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Monday, August 30, 2010

He Decided to Make a Difference, Part II

A few excerpts from Jack Orchard’s Extra Hands: Grasping for a Meaningful Life (2007):
“I am on my deathbed now, and the same age as Pascal was when he died at age thirty-nine. Unlike him, I feel no conversion coming. No bright lights, no Biblical voices. Just the ordinary sights and sounds of St. Louis, Missouri, where I have chosen to live my last days. Yet, like Pascal, as I approach death I can now reflect on the memorial moments and lessons learned that have informed my way.”

“With a few exceptions, like the well-paying jobs I had helped create in Moscow, I had spent most of my life working to improve my own prosperity. I didn’t think this was intrinsically wrong, from a moral perspective, because I planned to address it later in life. My long-term plan had been to make enough money not to have to think about it anymore, and then apply the experience I had gained from building new companies, especially raising money for them, in some charitable context. When I thought I had another fifty years to fulfill that plan, I saw nothing wrong with my choices. But what if it was more like three to five?”

“I had never looked for [meaning in my own life] through spirituality. Even when the neurologist handed down my death sentence I felt no urge to withdraw into faith. But still I needed to know that my life, however short it might be, had meaning.”

“For me, the simplicity of the Extra Hands model held vast potential to reach across religions and dissolve dividing lines between people of different belief systems. In fact, that is what I found most compelling about it. I realized then that if I could use my gifts, those ALS would not strip from me, to build something that would enact this simple philosophy and draw in people of all beliefs, I would be able to die with the knowledge that my time had been purposeful....”

“In my condition now, still and silent, I ask myself what I believe every day. And each day I feel more certain that I have found no new revelations. Instead, I have grown every more convinced that, working together, we are capable of magnificent acts of courage and fortitude to improve our individual and collective lives. It’s called humanism, the belief that we need only to look to ourselves in the search for answers to questions big and small, empirical and theoretical, experiential and ontological.

“Yes, humanism—with its commitment to the use of reason and scientific method in fashioning solutions to human problems, its steady quest for objective truth, its pursuit of principles of ethical conduct without a divine inspiration, and its concern for the fulfillment and enrichment of the lives of the individuals and their communities—is the source of my strength, the foundation of my faith.”

Jack Orchard died on July 4, 2009, at the age of 41. His work lives on.


Dawn said...


P. J. Grath said...

The quotes I've chosen all have to do with how and why he determined to give meaning to his life. The whole story is engrossing in its detail--his life before ALS, his diagnosis, his engagement and marriage, the progression of the illness, the couple's decision to get a dog, their eventual divorce, etc. I devoured every page, hungry to see what would happen next.

Karen said...

This is helpful reading as I cope with the loss of a friend and wonder where she went, why we live, what is our purpose and so on. He said it well. Thanks for sharing this.

P. J. Grath said...

Oh, Karen, you are more than welcome! I'm so glad I could pass along something that was helpful at a difficult time.