by Laura Sillerman | bio

Oh, please, not a recommendation of a magazine article. Who has time to buy a magazine, let alone read one?

Just listen for a minute, and maybe you’ll read Hilene Flanzbaum’s short piece in the October issue of O. Or maybe you’ll get enough here to take away her big message.

Let’s frame the writer. Her favorite joke is “Jewish telegram: ‘Start worrying; details to follow.'” When the phone rings after 10 p.m. she starts planning for the funeral. She calls herself an intellectual and a cynic.

And she goes on to write that having breast cancer refocused her life — on the bright side.

We’ve all heard people say a serious illness was a blessing, and we all know people who live life a little more gratefully after having been cured of cancer. This woman, though, is a pessimist who woke up. She woke to a new kind of alertness and a new way of feeling simple things. She gave up doing what she didn’t want to do.

Her awareness of mortality was also an awareness of how much time the “shoulds” took away from her. She stopped fighting with her husband and her sister. She saw her children for what they were: precious gifts that were worth all the time she could give them. And she stopped worrying about what might happen, absolutely certain that she’d deal with it if and when it got there.

So now you might not need to read the article (but of course there’s a lot more terrific content in this issue, including a Mental Health Kit and a rating of handbags by looks and what they do to your back).  But you might want to keep its author’s name in mind.

Flanzbaum is an English professor at Butler University and she’s gone back to writing poetry. All the poems, she says, are about the possibility of finding joy. Imagine: a formerly cynical, worrying intellectual who always looked on the dark side has been through a terrible illness and racking treatment only to emerge, mining her unconscious and finding there that joy is possible.

Someone in your life needs to hear this story. It may be you.

[Ed. note: Check back soon for a terrific poem by Hilene Flanzbaum, which she very kindly sent to us when we told her how much we’d like to read what she’s been writing. We’ll publish it as part of our Voices in Verse series next week.]

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