IN-MI Elder Profile: Nick Simons
In most of the bars around Elkhart and Mishawaka my grandfather was notorious for his drinking and fighting. On his way out of one of the many bars that he was being permanently banned from, he reached into the fish tank, bit the head off a big goldfish, threw the body back in the tank, and spit the head on the floor. He got sober about 30 years ago and my dad followed suit several years after that. I was about 5 and I’m sure that my grandfather’s sobriety has had a more profound impact on my life than any other single event. I grew up riding horses in the woods near Bristol, Indiana. My mom loved horses and that meant I was going to be a horseman. My brother Andrew and I had a childhood that was stable, but not particularly happy. An important part of my dad’s sobriety was adopting a fundamentalist form of Christianity. Overnight we became a religious family, and that lasted for about 10 years.
When I left for Manchester College in 2003, my only plans were to study business and live a life of wealth and luxury. At school I met people who really cared about things outside of themselves: the earth, the poor, people in other countries that our country was killing. I was startled but so impressed that I couldn’t help but see the beauty and sense in the way they were living. A wise and wonderful campus pastor took me under his wing and introduced me to Richard Rohr’s work.
I turned 30 recently. My partner Maisha and I bought a fixer-upper on the St. Joe River in downtown Elkhart last year and live with two sweet and quiet roommates. That has been a source of constant joy and work. I love plants and working with the earth. I’m trying to make my living without fossil fuels, using my bicycle and trailer to haul all my reel mowers and other people-powered equipment to mow lawns and do landscaping.
I like that my work is gentle on me and on the earth. I don’t like that it perpetuates the silly concept of lawns and the myth that we can find our way out of our environmental catastrophe acting individually through acts of consumption. I want to do more to transform and halt the destruction of nature.
In addition to the obvious collective action and activism needed for change, we need to do the soul work that reminds us that we belong to this planet, to each other, and to all the species of plants and animals that are going extinct in the name of progress and civilization. We also need to be reminded that we are loved, that we are good, and that we belong here.
Indiana-Michigan M.A.L.E.s provides me with the fertile ground for this latter work. It helps me to grow, heal, and learn about myself and gives me the opportunity to tend the soil for the lives of other men. I am honored to serve on the Council of Elders and look forward to bringing an earth-centered perspective to some our work. I have experienced the power of ritual through rituals like those created by Joanna Macy to connect our soul work to deeper struggles of environmental destruction, racism, and poverty. I look forward to continued discernment on this issue with the M.A.L.E.s community, my own Elkhart Quaker Worship group, and my extended community.
My grandfather is nearing 80 and he hasn’t had a drink in years. He lives in the basement of one of his ex-wives, he has an enormous vegetable garden, and he reads a lot of books. Though many of his wounds still seem untouchable, he has set the men of my family on the journey of healing and transformation. I see the pain diminishing and the hope growing with each generation. May it be so.