Several years ago I received an email from Randy Smit. I had no idea who this Randy Smit was. He asked if I had any time to come by and talk about poetry and help him learn to write poems. I thought this would be a one time visit. I arrived and realized that while I’d never met Randy, I’d passed him many times while walking our dog down the paths of Sanctuary Woods. Randy was the guy in the wheelchair sitting beside a caregiver watching the creek pass. “I recognize you,” I said immediately. “Yeah, it’s likely the funky glasses,” he replied. How many times has he offered that gentle quip, putting at ease all of us taken off guard by meeting one who can only speak, move a finger to operate the chair, let his head fall back in a welcoming laugh? That first meeting evolved into several years of hanging out talking poetry, theology, philosophy, and what we have learned from one another. Sympathy from me has transformed itself into friendship, abiding respect, and a way into worlds I had no idea existed. “When I’m sad,” I said one day, “I can go outside and work in the garden, walk the dog, take a bike ride, get out of my head. You can’t leave the world of the mind.” “I’m glad you understand that, Jack. But also know that I can go into worlds most would never feel at home in.” Randy and I have not moved beyond the worlds of the disabled and the “abled.” We have merged, made our own way in our own world, a profoundly real world. We are grateful.
I know that you will have a valuable experience with what Randy writes here.
Greetings my friends. My name is Randy Smit. I am a writer and I have Spinal Muscular Atrophy. It is a progressive disease that causes spinal scoliosis and muscle degeneration. I am 46 years old and have been learning how to relate to myself and to the world for as long as I can remember. What follows is a glimpse of where I’m at and what I try to do to live into the fullness of life as best I can with a little help from my friends. If it takes you anywhere, please let me know and I’ll try to meet you there (electronically) so we can chat. Enjoy!
FLIGHT AND FLOW
It can take so little to open things up. The difference between soaring and sitting stuck is so slight. But if I let go of the branch, if I reach for the notebook and jot down those few words, that scrap of phrase, if I can just start writing, I can be found, in an instant, in flight. Generally I’m too afraid to risk the adventure, to face the possibility that my words and voicing may not change my reality. In fact, they may even make things worse should they shed light on what I’d rather deny or overcome (but can’t.) For most of us, pretending is what gets us through. Maybe writing is about choosing how to pretend, when and how, and for what purpose.
Why do I write? So I can stand up and walk across the room to quietly and confidently embrace that beautiful man in the mirror. I like to see his wheelchair empty. Poetry is a way through my challenges, a pathway into the deep forest of love, beauty, goodness and every other mysterious thing that is impossible to talk about. Whenever I awake as a poet I am found somewhere, often a place I didn’t expect. Jack Ridl is correct “Art is a place.” As we became friends two years ago, he gave me these words and I thought “Yes, let’s do that… let’s go places.”
Wanting to travel, then, I start to see the importance of intentional imagining. It’s difficult to explain. But, if you have ever thought of the world or outer space or the human race, you also have unknowingly leaned heavily into the creative work of your imagination. Built into our very fabric is an elaborate capacity for integration and story making. Some fixed setting for the story of my life is always humming, by grace, behind the scenes. For me, to write is to turn within toward that beautiful “imager, creator” and to let it take me somewhere. I give myself to myself in writing; though severely disabled physically, I get up and walk again and again. I explore a vast inner world. I tend to my horses and campfires, I tenderly bathe my wife, I get up first and bring her coffee.
I have a tribe inside and out and we never create alone. We are many and we are one. I write for me and my friends, all the people I love (and long to meet.) Yes, I start with myself, I think we all do. But then I am dying to show another artist friend, someone I trust, someone also who chooses to dream out loud, who trusts life and trains all of their voices.
I do poetry as an effort to respond to what is happening around me. But more so, I allow it to be a regimen that places me in rich dialogue with myself, my many responders to experiences both bland and blazing, encounters with euphoria or dysphoria, moments of serendipity or catastrophe and everything in between. My many voices sound a lot like me and they sound so much like the friends I’ve known and walk with still. So inside there is only me of course, but also my grandfather and my brothers and my seminary professors and my old bus driver and — oh yes of course! my rock stars, writers and poets, my inimitable muses.
When I spend time with friends like Jack Ridl, I can remember who I am. Close friends who are co-creators offer us a companionship unlike any other. They know how daunting the open page can be, they know also the unspeakable bliss, the flight of soul that is possible and how often it takes so little to open things up. For me, this kind of tribal awareness probably began with telling jokes at school and the playful one-upsmanship of third-grade boys sparring to see which one could make the other spew Pepsi out their nose. Since that time I’ve been given some great friends, many of whom are creative and whose disciplined sight helps support my own efforts at perceiving. When I am able to notice synchronicity threading together otherwise random circumstances, when a door is opened, even just a crack, and renewing light enters, when I know there is a new story that must be told, a stalwart memory to be given shape, I know that friends who get it will be there with me throughout the entire process. If we know our beloved are waiting to hear from us, how on earth could we ever keep silent?