| Planets and Possibilities |
By Susan Miller
Genre: Inspirational & Self-Help
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When I was little and couldn't sleep, late at night I would creep into the living room to see if anyone was up. Invariably, I would find my mother curled up on the couch reading her astrology books or studying her charts. In those wee hours of the morning my father would be asleep, but Mom, as the busy mother of two young children, would try to use the only time she had to concentrate on her serious hobby. Astrology was not her only interest. She (along with my father) devoured three newspapers a day, had friends, and also helped my father in his specialty grocery store. But astrology deeply intrigued Mom, and she studied it every chance she got. Her penetrating mind sought to figure out why astrology always seemed to work, and her study also offered her creative clues to life's mysteries. My mother's biggest challenge, however, both in life and in astrology, would be to figure out how to help me with a debilitating and mysterious birth defect in my left leg.
She asked me not to tell anyone about her interest in and knowledge of astrology, saying it should be for "just us" and never for those outside our family. Times were different then, and she did not want to invite criticism about her hobby from either new acquaintances or old friends. Still, she said, "It's always good that I know the cycles, SusanI can help you go with the cosmic tide, not try to swim against it."
I remember having lunch with Mom when I was little at the dining-room table. She would always sit down next to me, wearing her apron, and cheerfully keep me company. A Gemini, she'd make lots of interesting conversation. It was fun to be with Mom. I would eat my tunafish sandwiches, and sometimes she would talk about astrology. She said I would look at her with big eyes and swing my legs while I chewed. Today she laughs and says, "I used to talk to you but you never said much, dear Susie, so I thought you weren' listening. Now I know that you heard every word!"
My mother discovered astrology by accident. Her elder sister (my wonderful aunt) Harriet, the eldest of five, suddenly became interested in the subject and, wanting to have someone with whom she could talk about it, tried to get my mother involved. My mother was initially skeptical about astrology and resisted my aunt's suggestions. I think that is a very common and healthy first reaction by everyone who comes to study astrology. I don' think anybody is a born "believer." Later, Mom, as a young girl of eighteen, moved to New York City and Aunt Harriet remained upstate, but they both took a home correspondence course in astrology. It was something the two sisters could still do together even though they lived apart. Mom continued to study over the next two or three years and become better and better at her hobby and more drawn to investigating the full spectrum of what the ancient art could offer. Its complexities fascinated her, and its richness never bored her active mind. My mother wrote letters to my aunt to debate certain shadings of current planetary aspects.
When my mother was thirty-five years old, Aunt Harriet suddenly became very ill with ovarian cancer and died a very slow and painful death at the age of forty-five. (At the time, I was five years old.) This was a terrible and devastating event in my mother's life. At the reading of the will, my mother learned that Aunt Harriet had left all her favorite astrology books to her as a special gift. When my mother received them, she found inside one of the covers a letter from my aunt, apparently written when she was aware that she did not have long to live: "Erika, study astrologyyou will go far, much further than I was meant to go with this subject. You are innately mathematical and you deal with symbolism superbly. Don' give it up." Hence my mother found herself the new owner of some of the best books on the subject. From that point on, my mother dove even more deeply into astrology, probably as much out of curiosity as well as to remain psychologically close to her sister.
My involvement with astrology would also start almost by accident and certainly was fueled by my birth defect. I was born with a debilitating and mysterious illness that caused excruciating pain in my left leg; I had sudden, inexplicable attacks that felt like thick syrup was falling into my knee. The attacks would come about twice a year and would leave me bedridden for six to eight weeks. Doctors were mystified, and in the absence of any hard data they said I had made up the illness to stay out of school. The doctors who did believe me suggested all kinds of cures, including radiation treatments which we rejected. The leg was so terribly tender and painful to the touch that I didn' want to risk having anything done to it, and even as a child I begged my mother simply to "let me be." After any one of my sudden "attacks," as long as I remained perfectly still (not moving an inch in bed for weeks), I always recovered perfectly.
I felt unjustly accused when the doctors called my illness psychosomatic, and after a time I didn' want to see any more doctors. A mother's intuition is strongMom knew something was very wrong with me, so she became my protector, comforting me with the assurance that someday someone would figure out what was wrong and help me. She even predicted a change of status in my health when the ruler of my ascendant, Mercury, would go direct in my progressed chart when I turned age fourteen. She surmised that I would simply outgrow the illness, so she wasn' too anxious to hurry me into an unnecessary operation. It was clear that she was confident that my ordeal was going to have a happy ending. My father was supportive too, but they nevertheless agreed that we had to continue to see new doctors no matter what the charts said.
As things turned out, Mom was astoundingly right about the timing of my health breakthrough. When I was exactly thirteen years, ten months, three weeks, and two days old, I had the worst attack of my life. Bedridden again, I patiently waited two months for a recovery that never came. Something was different about this attack. The pain was much worse and the swelling greater. Still, I did not want an operation. We tried one doctor, who put me in traction and made everything worse. My father, horrified by the pain I was in, carried me out of the hospital, saying quietly that we needed a new doctor. Exasperated, I begged to celebrate my birthday at home, and I blew out the candles on the cake in bed.
I was now fourteen, the exact age my mother had predicted for the end of my health difficulties. Two weeks later, I agreed to surgery performed by a new young doctor and brilliant scholar. The protégé to the chief of a different hospital, he solved my case, and he is still my doctor to this day.
The secret of my illness was that I had had recurring life-threatening internal bleeding. I was born with veins in my left leg from the hip to the knee that were malformed and turning to tissue paper. The vessels would simply vanish. There was nothing for the surgeon to tie or hold on to, so for any doctor operating on me, a condition like this is a nightmare. Today such a condition is still rareI am told that there are only forty-seven known cases in medical history. I am one of the very few survivors because my condition was located in the lower body. Had the malformed veins been near my head or my heart, the illness would have killed me. The doctor said it was better that we had waited for surgery, surmising that part of the problem was that during my growth periods, my vessels didn't grow along with me. Now that my growth (at age 14) was nearly over there was less chance that I would experience fresh internal bleeding. Even so, the doctors went the whole nine yards to see that my attacks never happened again.
I spent eleven months in the hospital when I was fourteen as doctors revamped my veins, arteries, muscles, and bone, and I even had a skin graft. A nerve was severed during the difficult surgery and I had to go through therapy to regenerate it, a process that took three years. During those years I could not actually attend high school, so I studied in the hospital and later at home, taking my state exams and SATs. I graduated high school and then at age sixteen entered New York University and later received a B.S. degree in business with honors. Studying by myself had helped my self-discipline. Through these years Mom told me, "Susie, get used to not having friends. They will understandably get tired of you being sick. Read, sweetheart, and for now let books be your friends. Later, when you walk again, you will have friends again." She was, as ever, right.
During this period of recovery, no one was sure if I would ever walk again. With a severed nerve, I had no sensation or movement in the lower part of my left leg. Although my doctor never wavered in his cheerful predictions, the hospital residents were not so sureand would privately tell me not to keep my hopes up.
I was highly motivated to find out what was going to happen next, and I needed a big dose of hope quickly. It was then that astrology entered the picture for me. I wrote a letter to the editor of Horoscope magazine, a publication I used to see my mother read occasionally. I asked the editor if she would do my chart and tell me if I would ever walk again. (I could have asked my mother, but I figured she might not tell me the whole truth if the answer was no.) In the letter I included my month, day, and year of birth, as well as the city and exact time of my birth, knowing from my mother's afternoon lunch conversations that this information was critical for doing a chart. I knew my time of birth because my mother so often talked about it. Much to my surprise, my letter was published! My mother, amazed that I had written to the magazine, sat down next to me and read the answer aloud. After a long analysis, the astrologer-editor said yes, she felt I would walk again and that I would eventually fully recover!
At the time I was still very, very ill and needed braces and crutches to get around, but I was very encouraged by the answer though still a little cautiously skeptical.
Instantly, I made up my mind that I wanted to know more about astrology and figure out exactly what the editor had seenI wanted to do my chart for myself. Not being able to walk, I certainly had time to read and study. But I would have an unexpected obstacle: My mother surprised me by saying she did not want me to study astrology. She explained that astrology demanded a full and intense commitment, something I was still too young to know if I would be able to carry out. "A little knowledge is dangerous, Susan," she would often say. She felt that novices often think they know more than they actually do, leading them to jump to conclusions. She warned, "Don' start, Susan. Leave it alone. If you aren' ready to study for twelve years straight, don' begin." Of course, tell teenagers not to do something and that's precisely what they will do.
In those teen years, I could not get out of bed by myself; I was weak from many blood transfusions, and my hip was so swollen it was hard even to sit up. There was no TV or phone in my room. In our house, the TV stayed in the living room, the phone in my parents' bedroom or the kitchen. This situation was good because I had no distractions. My mother would go to the library and get me stacks of classic books to read, which I enjoyed.
Yet I also wanted my mother's astrology books. During that summer, when I was finally home from the hospital, my little sister, Janet, then eleven, would secretly bring my mother's books into my room. We would hide them under my bed's dust ruffle. I studied a great deal after I got my homework done but I did not tell my mother, and I kept this secret for years. In fact, my interest was only revealed twenty years later when one day I had to ask my mother for a written recommendation to an astrological research association that she belonged to. "You aren' ready," she responded. Then I had to reveal that I had been writing a small column for a magazine and told her the full extent of my research. But before she would write the recommendation she took my articles home with her and did charts for all the months I had written about. She studied whether I was giving the right advice or not. I am lucky she was such a tough teacher, and I'm also lucky that I passed her test.
My true calling, however, had not yet formed. When my two daughters were still babies, I started my own business as an agent for commercial photographers but continued to write two astrological columns on the side. I became very successful as an agent, representing talent in London and the United States. I was happy with life, though the bones in my left foot were clearly wearing down (the severed nerve had left that leg a little weaker). Just walking a few blocks would give me teeth-grinding pain. Still, I was determined to persevere no matter what. In 1992 another bout with the leg scared meon a total eclipse, out of the blue, I broke my left thighbone for the third time. This last bout was the worst. I received seventeen blood transfusions in one night during an emergency operation. It was a defining moment, for I was to be reminded again how fragile life can be. My original doctor saved mebut both of us agreed that I could not endure more surgery. I now had steel lining my femur and was able to walk again after I recovered.
A few years later, in connection with my work as a photo agent, I was calling on Warner Books and offering to do an occasional chart if someone asked me to do one. My reputation for accuracy was growing. My mother's insistence on my doing research in astrology for twelve years before I was to read a single chart outside the family was starting to pay off in peer respect. Not surprisingly, I was getting my readings right. I turned to writing more and more, and the magazine work kept growing bigger. Warner Books gave me a chance to be editor of my own astrology Web site in December of 1995, and thus Astrology Zone® was born. My first book, Astrology Book of Days, appeared a few months later. I was wellon my way to a new career.
It turned out that the difficulties with my leg bestowed unanticipated and enormous side blessings. I became religious, reflective, and philosophical. Like most people who go through an ordeal, it also made me very compassionate toward others who suffered.
I am reminded of a little incident that was to forever change the way I viewed difficulties in life. It remains as crystal clear today as the day it happened. One morning when I was nine years old, I was at my grand-mother's house in the country. My father had brought my sister, my mother, and me upstate for the summer. I shared a room with my sister in the attic. Within a day or two of arriving, I suffered one of my mysterious attacks. I knew I would be in bed the rest of the summer.
That morning my mother was changing the sheets with me in the bed, a routine we used to do as I couldn' get up. I couldn' even move from one side of the bed to the other, no more than an inch, because the pain was so intense. After my mother spent about an hour slowly pushing the new sheet under me and the old sheet off the other side, I had cool, smooth, new sheets and pillowcases. My mother was putting another pillowcase on another pillow to prop up my back when I saw through the open window a verdant oak tree with a bluebird on a branch. The sunshine was bright, and the air was warm. Suddenly overwhelmed by the prospect of spending the whole summer in the attic in bed, I blurted out to my mother: "Oh, this old leg. I wish I didn' have this old problem. I wish somebody else had it!" I guess it was typical of what a nine-year-old would say, but it was kind of unusual for me actually to voice such a thought. My mother spun around with the pillow in her hand and looked a bit surprised. "What did you say? Did I hear you say that?" I repeated my lament. She came over to the side of the bed and said very gently, "There is a reason for everything. What if you knew you were absorbing some of the ills of the world with your pain? How would you feel about it then? What if there were worldly reasons for your pain that transcended you? You should never say you wish you didn' have itit is your cross to bear but you must do so gladly. God chose you for this difficulty. We know nothing about life or of God's will, Susan. We must not suppose we know all about the universe. Reasons may be revealed in time." Her words struck a deep chord in me; I was stunned into silence. But her words taught me about the concept of pain having a noble value. This was an idea I had not considered, but she inspired me to think outside myself. I wanted to find out my life's role and determine whether I had a mission to fulfill.
My mother's words echoed in my heart for years as I continued to have many bad bouts with my health. It is only now that I have an inkling of what she may have meant. She told me that it is through compassion that one's pain can absorb others' pain, but at nine I was too young to understand that empathy is one of the world's most human and valuable gifts. This is something I see with greater clarity and depth as I get older. Life has many twists and turns, and often we have no idea why we are going through a particular phase until years later.
My mother's deeply philosophical nature and steadfast optimism in the face of all odds was to have a profound influence on my view of the world and, I think, on my readings and predictions, too. She taught me to see the value in challenge, and for that I will always be grateful. My dear father was also highly encouraging. He sparked my determination to explore all aspects of life. He also helped me to realize that material objects are ephemeral and hold no candle to spiritual values. Both parents helped me not only to become a happier person but also to look beyond the surface, to look deeply into events and conditions to try to find clues as to why there is suffering. My hard start in life and many subsequent challenges shaped me as a person and as an astrologer. I realized that "bad" aspects weren' necessarily all badthey had value too. As my mother would say, "We learn nothing from times of ease, Susan. It is in times of difficulty that we come face to face with who we are and what we want to be. We will always have the opportunity to build our character to its full potentialit is never too late to begin."
Excerpted from Planets and Possibilities , by Susan Miller . Copyright (c) 2001 by Susan Miller . Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY. All rights reserved.Back to top