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October 28, 2013

Lisa Madras: That was yesterday — but what will you do NOW?

NEW CASTLE — What is the best advice you have ever received?

Advice is everywhere. Some of it good, and some of it not so good. Some of it sought out, and some of it unsolicited. But it's there, everywhere you go, from well-meaning friends and family members, on Internet memes and in fortune cookies, and even flying down the road on the side of a bus.

I've spent my entire life giving advice to people. Some would say "butting in" or "forcing my opinion down other people's throats," but I like to look at it as a grown-up version of sharing. I've got it, and I'd like you to have it, too. If you don't want it, that's cool. But my cookie is your cookie. Eat it or toss it, it’s all good.

And I think the reason I'm so compelled to offer advice is because I'm constantly seeking it myself. I love the whole idea of commiserating the human condition. (We're in this together — hoorah!) It's true that life is a tapestry woven of all the scraps of thread and yarn that you collect along the way. And the most beautiful of them are the ones that join together with others. You tell me your story, and I weave it into a part of my own.

A big part of who I am comes from the things I've learned from television. Say what you must about watching TV, but I'm a junkie, in every sense of the word. And there's no doubt that reality TV is the lowest of the lows, but like every other piece of life, you keep what you want and toss the rest.

I can't even remember the name of the show I was watching when I heard the best advice I've ever received. It was something about a rehab for people with eating disorders, and the center was run by this brash little older lady who didn't take any excuses from her patients and told it like it was, no matter how bad it might hurt. So after a long therapy session where the client shared her trials and tribulations of being molested as a child, growing up in a dysfunctional family, and facing tragedy after tragedy, this little old lady looked her square in the eye and said the most empowering thing I've ever heard to this day:

"So what?" She paused for just a heartbeat, and continued. "NOW what? NOW is the moment of power. Not the past, not the future. Right now."

I watched the rest of the show with only part of my mind paying attention. I couldn't stop thinking about all the things that I'd spent countless nights crying myself to sleep over, the wrongs that I could find no way to make right, the betrayals, the injustices, the tragedies that kept me frozen in a time far past where I was helpless and confused and victimized. And I imagined myself telling my story to this woman and listening to her response.

"So what?"

And so right then, right there, sitting on my couch sipping a cup of coffee on a perfectly ordinary, normal day, I couldn't help but cry one last time. But I wasn't crying a sad cry. I was crying because it WAS a perfectly ordinary, normal day. And for the first time in years, I'd been given the key I needed to release myself from the past and finally be right there, right then, in the middle of a perfectly ordinary, normal day.

One little phrase, offered up somewhat unkindly even, from a TV show that probably didn't make it past the first season. One little phrase that wasn't even meant for me, and yet it saved my life.

I have it written in Sharpie on the side of my refrigerator now, a permanent reminder that the past is over and that this moment is the one that counts. This particular phrase might mean nothing to you, and that's OK, because your story is different than mine. But what you need to hear is out there somewhere, waiting to come to you in whatever form the universe chooses to deliver it.

All you have to do is let it in when it gets there.

“It's good advice, but I expect it will be hard to follow; good advice is apt to be, I think.” — L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables


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