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Ross Chappell "Lupus Doesn't Stop Me!"
Posted by Michael St John on Jan 11, 2013 - 7:43:55 AM
AMERICA!—It is so easy to feel sorry for ourselves when dealing with personal loss or physical mishaps which seem to delay our life objectives and dreams. However, when one meets a gifted thinker and writer such as Ross Chappell, you suddenly face a kind of different self reality. He doesn’t allow Lupus to daunt his dreams or the way he wants to live and enjoy his life.
MSJ: Ross, even though you might be limited to what you might produce as a creator or writer, nothing seems to affect your determination to be or do what you obviously were born to do. Is the reason for this based on where you grew up or the type of family influence you’ve had?
RC: Well, I’m the child of two librarians, so I suppose I never had a chance to escape the love of books and words, the expression of ideas, and the investigation of everything around me, a kind of innate curiosity that leads to opening the world to further observation and, hopefully, illumination. Beyond that, my family certainly had a major influence on the way I view life. Though my father died when I was quite young, his humble nature and consistent commitment to helping others whenever the opportunity presented itself left a lasting impression. When I was seven, I sat quietly in the back seat of my dad’s red Buick coupe next to what seemed to me one of the worst-smelling German shepherds on the planet. It was the service dog of one of my dad’s friends, a man who was blind, had few friends with a car, and couldn’t afford a cab. He needed a ride to the bus station, and when we arrived to pick him up, I watched as my dad, without a moment’s hesitation, led the gentle (but so smelly) dog into the backseat next to me. My dad paid no heed to the considerable mess that the dog tracked in with him. When we had dropped them off at the station and returned home, I remember thinking, “That’s love,” both in admiration for my father and notation for future reference. “That’s love.” What I would come to understand much later in life is that giving to others is as much a blessing to the giver as to the receiver. His quiet commitment to the service of others was a trait he shared with my grandmother, who I am happy to say, lived to the age of ninety-six. She shared so many stories with me… of marrying my grandfather the night he left to fight in
Nicaragua, of running the length of the train platform to leap into his arms when he returned, of sitting in the chapel in
Annapolis after he died in the line of duty while she was pregnant with my father. She was an amazing woman. A book on her life’s story has been slowly brewing in the back of my mind for some fifteen years now. If my body allows me to get through my current (FIVE! YIKES!) writing projects, perhaps that will be next. Both my dad and grandmother had a major impact on me and have left me with an abiding determination to take life as it comes, continue moving forward, and do whatever I can to help along the way. I suppose that is the primary reason my writing has moved from fiction, plays, and poetry to my current non-fiction and children’s book projects. I slowly let go the notion of deciding what to write and now simply write what comes, guiding my attention to share whatever I am given. That is, in fact, a motto that has grown in me in recent years, “The big picture is not our job. Our job is to say ‘Thank you,’ and share what we’re given.” And what a beautiful gift that is in return.
MSJ: As a youngster, how did you envision the world? Was it based on films?
RC: I recognized fairly early in life a trait I have since come to call my writer’s brain. It’s that part of myself that observes without judgment, simply taking note of all that transpires around me. It’s part of how I experience the world and life itself. Though only one facet of my personality and perspective, it is a potent one and it helps me engage others where they are, without judgment, listening with an open heart. As for what I saw when I looked out, it was a rather mad-cap mixture of reality and fantasy. I was lucky in that my parents encouraged my creative side. And, yes, I loved going to the movies, an experience of magic if ever there were one.
MSJ: What writers influenced you during your academic developing years? And how?
RC: That list goes on for pages, but J.R.R. Tolkien and my father must be the most influential. Tolkein was a favorite of both my mom and dad, and he engendered a love of expressive language and grand imagination as well as interesting perspectives on the creative process, the journeys of life, and life as a journey (Tree and Leaf, et al). Some of my father’s poems rank among the best I have ever read. Truly. Speaking to a quiet and warm observation of the world around us, they are simple, moving, beautiful. He specialized in haiku, and much of my own poetry evokes his, though it generally pales in comparison. I actually have one of his haiku tattooed on my shoulder.
MSJ: When it was determined that you had Lupus, how did it affect how you looked at yourself, people around you or even the world? Were you angry?
RC: Like most people who have to navigate the medical journey of an auto-immune disorder diagnosis, which is frequently a long and circuitous route, I had a variety of reactions as I moved through the process. The start-and-stop nature of it and the lack of definitive answers and treatment options can muddle the responses quite a bit. Initially diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis thirteen years ago, I was twenty-six at the time, and the pain and lack of function were life-altering, to say the least. At the onset, I was more overwhelmed than angry. (It was only two years ago that my diagnosis was corrected to Lupus, and that actually brought a bit of peace as I finally had an explanation for all my unexplained symptoms.) However, it also brought an even deeper empathy for my mother who had struggled with RA for many years. Degenerative diseases slowly change everything about how you interact with the world, and it is not just that you have to learn anew how to function; you must learn and re-learn as the disease progresses, always adapting to new limitations. You must re-learn how to be you. As the disease progresses, it can also be incredibly isolating, though the digital world has lessened the impact of being mostly homebound. Some people respond well to treatment; others don’t. Either way, there are a range of challenges. I have found it important to move past any feeling that I am broken. I do what I can and am grateful for every day. Gratitude is a beautiful experience. It allows us to continue to contribute what we can, appreciate life while we have it, and receive some measure of grace from the people in our lives.
MSJ: Did you discover something new about yourself as a human being? If so, what?
RC: The answer to that is a book in and of itself. Suffice it to say I certainly learned that I have more in me than I realized and share more with my parents and grandparents by way of their strength and grace than I could ever have hoped for. I learned to meditate in college, and while I began many years ago meditating occasionally for pain management and to replace sleep (when pain made sleep impossible), I began sitting in silent meditation and prayer twice daily some two and a half years ago, and it has helped bring me to a new understanding of myself and the world around me. It has helped me to understand past mistakes and selfishness. It has gently guided me in a direction that, I hope, allows me to give more and take less.
MSJ: Our country, the world is undergoing tremendous change, in a cultural sense; do you believe this will make for better understanding people and countries, different from our own?
RC: I hope so. With so much suffering in the world, most of which can be traced in one way or another to greed and fear, an honest attempt at mutual understanding and acceptance will go a long way toward helping us solve the problems we face. When I see someone giving of themselves with no thought of recognition or return, I am reminded of our capacity to help heal each other, ourselves, our world.
MSJ: Ross, when you’re alone and look in a mirror, what do you see and how does it make you feel?
RC: A grinning idiot. That particular label may be partly a joke (I have not yet mentioned that I laugh… a LOT), but there is also a sincerity to it. Whenever I catch my gaze in the mirror, a small grin slowly spreads as I remember that it is just life. If we take it too seriously, we will drown in our own self-importance. I prefer to see it all through the lens of gratitude. To paraphrase Einstein (or more accurately, to rudely pilfer his pockets and run madly down the alleyway): There are two ways to live life. One is as though nothing is a gift; the other is as though everything is a gift. Like Einstein, I have chosen to believe the latter.
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