So, I’m in a book club with some people from work (yeah, yeah… I work for an organization of English teachers, what did you expect?) and our book this month (my pic) as called Crashing Through: A True Story of Risk, Adventure, and the Man Who Dared to See by Robert Kurson. It’s about Michael May, a man who had been blind since the age of 3 and had his vision restored in his mid 40’s. The book is wonderful, well-written and clearly very well researched.
May lead *such* an amazing life. Before ‘getting’ vision, Mike was in the CIA, an Olympic skier, entrepreneur and was thisclose to inventing the CD (actually, he invented a system for a laser to read a traditional vinyl record… close, but no cigar). More so than anything else, Mike was an adventurer, explorer and risk-taker. He could have happily settled for a life as an electrical engineer or taken a bank job after he got his international studies degree, but he didn’t. He was always looking for ways of “crashing through” to find the next big discovery or adventure.
The foundation of Mike’s life was set by his mother, a woman who allowed her blind son to build a 150 ft ham radio tower, even though it could injure him. A woman who refused to let her son go to a school for the blind and who encouraged him to go out into the world and take risks, even if it meant he failed or got hurt. Mike based his life on the following principles:
1) Have adventures
2) Speak to your curiosity
3) Be willing to fall down or get lost
4) There’s always a way
The final one was most important, at least in relationship to his vision. When he first lost his eyesight, he was told he would never see. But he found a way… and—after he’d ‘found’ site, he was told that he’d never be able to recognize faces or objects and that vision would always be cumbersome for him… but he found a way. And, when his body rejected the transplant, he found a way to reverse it… through science, medicine and sheer will of spirit.
I found the book fascinating for it’s description of everyday items and the love story between mike and his wife. But what struck me the most is how it has made me reflect upon my own life. When I read stories about people overcoming obstacles despite limitations (physical, mental, financial or otherwise), I always think; “would I be that strong? I haven’t done *half* the things these people have and I’m not handicapped/blind/whatever.”
And that’s how this book made me feel. Here’s this blind guy who is offered sight for the first time in 40 years and he’s not sure if he wants it b/c his life is already full. He’s been to Ghana, worked for the CIA, skied in the Olympics, had an upstart business. All kinds of things that I’ve never even CONSIDERED doing, let alone with a physical limitation.
So, what is it that separates me from the Mike May’s of the world?
I think it comes down to passion and fear.
I just haven’t found my passion yet. When I was younger, I read all of these books about jet-setting women who owned mansions in Hollywood and homes in the south of France. I always wanted to be one of those women and couldn’t fathom having a ‘normal’ existence. I thought I was special, different. The kind of person for whom a 9-5 job just didn’t make sense. The world was open to me… I could do anything and be anyone I wanted to be. I just had to figure out how.
The problem is the answer never ‘revealed’ itself to me the way it does in stories. I really admire the people who’ve had a ‘calling’ to do what they love. The kind of people who—since they were 5—just *knew* they had to be, say, a ballet dancer, or an architect or a singer.
I’ve never had that kind of passion, yet I still see myself as the kind of person who is capable of doing great things. I want to be a special person. I want to be remarkable and not ordinary. Not so much for the notoriety or ‘fame,’ but because I’ve *always* felt I was special… ALWAYS. And I still dream of living and working in another country (or at least do extensive international traveling). I know there’s more out there for me than what I have now. So what’s stopping me?
I think that’s where fear comes in.
Mike May always learned by ‘crashing through’—ignoring the fear and taking risks even if it hurt. Yeah, he crashed and burned a few times, but he believed that there was always going to be a way, so he made it through to the end.
Consider this passage, which describes Mike and his wife Jennifer’s parenting philosophy:
Think about that… not only was May unafraid to take risks in his own life, but he encourages his children to do the same.
I think our fear often gets in the way. By being to careful and safe, we deny ourselves experiences we might otherwise have had. I know I do. If I ask myself what I *really* want to do… what would make me happy in life, it’s traveling, writing, and helping people. So, why am I not some jet-setting international travel critic? Because I’m afraid I’ll fail. I ask myself what I’m going to do with my house, my job, my dog… fear of the unknown and fear of failure can hold us back from achieving all that we can.
I think the fear of being alone can also be paralyzing. In describing Mays first date with his future wife, Kurson writes:
“Her appetite for new experience—and her willingness to find it alone—called to him. His focus on her, as if the world had narrowed to a point across the table from him, made her feal heard in ways she hadn’t known.”
Apart from being ridiculously romantic, this passage reminds me of what I feel I’m sometimes missing. Not only the appetite for new experience, but the willingness (and fearlessness) to find it alone. I think all too often we think we must have someone along for the ride when we try new things and that we can’t do things on our own. I’m just starting to feel more comfortable with doing things on my own, but I think of all the things I tell myself I would have done if I had just had someone to do it with and it makes me wonder how much I’ve missed out on.
And . . . finally
My very favorite passage from the book (which didn’t conveniently fit into my passion and fear theme, but is still relevant)
In describing the friendship between May and one of his blind friends, Kurson writes:
“…they were kindred thinkers. They shared a perspective on how the blind seemed groomed by the custodial establishment to lower their expectations, to become objects instead of actors, nouns instead of verbs.”
Isn’t that an interesting way to think of things? We describe ourselves in terms of nouns: friend, worker, wife, mother, whatever…when in reality, it is what we do that is ultimately more important than the labels we place upon ourselves.
Anyway, I wholeheartedly recommend this book. It’s by far the best book I’ve read in the past 2 or 3 years. It’s well-written, interesting, provocative and made me laugh AND cry. Even the medical details are fascinating and you know how queasy I am!
I also recommend Kurson’s earlier book Shadow Divers: The True Adventure of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of World War II, which is about a bunch of divers who find a German U-boat. Yeah, I know…. It doesn’t sound very interesting, and I wasn’t excited about it either, but I loved it. It was almost like watching an action/adventure movie. I think this guy could write the story of *my* life and make it sound compelling!
Thanks for reading… this ended up being more ‘window into my soul’ than ‘book review,’ but that gives you an idea of how thought-provoking this book is. It really made me stop and think.
So… have you read any good books lately???
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