Inspiration from a poet who never gives up

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 24, 2013

Veterans Day has passed and Thanksgiving is just a breath away. It was the perfect time for a visit from one of my favorite veterans, also one of the people I’m thankful for.
William Sherrill, about whom I have written before, came in with a huge smile, so excited he asked for a hug. He had just returned from his trip to Nevada to read one of his poems at Poetry Fest in Reno. He brought the medal he got there to show me and his certificate of achievement and all the other things from his trip.
“It was good to get away,” he said. William used to live in Salisbury. He’s still a patient at Hefner VA Medical Center. When he’s in town for an appointment, he makes the rounds to see all his friends, and I’m happy to be one of them.
Sherrill was a staff sergeant in the Air Force, so proud to serve his country. A model patriot, he believes in everything the country stands for — he’s not much into politics, but I believe he can name all the presidents, in order. He’s an intelligent man who likes to visit his friends at Rowan Public Library when he’s in town. Here and in Greensboro, where he now lives, he goes to the library to read Fortune, Forbes, The New York Times and Jet. He likes the Charlotte Observer and the Salisbury Post, too.
Those of us who know William understand how much this trip meant to him. Diagnosed with schizophrenia decades ago, he then thought his life was over. But he has a remarkable will to move on. He has excelled instead of failing. Once he began treatment, it was a rough road. He has smoothed it out and turned all those negatives into positives.
“I never thought I’d be a published poet,” he said, after seeing his first poem in an anthology. He’s been published several more times after submitting his work to various contests. He is just as proud of every one of those as he was of the first.
“A poet is a different person,” he says, mentioning one of his favorites, Gwendolyn Brooks. He learned in treatment that people with schizophrenia often write poetry and later learned that many great artists dealt with mental health issues.
Sherrill put himself through Shaw University, earning a bachelor’s degree. He also has a degree from business college, and has studied theology. He feels called to be a preacher and is looking forward to getting a clergy sticker for his truck so people will know he’s available to help them.
Sherrill’s poems always rhyme. They deal with big concepts that he relates to everyday life and higher powers. He loves entering poetry contests and has often been asked to read his poetry. He has pens made that contain lines from his poetry so he can share with others.
He says over and over, “I thought my life was over when I found out about my illness, but the Lord has blessed me. He had other plans for me.” He smiles a mile wide and laughs. He’s 64, and has never stopped starting over. He’s had setbacks, but, like a good soldier, he comes back. He looks forward all the time. He remembers the kindnesses people have done, and reflects on the times when he was down and out and marvels at rising up and realizing some of his dreams.
The poem he read in Reno is “The Champion’s Way of Managing Resources.” He was in a room with about 20 other poets who read their work. He’s always nervous in front of a crowd, but church work has helped. He’s proud of what he’s been able to do and immensely grateful. His joy infects those around him.
He asked me to spread the word, to encourage others — writers and people who think they have failed — to not give up and be thankful for life’s blessings.
Thank you, William, for reminding us.