Philip Simmons To Read at PSC

April 13th, 2001 by Adam

Betsy Cheney
(603) 535-2643
April 12, 2001

Facing death, Simmons chronicles
a remarkable personal journey

A reading by Philip Simmons of Sandwich will conclude the 2001 Plymouth State College Eagle Pond Authors’ Series Monday, April 23, at 7 p.m.

Eight years ago Phil Simmons was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease and told that he would probably be dead in two years. Six foot two, fiercely independent, a man who had traversed the Alaskan wilderness, Simmons was confronted with an illness with no cure, a disease that degenerates nerve cells that control the muscles, paralyzing the body while leaving the mind intact. “Dying wasn’t part of my career plan,” says Simmons, who was told that this crippling disease would quickly leave him a shell of a human being, a mind imprisoned inside an immobile body. “I realized it was time to get something of a new career.”

Simmons, who has outlived the doctor’s prognosis but now is confined to a wheelchair, managed to build his dream house, earn tenure, write and publish several books, start a nonprofit arts organization, become a Unitarian lay-preacher, and be invited to speak to students and faculty at the Harvard Medical School.

In his latest book, Learning to Fall: The Blessings of an Imperfect Life, Simmons takes his fatal illness as a beginning, not an ending. “Simmons has a reporter’s eye and command of detail, with a fiction writer’s eloquence and a philosopher’s depth,” says Richard Read, winner of the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for explanatory reporting. “In interviews, which are always lively and perceptive, he encourages readers, viewers and listeners to see themselves anew.”

The collection of 12 essays is less about self-improvement than celebrating the everyday. “Life is not a problem to be solved,” Simmons says in his book, “but a mystery in which we must learn to participate.” “We can do that,” he writes, “only by letting go of solutions. The letting go is the first lesson of falling, and the hardest.”

Tickets for the Eagle Pond Authors’ Series are free, but seating is limited. Please contact the Box Office at 535-ARTS for reservations. A reception and book signing will follow the reading.The series is named in honor of Donald Hall, who lives at Eagle Pond Farm in Wilmot, a family homestead which has inspired much of his writing.