Read an Excerpt
How Did Mother Get into My Mirror?
For attractive lips, speak words of kindness.
For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people.
For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry.
For beautiful hair, let a child run his or her fingers through it once a day.
For poise, walk with the knowledge that you'll never walk alone.
People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed; never throw out anybody.
Remember, if you ever need a helping hand, you'll find one at the end of your arm.
The beauty of a woman is not in the clothes she wears, the figure she carries, or the way she combs her hair. The beauty of a woman must be seen from in her eyes, because that is the doorway to her heart, the place where love resides. True beauty is reflected in a woman's soul. It is the caring that she lovingly gives, the passion that she shows.
The beauty of a woman with passing years--only grows.
It was my fortieth birthday. In Wheaton, Illinois, my hometown, it was a normal day, just another day to conduct business as usual and get on with suburban life. A fortieth birthday isn't, after all, exactly front-page headline news. It won't even get your picture on the Today Show with Willard Scott you have to do more than twice the living for that perk. It's no big deal. Ho-hum. Everyone knows it's nothing.
Everyone, that is, except people who are turning forty. Deep in their hearts they know that although the world has marched on without a pause, their life has just turned a corner and certain things will never be the same.
My heart knew. After all, a fortieth birthday can hardly be just another plain-Jane, nothing-has-changed, regular day for most women passing that birthday milestone. It was now official. I was undeniably, unretractably, unbelievably middle-aged.
I consoled myself with the bleak comfort that at least my thirty-ninth year was over and done with. What a rotten year that had been! Nine months before my fortieth birthday I had left my doctor's office with his cancer diagnosis of malignant melanoma, a potentially fatal skin cancer, ringing in one ear and his odd final words ringing in the other, 'Valerie, the most important advice I can give you about your health today is to be sure you wear your seat belt.' What did he mean? Buckle up, I heard. Today is all any of us is guaranteed. All bets are off on tomorrow. Concentrate on today and get ready for the ride of your life!
That year, that last year of my 'youth,' was unlike any I had ever experienced. An operation cut out the cancer, my prognosis was excellent, but to my great distress, I found no cure for the fear that had entered my life with the 'C' word. Despite assurances that I would survive this disease, I slipped into a world where the Androcles' sword of cancer and potential death hung over me. My waking thoughts were of cancer. It robbed me of my sleep and my usual sense of well-being. I was fragile and sad. My focus became concentrated and immediate. I stopped making plans for the future and dreaming dreams that might be too painful not to see realized. Reading, a lifelong passion, proved too demanding. I could not concentrate on ideas. I learned to cross-stitch. Boy, did I cross-stitch! Filled my conscious mind. Absorption therapy. Ah! the year of my cross-stitching. The year of my lost mind!
This fortieth birthday might not have been. Looking back now, across cancer-free years, I have perspective on that difficult time. Cancer was attacking my body, but fear was ravaging my soul. My body was out of trouble long before my soul. Recently, my college-aged philosophy major son, Brendan, casually passed on this piece of knowledge. 'You know, Mom,' he informed me, 'there are two types of fear. One fear is a reaction to a real stress.' (Cancer in my case, or to any actual experience being mugged, experiencing a car accident, or living through an earthquake.) He continued, waxing philosophical, 'The second kind of fear is anxiety. If fear is the reaction to what has happened, anxiety is a fear of what might happen.' He summarized it succinctly, 'Anxiety is a fear of living.'
'Oh learn-ed one! I think you are onto something there!' I smiled at my child turned wise.
I should know. His definition precisely captured my dilemma when I turned forty. More than life being simply pre-forty and postforty, my life had a definite divide of precancer, postcancer. The defining difference was fear. I was afraid of dying, but oddly, I was almost more afraid of living. If I continued to live, how could I face the 'days to come' with the kind of interior strength needed to deal with all that life could throw at me? If life could be this fragile and frightening at thirty-nine and forty, how terrible was seventy going to be? Just like the body becomes hypervigilant with an adrenaline flood in response to fearful stimuli, my soul had gone on hyperalert. It was safety-belted and slamming on the brakes to stop living fully. Dangerous curves ahead! Beware of falling rocks! Reduce speed! Bumps! Potholes! Steep cliffs and slippery.