“Listen – are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?” asked Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet Mary Oliver. Life to those who want to savour it means more than just breathing. They don’t even have to wait for the proverbial 40s for their lives to begin. Life for them means feeling every fibre of their being with every breath, every heartbeat.
Looking back, Xlibris Author John Stephens was happily going with the tide until he had to ask when his life truly began. He realized in hindsight that he lived life to the fullest during significant milestones, including that time when he met an extraordinary woman. These moments he chronicled through poems, short stories, and plays that have accumulated throughout the years. The result was a literary compilation titled Without Doubt published through Xlibris in 2012.
The Xlibris Blog features John’s retrospection that led to his work.
Looking at life
When does life truly begin? At forty? I think life begins when you suddenly realise you are alive. Much can happen over the years since one is born, but so often we take things for granted and drift along happily enough. And then comes a moment of truth when we ask ourselves for the umpteenth time, “what’s it all about” – and get an answer.
For myself, the realisation came quite late in life. I was born in Hereford, England, in 1926. Soon afterwards the whole nation was called out on a general strike but I deny all blame for that. I went to school, as one does, until at the age of thirteen, we went to war against Germany. Somehow the desire for book learning went out the window and I just stumbled through classes until I could be a big boy and go to war.
At seventeen I got my wish and joined the Royal Air Force as an aircrew wireless operator. Surviving, I stayed in the RAF and then along came the Korean War, at which point I retrained and was commissioned as a pilot. I retired from the military aged forty three. Life was good but I was still happily stumbling along.
As a late developer I married at the age of forty. Flora was a German national, later becoming British, and we had two children together. Sadly, after nine happy years she died of cancer. The children were six and seven.
Leaving the RAF saw big changes in the way of living as I straight away entered college for teacher training. This was another world altogether but a very enjoyable one. Teaching is a very satisfying profession, but I was still cheerfully stumbling along.
Two years after Flora’s death I married Audrey, and life began to have a new meaning. She had been a senior missionary nurse in Kenya for twelve years. Until now I had been a nominal Christian, believing vaguely in scriptural things but was not interested enough to do anything about it.
Audrey was to change all that. We went to conferences all over England and Wales, including Billy Graham at Aston Villa Football Ground. The thought of thousands of Christians shouting “Hallelujah” all over the place I thought would be daunting, but I loved it. We visited churches that were prim and proper and churches where you danced and cheered. In due course I became a real Christian, and life began.
We had plans for a retired life, but after twenty four years of marriage Audrey also died of cancer. I retired at the age of sixty five and found I had become an author. I had not planned it, but over the years I had written poems for Audrey’s birthday, our anniversary, Christmas, Easter and any other notable time. Also, I had written school plays, short stories and numerous pieces for use in school situations. Multiply that little lot by the number of years and they mount up.
Audrey had said, you ought to get some of those published but I said no, I’m just a village school teacher. Anyway she took some to a publisher who said, have you got any more? The result was nine small books.
After Audrey’s death I wondered if another publisher would be interested, saw an advert from Xlibris and sent them some copy. They are involved in publishing six books up to now, and I have been bitten by the writing bug.
So when did my life truly begin? When a godly woman led me to the things that really matter in life. I still stumble because I am human, and that’s what humans do, but I do so knowing where I am going, in this world and the next. I can say to the Almighty, thank you; I woke up this morning. I am alive.
The Xlibris Blog thanks author John Stephens for sharing his thoughts on living and writing. Carpe diem!