My sister Barbara
tried to teach me this lesson more than twenty years ago. At
the time, she was planning her wedding under what I can only
describe as bittersweet circumstances. On the one hand, my
sister was about to realize a life-long dream: At age
thirty-eight, she was about to marry the man she had been in love
with since they were teenagers. On the other, she had just
been diagnosed with colon cancer.
I am convinced that
when my sister was planning her wedding, she knew the clock was
ticking. Not that she acted like it. On the contrary,
Barbara acted as if she didn't have a care in the world. Given
the seriousness of her illness, you can understand why her
cheeriness freaked me out. However cheery Barbara acted,
the hard, cold truth is that she didn't have a cold, she had cancer.
Given that reality,
I assumed my sister would call off her wedding. I mean, how
could she stand up and say the words "till death do us
part" when she knew how close her death could be? But
calling off the wedding was the last thing on Barbara's mind.
As I watched in amazement, she went about the business of planning
the ceremony as if all was right with the world.
Part of me thought
Barbara was nuts, and part of me thought she was in denial. As
it turns out, my sister was neither. As I would come to learn,
the only one who couldn't see the truth was me.
For weeks, I kept
my feelings to myself. I had to. At Barbara's request, I
was hosting the wedding reception and I knew she wanted me to be as
excited about her big day as she was.
One afternoon, however, I just
couldn't keep silent any longer. To this day; I'm not sure
what made me snap. Barbara and I were going over the reception
details--the food, the flowers, the friends she wanted to
invite--when I had a meltdown. I lost it.
I started sobbing
like a baby: "It's so unfair. You and Shot finally
get your chance and what happens? You get cancer. What
about all the years you've lost? What about all the time you
may never get? Doesn't just the thought of it make you
Barbara wiped the
tears from my face. "What good would it do to be angry,
Patsy?" she said gently. "I can't change the past
and I can't control the future. I can, however; make the most of the
present. Shot and I are together now. At this
moment. And, if you think about it, this moment is all any of
us really has."
The ability to live
fully in the moment--in the time and place we are right now--is one
of the greatest secrets I know of living joyfully. Because
once you grasp it, freedom is very close. You stop worrying
about the past and stressing out about the future. Enjoying
life--not agonizing about what happened yesterday or worrying about
what might happen tomorrow--becomes your priority. Your days
become a gift, not a grind.
In September 1980,
Barbara and Shot exchanged wedding vows before God, family, and
their closest friends. Two years later my sister died.
But what an amazing two years they were! The happiest, I
think, of Barbara's life. Of this much I am certain:
Before my sister passed, she squeezed every ounce of joy out of
every single moment. She didn't spend her time dwelling on the
past or worrying about the future. She looked at life through
the windshield, not the rearview mirror. She lived.
More than anyone I
have ever known, Barbara understood the power of living in the
moment. That life is in session now. That we can't
choose how we're going to die. Or when. But we can
choose how we're going to live. Thanks to my sister; I
understand that fear of the future is a waste of the present.
That if you look back too much, you'll soon be heading that
way. Because if we fill our hours with regrets of yesterday
and with worries of tomorrow, we have no today in which to be
happy. And that today is a precious gift, that's why they call
it the present.
once again that her interests go far beyond music, singer
Patti LaBelle presents Patti's Pearls: Lessons in Living
Genuinely, Joyfully, Generously. Along with Laura Randolph
Lancaster, the r&b diva offers a slim volume of
inspirational insights, or "pearls," accompanied
by personal anecdotes from her life. Some of the sayings
are familiar ("Know God, know peace; no God, no
peace" and "don't try to change the wind, change
the sails"), while others are unique ("Barbie is
a doll, not a goal" and "you can't be a doormat
if you don't lie down").