waste away but the mind remains intact. It's been said that people with this illness have a front row seat at their own demise," Simmons said.
About facing the fatal disease, Simmons said, "Life, after all, is a terminal condition... each indivdual soul is, as the poet William Butler Yeats says, 'fastened to a dying animal.'"
Searching for peace and understanding, the wheelchair-bound Simmons wrote Learning to Fall (2002), a celebration of the blessings of an imperfect life.
"In falling we somehow gain what means most," he explained. "In falling we are given back our lives as we lose them."
Living richly in the face of loss, Simmons examined life's meaning, in the poetry of Wallace Stevens, from the story of Jesus, and in the philosophy of Zen, Sufi, and Buddhist masters.
He celebrated life's mysteries, often with humor. "Hunting for truth about ourselves, we often resemble Elmer Fudd hunting that 'wascally wabbit.'"
In turning his death to a gift for his readers, Simmons explained that letting go and living in the present are necessary to embracing life. "If eternity includes all time, then we are living in eternity now...We enter the eternal life beneath the surface of this passing one."
Accept and celebrate life!