Resurrection, renewal and rebirth

Although I no longer attend church, some lessons from my childhood faith still resonate for me. Of these, Easter is among the most important.

Believing that someone could come back from the dead is a matter of faith. But believing in the human potential for renewal and rebirth? For me, that’s a matter of fact.

Today, I thought about James Arruda Henry, who—at age 98—has published his first book.

Photo credit: Jessica Hill, Associated Press

Self-publishing a book is an achievement for anyone. But what’s remarkable about Henry is that he didn’t learn how to read or write until he was well into his 90s. According to the Bangor Daily News,

Throughout his life, he yearned to read and write but never found the time or opportunity. His nephew, he said, made Henry write him a letter, which took him a month. He found inspiration in a book about the grandson of a slave who became literate at 98. …

“I said if he can do it, I can do it,” Henry said. “That’s when I started to learn.”

Moved by Henry’s story, I bought his book from The opening chapter recounts his cousin Hank’s drowning:

I tried to swing the boat around so that Hank would be hanging over the deck, but while I was doing that, he dropped into the water. He started swimming toward us … I grabbed the stern line and threw it to him, but he missed the line by an inch or two. The wind and the tide pulled him further away from us. …

I asked Marion if he could see Hank. Hank went down in his yellow oilers and sou’wester, that familiar yellow fisherman’s hat. … “I see the sou’wester over there,” he said. I saw it too, took the wheel and got the boat alongside the sou’wester. The water was so clear I could see Hank but he was way down deep and getting smaller every second. I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold my breath just to get to him, never mind coming up. He was so deep, he looked like the size of a kid. We couldn’t save him. Marion and I just stood there and watched him disappear. …

We headed back, and as we started home the fog shut in. Marion and I didn’t say a single word. …

This has been the hardest story to tell because of all the tears behind it. I haven’t gotten over it yet.

In his wonderfully earnest voice, Henry tells a dozen other stories as well: tales of growing up with an alcoholic father, of boxing for food money, learning to fly a plane, getting a bone graft, getting his driver’s license … all told with the simplicity and honesty that might elude a more “experienced” writer.

But perhaps my favorite part of Henry’s book comes at the end, in the form of a hand-written letter. In an effort to get him to write, Henry’s nephew Bobby stopped taking his phone calls. The handwriting bears witness to the effort that went into producing it, but the writing is clear and to the point:

On the day when millions are celebrating Jesus’ resurrection, I am grateful for Henry’s reminder that each of us has the potential for renewal within ourselves, the potential to pursue and fulfill our dreams.

Happy Easter.

Like this post? You might also enjoy The wolf you feed.


  1. What an inspirational post! I love your blog & posts…because you make me THINK. You make me THINK of all the possibilities that life has to offer, you make me THINK that what I do does matter, not only to someone else, but rather to me. What I do can and does make a difference in life, my life. I thank you so much for making me THINK, as it means the world to me. ~Val~

    • Thank you SO MUCH for your kind words, Val! I am honored to have contributed to your day in some small way. And as someone who has been touched by your generosity many (many!) times, I can sincerely say that what you do really *does* make a difference — probably for more people than you realize. Here’s wishing you and the family a very happy Easter. xo

    • You’re so right, Marcia: Simple and honest win out every time. So good to hear from you! Are you ready to go back to Paris with me? 🙂

    • How wonderful to wake up to your kind comment, Mark — and how ironic, too: You have no idea what an inspiration you and Melody have been to me. You’ve shown me that is *is* possible to reinvent one’s life … to overcome the voices of doubt, take the scary leap, and land on one’s feet. Who knows? Maybe one of these days I, too, will have the privilege of riding my bike through a pack of wild Bulgarian dogs. 🙂

    • *Of course* there is still time, Xpat! Every day we draw breath, we have an opportunity to create something new — either through our writing and photography, or within ourselves. And please remind me of these words the next time I’m whining to you about feeling empty and uninspired, will ya? Cheers!

    • Right back at ya, dear friend. Speaking of renewal: Got time for Eloise Butler before I leave town? I have a feeling the lady slippers will be up soon. 🙂 xo

  2. Ah, from my home state of Maine! Wonderful post. It brings up all kinds of warm & inspiring thoughts, including how important it is to focus on real, tangible miracles on Earth on days like this.

    Also for anyone involved in writing it’s a nice reminder that it’s never too late to “write your book”, whatever that might mean for each of us, and that honesty is always one of the most powerful tools a writer (or any artist) has. This post was also a pleasant reminder of your Wolf You Feed post which I love. I’m certainly guilty of preparing a few too many buffets for my bad wolf 😉

    • “I’m certainly guilty of preparing a few too many buffets for my bad wolf.” Ha!

      You are so right to observe that honesty is one of the most powerful — and simple — tools any artist has. Paradoxically, it’s also one of the hardest to employ. I’ve often meditated about why it’s so difficult to be absolutely genuine and transparent, both as a person and as a writer. But that’s a post for another day.

      In the meantime, I’m happy to provide some encouragement, however humble, for you to write your book. I’ll be the first in line to buy it. 🙂

    • My big thanks go to Henry for being such an inspiration, Brad — though I owe YOU thanks for reading my humble post! Hope to catch up with you soon … I’ll be heading your way in a couple of weeks. Look for a message on FB!

  3. Nice post, fantastic story. It fits things I’ve been thinking about for a while now – that the whole arc of God’s story is towards renewal and resurrection. Hope you had a good Easter!

    • I”m so glad Mr. Henry’s story resonated for you, too, Matthew. I highly recommend his book … you’ll feel like you’re sitting at a breakfast counter chatting with an old friend. Hope your Easter was wonderful, too!

  4. Finally had the chance to read this wonderful story. What an inspiration, and what a brave and humble man. This is just the kind of inspiration I am trying to make the most of this year, so it’s good to be reminded to think positive, be brave, and make the most of the time given to us. Thank you! 🙂

    • You *are* positive and brave, DB, and you are absolutely making the most of every day. But it’s good to be reminded sometimes that we all face different challenges — and that they can be overcome.

    • Very happy to pass it on … glad it touched you. And thanks for reading! It’s always nice to hear from you!

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