This morning, I was editing my first blog post, re-reading and agonizing over every word. Will people think it’s too much? Does anyone care about what I’m saying? Is this just another procrastination vehicle?
Then the phone rang. It was John.
Let me explain.
Back in June 2008, I was searching Amazon.com for a good summer book to read. Looking for suggested titles, I plugged in the words “sailing” and “medical”, because I find both topics fascinating. What Amazon offered was a book by John Otterbacher called Sailing Grace (http://www.sailing-grace.com). The book chronicles John’s determination to learn to sail in his 40s after learning his damaged heart will undoubtedly shorten his life. The book touched me for so many reasons: here’s a man faced with mortality, deciding not to lay down and stop living. A family man who’s not afraid to try something new and unnerving later in life. Someone dedicated to family and optimism. A human being demonstrating life’s most important messages — loving, living, and enjoying — with humility and self-deprecation. I loved his messages, and I admired his writing.
I recommended John’s book for a co-ed book group I belonged to: I figured there’d be something in the book for everyone. My friend Aleca Sullivan’s mother happened to notice the book at her house, and pointed out that the author was available for book group discussions. On a whim, I emailed John. And to my surprise, he emailed back.
On July 23, 2008, John phoned in during our book group. For over an hour, he shared a bit about his experience, but he also listened to us — really heard our comments, questions, background conversations. He commented on how obvious it was that our group shared a close and special bond (we’re all connected by our children attending the same elementary school), and that we were lucky to have one another. The evening became one mutual appreciation: for the author as well as for the audience. It was a magical night that many of us will not forget.
I’ve kept in touch with John these past few years. We visited him at Chicago’s Strictly Sail boat show, and I’ve emailed him occasional questions about his writing or boating life. He always called back to answer questions (or more often, apologizes for not getting back to me sooner, which is just ridiculous!). This is a man whose heart should have given out over a decade ago, yet he works tirelessly at speaking engagements and promoting his book. His voice is always kind and happy, and without hesitation, he always mentions how much he struggles to balance work with the family he loves dearly. He also never fails to ask how things are going on my end.
So back to today: My telephone rings, and it’s John Otterbacher. He’s driving to Chicago for this weekend’s Strictly Sail boat show, where he’ll be talking about his book as well as selling his new DVD. I’m so disappointed I won’t be there to see him, as I’ll be in New York. He asked all about how my writing process is going and really pumped me up about the message my book will send. Once again, I found myself choked up talking to him. He’s got that way about him. I told John my husband and kids would be at the boat show, and they’d be sure to stop by and see him. He wished me luck in New York, and reminded me to have some fun while I’m there. I think I’ll find a little token for him in NYC, something to let him know I remembered his advice.
If you have the chance, pick up John Otterbacher’s book, Sailing Grace, check out his DVD, and be inspired by his messages: http://www.sailing-grace.com. You can also see in in person at Chicago’s Strictly Sail Boat show this weekend (http://www.strictlysailchicago.com). John will be giving a talk called: What Sailing Taught Me About Living. He’ll be speaking Thursday @ 4:30, Friday @ 12:45, and Saturday at 10:30 and 3:30.