The Gift Of A Journey: Windows in the Clouds by Stephen Byrne

How do you react when people tell you meaningful stories about their lives? Particularly those lives that are very different to your own? Do you listen with impatience or do you listen with intent? I cherish the moments when people let me enter their private worlds, when they give me a glimpse of the threads that have contributed to the fabric of their current being. To me, this sort of story is a gift.

Let me tell you about one such gift. The gift is the story of Stephen Byrne or as I know him, Steve. Now I don’t know about you, but I am not acquainted with too many pilots who can write nor too many authors who can fly – a rather intriguing combination of itself. But what makes this story a little bit more unique is that Steve also happens to be a paraplegic.

Steve’s story is documented in his autobiography, Windows In The Clouds, recently published by Zeus Publications.

Much like Steve’s life, the book comprises two distinct parts. The first part chronicles Steve’s early life and childhood years, the tree felling accident that changed his life in 1985 and its aftermath. The second part is more travel guide and through his story and the story of others, Steve documents his first solo overseas travel experience to the United States of America, a trip lasting seven weeks and taking in twenty-two States and a flying experience with Challenge Air.

Overseas readers will find the first part of the book particularly interesting because it contains many glimpses into small town, rural Australian life. Steve grew up and lived a lot of his life in the Southern NSW town of Cootamundra, which some of you may know as the birthplace of our most famous cricketer, Sir Donald Bradman. It is the story of a young child with dreams of living and working on the land, of clinging to the hope of one day owning his own farm and of putting a less than stellar family life behind him only to have those dreams snatched away through paraplegia. It is also the story of a young man struggling to come to terms with an irrevocable life change and of eventually refashioning his dreams and taking grasp of them.

What makes this book a pleasure to read is the depth of the writing. The main reason for its depth is that the author has quite a remarkable level of self-awareness. The fact that it comes from the male of the species is even more astonishing! Take this paragraph as an example:

I could just not cope with what had happened to me and I had turned into someone I didn’t like. Although I had survived a tree falling on me….I felt like a complete and utter failure. I looked around my farm and could find no real happiness. I had bought this block of land in the very real hope that it would help me to come to terms with what happened. Although I felt at times that I was in paradise here deep in the Australian bush, what was going on in my head was extremely dark.[reproduced with the kind permission of Stephen Byrne]

I admit that I have only known Steve since his accident and in some ways I think that puts me at a distinct advantage. For I am not distracted by mourning what WAS, but rather I focus on celebrating what IS. And what IS, is a remarkable life, a published author and a talented pilot, most worthy of celebrating.

For this blog piece, I asked Steve what made him write this book, to which he replied:

I wrote my book for a number of reasons. I suppose I had always wanted to write something about my life and what had happened to me, particularly my early life. The older I get, the more I realise just how much my early life has shaped the balance. I don’t want to keep going back into the past but unless I can deal with that it will always keep getting in the way of what I am doing now. I have also written what I have because I hope that my story may help others. It took me so long to really come to terms with what had happened to me and just how much it has affected my personality. The wheelchair only exacerbated all that was still lying under the surface. When I first tried to write my story fifteen years ago I gave up on it because I didn’t want to portray such a negative story. Over the intervening years things have changed in so many ways and there have been some real positives in there. I guess I have been able to, and I hope I have, outweigh the negatives with the positives.

To be able to put other people’s lives into my book I think brings some sort of balance to it all. I didn’t want to just talk about myself. Being able to tell other people’s stories takes the focus away from me a bit. Being able to also add a travel story adds to the mix.”

Whilst I have seen the story being described as “a story about overcoming spinal cord injury”, I don’t believe that this is an accurate description. Firstly, in my view, spinal cord injury cannot be overcome – its affects can be mitigated, sure, but the injury itself cannot be overcome as the spinal cord cannot repair itself. Secondly, to bill this book merely as the usual story of disabled inspiration sells it short, which is confirmed by Steve’s own words above. If you are inspired after reading the book – great – but you should read it for the depth of the writing, for the lessons which can be applied to your own life and for gaining an insight into a life different to your own.

As for the second part of the book, as a reader you feel like you are travelling for the first time, experiencing the thrill of mastering a new environment, of overcoming doubts and discovering just about anything is possible. There is a real sense of wonder that permeates though it, together with some wonderfully humorous anecdotes. Watch out for the Kansas City incident, it’s a real pearler!

Steve with a couple of mutual friends of ours, Tony and Randy (RIP)

I know more than a few writers read my blog so I finally asked Steve about the publishing experience. Steve had this to say:

“Being able to get someone to think that this was worth publishing was a big step. I had thought about self publishing but didn’t want to go down that road because having someone else publish my book was an affirmation that it was something worth doing.”

The book was certainly worth doing and is certainly worth reading. It is the gift of a journey.

You can purchase the book through Amazon here and visit Steve’s website, Parapilots, here.

What’s the most interesting biography or autobiography that you have read? Would you ever contemplate writing your own life story?

About the curtain raiserhttp://raisingthecurtain.netI have spent my life in offices. For now I am putting that behind me and preparing for the second act. Middle age didn't come with acceptable signposts so I am making my own through my writing. A journey shared is more fun than going it solo.

32 thoughts on “The Gift Of A Journey: Windows in the Clouds by Stephen Byrne

  1. What an inspiring story — thank you for sharing it. I think it can be helpful to those of us struggling with aging and the often unpleasant surprises that the human body can give its owner.

    Would I consider writing an autobiography? Probably not. It’s been an interesting, colorful life, actually. But I think it is best taken in small bits.

    • You know Elyse you may not choose to write an autobiography but I have to tell you that everyone has a story. Whether you choose to write it down is really a matter of choice. I know from my experiences that the most incredible stories can come from the most unlikely places. It can be quite amazing what you find out about others when you start to talk to them…even total strangers.

  2. I just looked up the book on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. They are both looking for reviews. You should post this piece there (no, sorry, I have no clue how to do that)!

  3. Thanks Judy for the review and thank you Steve for sharing your story. The human spirit is grand, some only see it when one of us takes a step on the moon.

    • Thankyou theselens….If my book helps one person in some way then it will have all been worth it. I feel that although what has happened to me, I have so much to keep going for and there is so much more of life to live. In saying that, I know that all of us face struggles and obstacles and different times in our lives…..

  4. What an inspiration this morning. Steve sounds like a wonderful person and you are fortunate to know him personally. As for my autobiography, I never really thought about it. Probably because I don’t feel I’ve done anything extraordinary enough. At times I feel my blog tells my tale though. I just finished Steven Tyler’s autobiography and now I’m reading JFK’s…there’s a switch…lol. Although the womanizing is very similar.

    • From Steven Tyler to JFK, that’s some ecclectic taste right there. Our blogs, if they are personal, do tell snippets of our tale and extraordinary, like beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And yes, Steve is a wonderful person :).

  5. Very inspiring. Such courage and strength is admirable. And what a nice tribute to his book you’ve written!

  6. Excellent!! This is my first read of the morning and what inspiration it is. I have had the privilege of watching incredible biographies in my sister’s life. She is my inspiration and encouragement. My younger sister has a son with a heart condition that took her father in law’s life in his early 40’s. Her husband struggled and died after an almost 10 year struggle with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), during this time her daughter had two brain tumors, diagnosed with brain cancer, was overradiated and was struck with radiation poisoning. She was expected (my niece) to die at age 5, she wrote (and this is the biography I have read) a book talking about her life, Game Changer by Elizabeth Puleo (available on Amazon). she is now writing a children’s book about cancer, she is 23.
    I love your friends comment, ” I don’t want to keep going back into the past but unless I can deal with that it will always keep getting in the way of what I am doing now.” This sums up what I have been thinking for my next post. Love,love, love, this post. Sorry for the length of the comment. DAF

    • I love your comment and its length and its sentiment. Your sister and her family sound quite remarkable and you have just revealed a little bit more of the thread that makes up your current life tapestry. Thank you DAF!

  7. What a great post to read this Sunday morning. Inspiring, heartfelt and so full of hope. I want to read his book because it’s people like him that kick my butt into gear when i feel low.. this is a great post/review!!

  8. Just ran across this post today…I love memoir/autobiography so thank you for the suggestion of Steve’s book! I am adding it to my ‘to read’ list immediately!

    I’ve read so many memoir/autobiography I don’t know if I have a favorite. One I love is “Tisha” because I grew up in rural Alaska. I also enjoyed When Rabbit Howls, The Hiding Place and Angela’s Ashes.

    I do plan to write my life story…for now I’m practicing via my new blog. I’ve recently joined a writer’s group and look forward to being mentored and tutored on the art.

    Thanks again…I enjoyed your post on Steve and his book.

  9. Thank you for posting this Judy, I would also like to read Steve´s book and Steve, if you read this, I hope to travel to Australia some day and get your autograph written in it.

  10. Thanks for sharing this. His perspective sounds candid and real. I will check it out. Your point early on about listening to someone else’s story is very pertinent as well. I repeat to myself sometimes when my children or someone who does not share a lot start talking – I keep saying to me – shut up and listen, shut up and listen. Well done. BTG

    • Steve’s perspective is very candid and real, which is what makes the book so intriguing. It’s more than the usual formulaic disability inspiration fair. Listening is one of life’s essential skills!

  11. Wonderful work Judy, just wonderful. This piece is full of that generosity of spirit that encapsulates you and lights you like a flame pulling those around you into your orbit. It makes it a pleasure to be in your company.

    This reminds me of Janine Sheppard’s story. A promising and gifted athlete who on a training session was struck by a car in the Blue Mountains. She was left an incomplete quadraplegic and unable to continue with her olympic dream. I have read both her books and had the privalige to see her talk in person and she is a gutsy lady with a tremendous strength of will who ironically fought her way back to health and rebuilding her life through flying and later on, writing.

    However for me there is a biography that has been a load stone for me from the time that I was a teenager. A rag tag, very politically incorrect Irish man happened to watch a news broadcast on a devestating famine in Africa. His visceral abhorence, his absolute moral outrage in that in this day and age it was possible for there to be a starving continent drove this man, Bob Geldof, to use the only currency that he had, his contacts in the rock world, to pull together at first to record a single and secondly to organize a global audience into coming together, right in the middle of the cold war, to save lives instead of taking them. The endeavor took my breath away and his book helped me to understand his concept of a global responsibility that we all have for each other as members of society.

    As you know my life is a challenge. Some mundane, others not. It is mitigated by a large degree insanity and allows for a lack of focus at times. I have contemplated a biography but in the end feel that I really don’t think that it would be in any kind of space to be of worth to others.

  12. Pingback: I Feel The Need… The Need to Read! | Raising the Curtain

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