Mason’s Blue Owl

watercolor by Mason Ellsworth

Mason’s Blue Owl

If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same

Twelve years ago, not long after our move to West Virginia, Kathy and I spent a special evening hanging with our new friends, Brian and Sylvia Ellsworth. That night we met their teenaged son, Mason, an angelic, baby-faced, happy-go-lucky musician who politely schooled us rock-and-roll dinosaurs on the current music scene, and led songs around the campfire after dinner. Two days later, Mason suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car accident.

For months Mason lay in a coma, undergoing scores of surgeries, family and friends holding vigils at his bedside. Amid outpourings of communal support, there was also hushed talk among friends and doctors alike, of the futility of it all—of a vegetative future that inevitably awaited the once special young man who would never again be.

But then, there was Mason. Christmas day of 2008, he awoke from his coma. And a month later, he uttered the words, “Hi Mom.”

Therewith followed Mason’s long march back from the brink. From his bed, and eventually his wheelchair, he learned to speak. He resumed singing, and joking, and playing the keyboard. Short of the ability to walk, and some lingering weaknesses here and there, he became Mason again, and much more.

Two days ago we received this amazing watercolor from Mason, along with a series of postcard animals he painted in cheerful defiance of the pandemic gloom. We can’t stop admiring them, for both their simplistic elegance and indelible testament to perseverance. They’re a life lesson not only from Mason, but from his family and inner circle of friends who together weathered the cruelest of ordeals with such astonishing grace and humor. In these days so frightfully dominated by cowardly hate talk and mindless brutalities against “others,” Mason’s paintings cheer us and remind us that true courage and compassion does prevail.


To see more of Mason’s work, visit his mother Sylvia’s Facebook page. And for an inspiring journal of his family’s journey since the accident, visit Mason’s site at Caring Bridge.


  1. Kate on August 17, 2020 at 9:10 am

    Wow! What an incredible story! Thank you for sharing! My best wishes for Mason, that he continues to get stronger and enjoy life to it’s fullest!

    • Will Stolzenburg on August 17, 2020 at 11:47 am

      Hey Kate! Thanks. Amazing Mason he is.

  2. Sharon on August 17, 2020 at 9:14 am

    Thank you for sharing this poignant story

    • Will Stolzenburg on August 17, 2020 at 10:54 am

      By all means, Sharon. Amazing young man, amazing family.

  3. Mike Kirby on August 17, 2020 at 5:52 pm

    Hey Will! I hope you and Kathy are doing well.

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