by Paul Lowance Niebanck
reviewed by Meg Hodgkin Lippert
This collection of autobiographical stories by Paul Lowance Niebanck, Begin Again, is a treat for ear, eye, and Spirit. Paul shares escapades and events from his life with entertaining and inspiring verve.
Initially, we meet Paul in “Got My Luck,” a recollection in free verse: “they tell me/rides are easy to get/it’s route 66 after all/westbound . . . Albuquerque is hot even in/January even at/nine in the a.m./which is when I set up . . . /shoes burning my feet/pants burning my legs/skull burning my brain/screech . . .” After a harrowing overnight drive, Paul was dropped off at sunrise in front of the downtown Los Angeles YMCA with $5 in his pocket. But later that day, Paul scored a job as a warehouse worker for $1.18 an hour – thus, “got my luck.” What a great introduction to an adventurous guy!
Paul was musical and loved to sing. Since I share these passions, some of my favorite selections include the ways in which music moved him at different times in his life.
Towards the end of his life, Paul and his wife, Linda, moved into the Seattle retirement home Horizon House. Paul wrote: “I’m a natural promoter. I make hope happen.” He coached Horizon House residents to sing for one another in resident concerts: “Don Price was my first ‘find.’ When Don sang ‘Old Man River,’” his rendition was so popular that “he had to do a reprise for the autumn concert that same year.” Don sang his last solo, “Impossible Dream,” just a few days before he died. Paul made hope happen, and he also made joy and community happen.
I’m fortunate to have known Paul personally through his attendance at South Seattle Friends Meeting, where I am a member. From his obituary, I learned that “Paul became a lifetime Quaker, active in local meetings and Friends organizations from Chavakali, Kenya, to Philadelphia, PA, to Santa Barbara, and to Seattle, WA.” I also learned that Paul had set up a Quaker meeting at Horizon House.
In the story “Breakthrough,” Paul described what may have been his first introduction to Quakerism. In 1956, when he was 22, he saw a posting on a public library bulletin board: “Interns in Industry/A summer program for young adults in Atlanta, Georgia/Inquire American Friends Service Committee.” Paul applied and was accepted. He joined a group of “about 20 young adults: male, female, Negro, white, some college, no college . . . from all over the East, Southeast, and Midwest.” They found their own jobs, lived together in simple community, and participated on weekends in social witnesses at segregated swimming pools and movie houses.
Many of Paul’s stories embody Quaker values – his openness to all different kinds of people, his passion for truth and justice, his dedication to learning and teaching, his willingness to admit his own mistakes, and his joy in connecting with people. He was a peacemaker, and those on opposite sides of an issue trusted him. In one story, he describes a confrontation between striking students and college administrators when he became the go-between.
Color photographs and evocative color illustrations throughout the collection by his partner, Linda Niebanck, and their son, Paul, added much pleasure to my reading.
Legally blind from birth, Paul reveals in this book how he tackled life with courage, determination, gentleness, and humor. I’m grateful that Paul completed this collection before his death in November 2021. His book is a legacy for those who knew him in person, as well as for those who will get to know him through his writing.
Reading Paul’s stories may inspire readers to set down some of their own treasured stories and memories. His book had that effect on me.
Meg Hodgkin Lippert is a member of South Seattle Friends Meeting (NPYM).