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