I've been writing for and about good people since 1997. No two experiences are alike, and I often find myself in situations where I believe I'm there for a reason. My most recent book, No Cure for Curiosity, is an example of why I view what I do as my calling.
Reading time: 5 minutes
In January 2016, I gave a presentation at Charter House in Rochester to many of their residents. I encouraged them to write their life stories and provided tips to help them get started. Joe Sharp was among the attendees, and after I finished he asked if I would consider helping him. After a few meetings to discuss his book, I agreed, and we began in earnest.
About halfway through our project, in January 2017, rather than take an indoor skyway route for his walk, Joe (age 87) chose to go outside. He didn’t realize that the street was covered with glare ice. He slipped, fell backward on his head, and severed his spinal cord from the C5 through the C7 cervical level. With that fall, his whole life changed. His arms and legs were instantly paralyzed. He spent three months at Camp Courage in Saint Paul where they buoyed his spirits and prepared him as best they could for living the rest of his life wheel-chair bound.
Joe and I resumed our work when he returned to Charter House. Understandably, he alternated between acceptance of his condition and depression because of it. He would say that his participation in Toastmasters and his working on the book were the only two things he looked forward to in his life.
Joe and I completed his book in February, and since then he has become quite depressed. He's seeking professional help, and we're talking about another book we could work on together, but I'm worried about him. He has few friends in Rochester, his only child lives in Seattle, his ex-wife is in Florida, and his only sibling is in Connecticut.
My request is a simple one. Could you take a minute to send a card or note to him? A simple "thinking of you" or "congratulations on completing your memoir" would brighten his day. His mailing address is:
Charter House – Supportive Care – Room 468
Rochester, MN 55901
I’ve provided the introduction to Joe’s book below. Also, it’s available on Amazon here: LINK
I’ve long wanted to make an interesting record of the high points of my life, but my idea of an autobiography was a four-hundred-page book that took several years to write. This certainly was discouraging. Furthermore, I remembered Winston Churchill’s critique, “This report, by its very length, defends itself against the risk of being read.” The whole idea made little sense to me. But then I came across the book Write Nonfiction Now! Guide to Writing a Book in 30 Days by Nina Amir. Thirty days was a brand-new story!
I quickly listed the thirty high points of my life. Then, I decided to dictate a Toastmasters-type story for each one of them, one a day, and by the end of a month I would be done. This would include the ideas and inspirations that have guided me, my successes and failures, and the people who brought happiness and sadness to me.
After dictating a few stories, I asked memoirist Michael Ransom to help me with my book. His thorough edits, though, meant that time was required to transfer our changes back and forth and rewrite some passages. That plus my occasional writer’s block lengthened the time spent on the book from a month to about four months. After half the stories were finished, my life took a bad turn.
In January 2017 I fell on the ice, severed vertebrae in my neck, and became paralyzed. I put my memoir on hold for several months during my rehabilitation and then resumed work on it with Mike. Sometime following my fall, I came across this wonderful quote by Søren Kierkegaard: “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” Reviewing my life’s highs and lows, I could see how wise his comment was. Immediately after a disappointment, things might look grim, but the long-term consequences are often surprising and may even turn out to be quite rewarding.
For example, after I received my bachelor’s degree in physics from Berkeley, I was refused admission to the graduate physics department. I was devastated by this and thought my professional life was over. I then had the good fortune to receive the help of Bill Hewlett of Hewlett-Packard. He taught me to understand that I didn’t really think like a physicist, who sees the universe through the general laws of physics and thermodynamics. I thought more like an engineer, who felt like he wanted to change things and make them better.
The physics program started me thinking in terms of statistical signal processing. This led me to develop the skill for improving images that would apply when I worked at General Electric. The GE developers had built a new machine that made fast scans but produced blurry images that were not medically useful.
After a year of hard work, I was able to show them how to produce clear, accurate images that were so medically useful that the machine and derivatives of it are now being used all over the world. I’m pretty sure that this major achievement in my life came about because of my being denied entrance to the physics department, so my disappointment at the time was later followed by a remarkable positive benefit.
Writing my memoir has helped me study my life from this long-term point of view. I was inspired by author Anne Lamott, who said, “You're going to feel like hell if you wake up someday and you never wrote the stuff that is tugging on the sleeves of your heart: your stories, memories, visions and songs—your truth, your version of things—in your own voice. That's really all you have to offer us, and that's also why you were born.”
So here it is—a peek at things that have rewarded me. It is a special pleasure to share my “why I was born” story with you.
Joe Sharp - February 11, 2018