No celebration would be complete without a word from the guest of honor. Here is an excerpt from a speech, the 25th annual John Young Lecture–The Conquest of the Ordinary: Sermonettes from a Second Life–given by Barry Corbet at Craig Hospital on June 1, 2001.
Picture this. It’s five in the morning. Your attendant hasn’t shown up. You call your backup, and then another, and somebody very grumpy finally arrives. With help, you get out of bed, get fed, get dressed for work. Then the lift on your van breaks down. You arrange alternative transport and get to work only two hours late.
Then your damn legbag explodes.
Let’s talk about this terrible thing that has happened to us; this affliction, this unmitigated tragedy.
How could life be so fickle that just when it shows us its glory, it’s plucked from us? Just when you’re going to grab the brass ring, you fall off the merry-go-round. The status quo is gone. Paradise is lost. Help me out here, I’m trying to milk this. I tell you, it’s a tearjerker.
Maybe the status quo is overrated. And maybe paradise isn’t something you lose, but something you learn how to recognize in ordinary life. And certainly paradise isn’t something permanent. If it doesn’t change, it isn’t life and it isn’t paradise. Why is a sunset so incredible? It’s because it’s so ephemeral. You know it’s already a goner.
Phil Simmons talks a lot about paradise. Phil has ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, and you’re all aware of the prognosis. He knows his life is uncertain. But he says having his mortality and vulnerability–what he calls his imperfection–having that held up to him day after day isn’t all bad. He says it gives him a different perspective on paradise.
“The imperfect,” he says, “IS our paradise.” Not the perfect; the imperfect.
I like this idea. Don’t we get tired of cold perfection? It’s boring. How long can we listen to our favorite music or eat our favorite food without jonesing for something else?
Phil describes the beauty of a New Hampshire spring after a long New England winter–and how just as spring spreads its warmth, just as perfection is around the next bend, the bugs arrive. In biting swarms, in swarming misery.
“Only during bug season,” he says, “does your ski