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Philip Simmons's wisdom

A documentary follows contributing editor Philip Simmons through his final months.
By Tom Stites
Winter 2005 11.1.05

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Philip Simmons

UU World contributing editor Philip Simmons, 1957-2002. (Beitel/Lazar Productions)

In 1998 a personal essay titled “Learning to Fall” appeared in these pages and attracted a large and glowing collection of letters to the editor. The author, Philip Simmons, was grappling with the meaning of ALS, the degenerative disease that later claimed his life, but his message was of hope. The magazine published eight of his inspiring essays, all of which began their lives as lay sermons in UU congregations; the last, called “The Imperfect Life,” appeared only months before his death in 2002. All eight essays and four more were collected into a book called Learning to Fall, which is still in print, and which attracted much attention from newspapers--and cameras. Now there is a feature documentary about him called The Man Who Learned to Fall.

It is an affecting series of conversations and visits with Simmons and his wife, the sculptor Katherine Field, in their New Hampshire home and other settings. The viewer is welcomed into the private and challenging world of a person whose nervous system is failing--and Simmons, usually with a grin and a twinkle, makes offhand observations about his life that often have the same depth as his essays. He was an inspiring man, and in his book and now in the video his inspiration lives on.

Read some of Philip Simmons's UU World essays.

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