Mayfield: Looking for inspiration in gloomy times |

Mayfield: Looking for inspiration in gloomy times

Rich Mayfield

We don’t need one more breathless commentator to remind us that these are difficult times. FDR’s first inaugural’s proclamation that fear is the only thing we should be fearful of is needed now more than ever.

I’m as tempted as any other to enter into a state of semi-despair these days. One strategy I’ve found helpful in the battle against the forces of darkness is to remember those who faced even greater challenges and triumphed.

Long-time Summit County locals will easily recall John Novotny, whose adult life was cut short from the effects of radiation therapy as a young child. John was a psychotherapist with special gifts. His innate assets were enhanced, I believe, by his blindness, another grim result of that radiation therapy. Many of us turned to John in times of crisis and were similarly awed by his ability to listen deeply to our issues and wisely point toward healing directions.

Stories of John abound, and I have two favorites worth remembering nowadays. The first involved a moonlight ski trip we shared many years ago, back when you could cross-country ski across Summit County without being threatened with sign-posted warnings or chased away by security guards. There were about a dozen of us, and we were following a track illuminated clearly by the bright and beautiful full moon. All too quickly, however, a storm front moved in from the west and the sky turned dark. Although we were in no great danger, John called out that he would lead us back to our cars. And he did. Totally blind and absolutely confident he could find our way back through the darkness.

I once asked John if he would help me preach a sermon. The Bible passage we were using was of Jesus healing a blind man, and I thought it would be helpful to have someone with a little first-hand knowledge to illuminate the congregation. John spoke of the need for trust, as in when you’re hitchhiking around the county ” as he was wont to do ” and someone stops to give you a lift. Unless the voice of the driver is recognizable as a friend, you climb into that car entirely vulnerable. John trusted in the innate goodness of humankind in a manner few of us could emulate.

Christopher Nolan died last Friday in Dublin. Christy was both quadriplegic and mute since birth, and although I never had the privilege of meeting him, he fell into the same category of personal hero for me as my friend, John. Nolan’s only means of communication was via a stick strapped to his forehead that allowed him, with his mother holding his chin, to tap out words on a computer one slow letter at a time. It was enough for him to produce a critically praised book of poems at age 15 and a best-selling autobiography, “Under The Eye Of The Clock,” by the time he was 22. I so remember the profound experience I had reading the book for the first time. Trying to imagine the deep resolution it took to communicate with a world that had treated him so unfairly, I couldn’t help but rearrange my own, too often petty, priorities. No matter your political persuasion, if you would truly like to encounter the embodiment of an audacity of hope, this is the book to read. Now.

We all get unsolicited “inspirational” e-mails from friends and strangers alike. Most head into my discard file before they’re ever opened. But one from a cousin, a pilot with Northwest Airlines, came this week with photos. It showed pictures of Jessica Cox, 22 years old and born without arms, going about the everyday matters of her life with grace and apparent good humor. One photo is especially striking. It shows Jessica in the cockpit of a small aircraft. Jessica is the first person in aviation history to receive her private pilot’s license successfully operating the plane with her feet.

We may indeed be living in treacherous times. Perhaps even the litany of bad news we’re exposed to each day may even be justified. But I for one will rail against the fear-filled night by remembering and honoring those who rose far above mere economic problems, shining the light of courage to lead us on.

Rich Mayfield is the author of “Reconstructing Christianity: Notes from the New Reformation.” E-mail comments about this column to

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