Look at Life through the Windshield,
Not the Rearview Mirror
Patti LaBelle


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 crazy?"

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.


Demonstrating 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").


There is only one time that is important--Now!  It is the most important time because
it is the only time when we have any power.  The most necessary person is the one
with whom you are, for no person knows whether he or she will ever have dealings
with anyone else:  and the most important affair is, to do the person good,
because for that purpose alone were human beings sent into this life!

Wayne Dyer


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