above: The Niblock family: McCrory, Andrew, Townsend and Eliza in Maine
The following are excerpts from Andrew’s new book, The Art of Marrying Well, a collection of poetry, love letters to family and friends and his school community, parenting wisdom, and perspective on how to live a meaningful life even when things don’t go as planned.
THE FOUNDATION OF THE ART OF MARRYING WELL
This book is about perspective. I am a father, a husband, a brother, a son, a friend, a teacher, a student, an athlete, a musician, a reader, a writer. In July 2016, I was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis—ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease. This has added another lens to my perspective. It has also allowed me the opportunity to slow down and appreciate each of the lenses I already have. When you are forced to move more carefully and mindfully through the world, you notice things differently. I certainly have.
Perspective is also about mindset. I have been blessed through upbringing and natural wiring to be hopeful. I am also optimistic, but the two are not the same thing. A lousy night’s sleep or a disappointing outcome can throw off your optimism, but nothing can shake hope. Hope is deeply rooted in your soul, and it can drive you forward. University of Pennsylvania professor Angela Duckworth has written on the importance of grit in a successful life. I would argue that it is your perspective, your lens on life, your mindset, that determines your grit. A purposeful life, and a hopeful mindset, position you to handle life’s curveballs.
BEHIND THE TITLE
I’ll take any chance I can get to express my love for my wife, Eliza, and a title seemed like a good one. Over two decades ago, I asked the love of my life and my best friend to spend the rest of her life with me. Finding someone who makes you happy and finishes your sentences more eloquently than you ever could is the moon shot. She makes every day better.
WORDS OF WISDOM
The Serenity Prayer is a prayer written by the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. It is commonly quoted as: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” I find inspiration and challenge in the Serenity Prayer. I try to work toward it, but I am rarely successful. I realized long ago that I didn’t stand a chance to find the serenity, the wisdom, and the courage unless I gave myself some time.
For much of my life, daily physical exercise, often running, was my chance to take control for a bit. I can still close my eyes and feel my favorite runs, the ground under my feet, the smell of the trees, my breathing, a sunrise over campus. I miss it. My recent years have been impacted by a daily battle with ALS. There have been many adjustments and frustrations, but one of the most difficult is the loss of my ability to lace up my sneakers and go for a run. I needed a new release—a new avenue toward serenity, courage, and wisdom. I write. I love writing. I love words and turns of phrase. I believe what we say, and how we say it matters. I often don’t know what I think about something until I write about it. I don’t know whether I am more serene, wise or courageous after I write, but I know I need it like I needed my morning run. `daily exercise. It makes me happy, clears the noise and gives me focus. It makes me a better me. What makes you a better you? I hope this book gets you thinking about that question, and many others.
THE POWER OF POETRY
I am thoughtful about my words. I write exclusively on my tablet using my eyes. This is a process— slower, more deliberate, but effective. I hesitate to say it has made me a better writer, but it has certainly made me a different one. In the absence of the facility to unleash an avalanche of prose in service of every idea, I have gained an increased appreciation of the power of each word, short sentences and the structure of paragraphs. I have a brand-new love of the tempo and form of verse. I previously found poetry to be a bit of a copout. Poetry left too much to the reader. Poetry ran the risk of not getting the point across, not telling the whole story. I was wrong … As a lifelong reader, writer and storyteller, it took ALS, eye-gaze technology, and the encouragement of a few friends for me to find a new voice.
Finding His Voice
A poem by Andrew Niblock
LOSING A DAY
Here’s what it takes for me to lose a day:
BE WEAKER THAN I AM STRONG
BE GRUMPY RATHER THAN HOPEFUL
MEET OBSTACLES WITH FRUSTRATION RATHER THAN GRACE
STEER MORE ANGER THAN WONDER TOWARD MY FAITH
SHUT THE DOOR RATHER THAN ASK MY QUESTIONS
BE PETTY RATHER THAN KIND
GIVE UP RATHER THAN FACE CHALLENGES CREATIVELY
SWALLOW MY GRATITUDE.
THAT IS WHAT A LOST DAY LOOKS LIKE FOR ME.
IF ANY OF THOSE STATEMENTS ARE NOT TRUE, THE DAY IS NOT LOST.
IT MIGHT NOT BE A BANNER DAY, OR AN EASY DAY, BUT IT IS NOT LOST.