Now I find myself in late August, with the nights cool and the crickets thick in the fields. Already the first blighted leaves glow scarlet on the red maples. It’s a season of fullness and sweet longings made sweeter now by the fact that I can’t be sure I’ll see this time of the year again....
— from Learning to Fall
Philip Simmons was just thirty-five years old in 1993 when he learned that he had ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, and was told he had less than five years to live. As a young husband and father, and at the start of a promising literary career, he suddenly had to learn the art of dying. Nine years later, he has succeeded, against the odds, in learning the art of living.
Now, in this surprisingly joyous and spirit-renewing book, he chronicles his search for peace and his deepening relationship with the mystery of everyday life.
Set amid the rugged New Hampshire mountains he once climbed, and filled with the bustle of family life against the quiet progression of illness, Learning to Fall illuminates the journey we all must take — “the work of learning to live richly in the face of loss.”
From our first faltering steps, Simmons says, we may fall into disappointment or grief, fall into or out of love, fall from youth or health. And though we have little choice as to the timing or means of our descent, we may, as he affirms, “fall with grace, to grace.”
With humor, hard-earned wisdom and a keen eye for life’s lessons — whether drawn from great poetry or visits to the town dump — Simmons shares his discovery that even at times of great sorrow we may find profound freedom. And by sharing the wonder of his daily life, he offers us the gift of connecting more deeply and joyously with our own.
About the Author
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. His literary scholarship has been published widely and his short fiction has appeared in Playboy, TriQuarterly, Ploughshares, and the Massachusetts Review, among other magazines. He lives in New Hampshire with his wife and two children.
Praise for Learning to Fall: The Blessings of an Imperfect Life…
“Sometimes there is no difference between a book and a blessing. In Philip Simmons has blessed us all.”
— Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D., author of Kitchen Table Wisdom and My Grandfather’s Blessings
“Pure poetry, tinged with irony and humor, in the voice of a present-day Thoreau whose Walden is his family, the landscape of New Hampshire, and a young body fading away. A deeply moving rhapsody on inhabiting the human condition.”
— Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of Full Catastrophe Living and Wherever You Go, There You Are
“Philip Simmons writes with clarity and a passion for honesty, laced with wit. An extraordinary book.”
— Elaine Pagels, Princeton University, author of The Gnostic Gospels
“Generous and genuine, like water from a deep well, halfway between a meditation and a dance, this book is an act of grace.”
— Jack Kornfield, author of A Path With Heart and After the Ecstasy, the Laundry
“Learning to Fall is for anyone who loves life — or needs to love it more.... A wonderful achievement.”
— Balfour Mount, M.D., Professor of Palliative Medicine, McGill University
“Not only has Philip Simmons figured out the meaning of life for himself; with prodigious literary grace he has figured out how to tell us too. Required reading for Basic Humanity 101.”
— Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, author of Invisible Lines of Connection