Falling ill is like joining a private fraternity—one you would never enter voluntarily, but whose membership reveals profound truths that most of us are too busy rushing through our days to consider. In the midst of everyday life, you are suddenly jolted by your own fallibility and finiteness, by the fact that you are no more durable than the shoes on your mortal feet.
In a culture that manages to cordon off this reality as if it were the special circumstance of others, you perceive all at once that this is your fleeting, precious human life. And then it's as if a veil has been ripped from your eyes. As the poet Rilke wrote: "Just once for everything, only once."
A person doesn't have to fall ill or experience great adversity to have such realizations. But the way humans are wired, it often requires such a shock to knock off the blinders of complacency and self-absorption. It is in the face of suffering that so many of us are thrown into the depths of ourselves, and come up bearing treasures of strength, insight, and courage we never knew were there.
When I first was diagnosed with systemic lupus, I yearned for something specific—to connect with others who knew what I was experiencing. If I couldn't find them in the flesh, then I wanted to read about them, real people like me who'd struggled and survived. I didn't want romance or fiction, but true stories about transformation and courage. Before I formed my own nationwide support network, I wanted to read words that would help heal and inspire me.
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But when I was young, these kinds of books were hard to find.
"If there's a book you really want to read but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it," the writer Toni Morrison once said.
So I've set out here to write the kind of book I yearned to read myself, a book made up of separate interlocking stories or vignettes that fit together like the links of a necklace.
I'll weave together the inspiration and wisdom I've received from ordinary people and celebrities alike who've taught me not just how to survive chronic illness, but also how to flourish in spite of it: Christopher and Dana Reeve and a nameless hospital cleaning lady who sang "Amazing Grace" to me; Alan Alda, Deepak Chopra, Oliver Sacks, and Naomi Judd. They've made me realize that facing the challenges of illness is really facing the challenges of life itself.
Along the way, I'll take you through my transformation from a powerless, lonely, and desperately ill teenager, through my formation of a local lupus support group that eventually blossomed into Friends' Health Connection (FHC), the national organization that I founded and ran from my hospital bed and dorm room.
I'll take you along a path zigzagged with the most unusual destinations: one day at the White House Rose Garden, shaking hands with President George H. W. Bush, two days later homebound in a wheelchair; one day on Fox television, the next day back in a hospital bed.
I'll share the lessons of valor and hope, courage and love that have been bestowed on me along the way.
My years of chronic illness have shown me that the private fraternity I thought I was entering wasn't so private at all—it was a club in which most of us would eventually become members, if not ourselves, then through friends and loved ones.
Transplants are miracles of modern medicine, and I've been doubly blessed. I vowed to my sister and the nameless eight-month-old who were my donors that my life would be worth their sacrifice. This book is part of my promise to them.
Excerpted from Unexpected Blessings by Roxanne Black. © 2008 by Roxanne Black. All rights reserved.
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By now we all know that we gain fat when we take in more calories than we burn. But we're not always rational creatures when it comes to food. Tom Venuto offers a sound eating plan and helps readers focus on the mental roadblocks and emotional eating patterns that prevent them from losing weight for good. Readers can dig deeper and learn more about calorie output and input, as well as emotional and psychological factors that can sabotage success. With years of training expertise and personal experience, Venuto can help you change your relationship with food and empower you to take charge or your life. His program promises dramatic and permanent results.
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"The global obesity epidemic affects all of us—families, communities, and nations around the world. It's a weighty subject in every way, with dire consequences for well-being, life expectancy, and economic productivity in the years ahead unless seriously confronted. The World Is Fat is compelling reading on this complex and growing societal threat. Dr. Barry Popkin is one of the world's most distinguished experts on obesity, the global food system, and nutrition, with extensive firsthand knowledge of the trends in the United States, Europe, India, China, and beyond. His writing is remarkably clear and concise, free of jargon, and full of wisdom, balance, and good judgment. His call to action and practical suggestions to individuals, communities, and political leaders will be read with enormous interest and benefit around the world."
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