I learned that Martha Mason, who spent over 60 years in an iron lung, died last weekend. Martha was a native of Lattimore, N.C., an author of a memoir entitled simply "Breath" and the subject of a documentary film. Thanks to my friend, Mariel, who knew Martha and who sent me her memoir, I met Martha a few years ago.
I regret I never wrote to tell her how wonderful her book was.
So I'll now tell anyone who wants to know.
What was remarkable was that Martha, although she lived this extraordinarily unusual life, had a sense of joy and an acceptance that helped her surpass the many limitations.
Her parents - as parents and caretakers - were remarkable, as were other caretakers over the years.
I remember the time when polio was a real threat. I was in second grade in Newport News, Va., and a classmate became infected. My mother commisserated with the girl's mother but also worried about whether or not I would become infected. The schools took precautions. We went to the doctors. But all you could do is hope and pray -- there were no cures, no vaccines against polio at the time. Our recently deceased president had lived his life with it.
Some, like Martha's brother, even died. Martha was not expected to live, but she did. For 60 more years until she was 71.
When Martha went to Wake Forest, her mother went with her, took notes for her in class, wrote assignments dictated by Martha. Martha made a life for herself with her parents, she made friends -- lots of them -- and had callers. Late in life, she went through the trauma of seeing her beloved mother descend into the dementia of Alzheimer's.
Somehow, Martha prevailed to write her story of defying the odds to live and breathe and create. Many of us live in self-imposed prisons. Martha's iron lung was a prison not of her making, but she showed how the human spirit can prevail.
Read Breath by Martha Mason.
Listen to the story about Martha on