Arthur Stapler, known as "Rebel," was a vibrant, intense man who never took no for an answer. Rebel died Saturday, May 14, 2005 at age 47, of Multiple Sclerosis. But it isn't his death I want to talk about, it was his life, and the gift he gave everyone he knew, especially those of us here on Dropzone.com. He gave the gift of dreams, of challenges, of inspiration.
His death hurts. I received a call on Friday from his father, relaying Arthur's request that he be remembered to all of us here at DZ.com when he had passed. We were such a large part of his life; we were such a large part of his dream. I thought and cried and thought some more about how to best remember him...and when I received the news this morning of his passing, I cried some more. I grieve not simply for me, and not simply for his family. I grieve for the loss of him in this world, of a man who, despite his setbacks, despite his illness, made a difference to many, many people. In his living, he showed us how to live for real, at 100%, no holds barred. He showed us how to trust at the most deep level; he showed us how to dream and dream big, and then make it happen. He showed us what life is about; freedom, joy, peace, happiness.
For him, wheelchair bound and in assisted living facilities, it was a really really big dream. He wanted to skydive. He told me once that until he had come to Dropzone.com, he hadn't realized he could skydive; he had only been searching for a skydiving photo he could print out and gaze at. He had already skied, biked, and any number of other things. And then he realized he wanted to skydive. What he really wanted - what he craved, he said - was to see the world from above, to know the thrum of a jumpship, to slide out into forever, to hear the sudden noisy silence of freefall, and to dance towards the earth under a canopy.
He jumped twice, despite the fact that multiple sclerosis had robbed him of mobility, of independence, of movement. Jumped into the sky, tasted the freedom, danced in the sun, and stole our hearts with his brightness of spirit. Somehow, CNN got wind of his story and interviewed him, and he was so proud of what he had accomplished, and what he could show others. He was able to communicate, through his dream of skydiving, and in his doing it, that whatever you dream, you can get. Whatever disability is yours, it only holds you back if you allow it. And if you're going to dream, you might as well dream on the largest scale you can...for in the dream, buried as a pearl is inside an oyster, is our freedom. He spoke to millions of people that day, and as I sat on the sofa 3000 miles away from him, I saw his pride, I saw his joy, and I saw his love. His enormous self jumped out of the tv, challenging all of us to reach past whatever we think of as barriers, challenges, obstacles, and meet him one-on-one in his magnificence.
To see him take to the sky, to see the beatific expression of expectancy, anticipation, and confidence as he left the plane and slipped into the sky, to see him land and say "I wanna go again!!!" was his gift to us. And what a huge, gigantic, rare gift he gave us. He gave us the experience of a dream well dreamt, a goal well challenged, obstacles met and overcome, choices made and respect earned.
His gift taught at a deep level. In his living, he showed a passion and a zest for life, to take what is given you and make the best of it. He had two careers, two marriages, and more dogs than he ever admitted to. He laughed, loved, and lived fully, shooting laughter over the phone, winging a hug through the email, teasing me about my life, my dreams, my hopes. He did that with many people, and each were touched in their hearts. He made me laugh, and made me understand that obstacles are only in our mind, only if we choose for them to be obstacles. You want it? Go get it. You wish for it? Do it yourself. You can do anything, you just have to dream bigger than your challenges, and it will be here.
I've had some time to reflect upon this most ordinary, unusual man. Contrary terms? No, not really. For he was a blend of both the ordinary and the unusual. He was a balance between that which is and that which could be, if one would only open their heart's eye and look. He was both teacher and student, of all subjects, big and small. He was ordinary, and he was unusual. He was real, tough, gentle, kind, stubborn, optimistic and rebellious. He got what he wanted; not because people felt sorry for him (he would never have allowed that), but because it was right for him, for his life, for his dreams. He made things happen...and happen they did. He not just talked the talk, but walked the walk...and flew the flight.
Rebel dreamed of freedom. He dreamed of moving through space, touching the infinite, of being in the heart of the world, in the sky. He wanted...and he got. And now, as I try to imagine what he's doing, I can see him running. Cheering. Flying. Swooping with his angels, and dancing with God. He is joyous now, zinging around, doing everything at once ('cause that is what heaven would be for him...everything....), and he smiles so widely his face cracks. He is free now, loved and loving, ever present in those whose lives he touched, into whose hearts he burrowed, in whose spirits his met there in the sky, dancing in freedom and in joy. I listen closely, and I can hear his laugh again, loud, reverberating through my heart.
Arthur's gift was himself.
Rebel my friend, dance with the angels, and smile with God...and endless blue skies for you. Endless, perfect summer blue skies.
For more information about Multiple Sclerosis, please go here: National Multiple Sclerosis Society
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