| Patti's Pearls |
By Patti LaBelle and Laura Randolph Lancaster
Genre: Inspirational & Self-Help
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The only time
you run out of chances
is when you stop taking them.
In the seventies, right after Labelle broke up, I thought my career was in serious trouble. No, that's not true. It was much worse than that. In the months following the breakup of Labelle, I thought my career was over. Finished. Circling the drain.
You have to understand, I had been with Nona and Sarah for more than a decadesince we were teenagersand just the thought of setting foot on a stage without them wrecked me. I mean, the mere idea left me paralyzed with fear. There was only one thing in the world more frightening to me than the thought of singing solo. And that was the thought of never singing again.
That's the only reason I finally agreed to perform a solo concert. Even then, my best friend, Norma, had to push me out on that stage. Literally. I had worked myself into such a frenzy, I probably wouldn't have lasted five minutes in front of that audience if I hadn't wrapped myself in the words Norma whispered in my ear as she shoved me into the spotlight: "You never run out of chances, Pat, until you stop taking them."
Thanks to Norma's words, words that reminded me that God wouldn't bring me that far only to leave me, I was able to reach deep down inside myself and give a performance that earned me a hand-clapping, foot-stomping standing ovation. Though it's been nearly three decades, every now and then I'll run into somebody who was at that show and they'll tell me, "Girl, you turned the place out that night." Unfortunately, I didn't learn the lessons of that experience until much later, after I'd turned down dozens of wonderful chances because I was afraid to take one. After I'd said "no" to a whole lot of people and opportunities I should have said "yes" to. After I finally learned to see fear for what it really is: False Evidence Appearing Real. Faith turned inside out.
To make sure I never again let my fear of failure or
the unknown get the best of me, I repeat Martin
Luther King Jr.'s brilliant words on the regular:
Fear knocked at the door.
There was no one there.
It was Norma who tried to tell me what Brother Martin knew instinctively. He knew in his heart, in the marrow of his bones, what it took me half a lifetime to learn: If you wait until your hands stop shaking, you will never open the door. You can't steal second base by keeping your foot on first. You have to go out on a limb. Because that's where all the fruit is.
Many a false step is made
by standing still.
For the last several years, I was smiling on the outside and dying on the inside. That's how long I pretended my marriage was fine when I knew it was finished. That's how long I lingered in a relationship I knew I should have left.
Why I didn't leave sooner I'm only now beginning to fully understand. Part of it was because I didn't want to hurt my family; I didn't want to change their world just because I wanted to change mine. Especially since I was the one who had encouraged them to believe in a fantasy: that Armstead and I were the perfect couple. A modern-day Ozzie and Harriet. A real-life Ward and June. In reality, of course, nothing could have been further from the truth. In reality, Armstead and I were more like the Odd Couple than the perfect couple. More Oscar and Felix than Cliff and Claire.
While I didn't want to upset my loved ones, that's only part of the reason I didn't leave my marriage sooner. The main reason was less selfless, more spineless. The main reason I didn't leave sooner was to spare myself from making an agonizing choice, a choice I wanted desperately to pretend didn't exist: between hurting my son or healing myself. Between causing him pain or ending mine. Between starting to live for myself or continuing to live a lie.
That's how I justified staying. That's how I rationalized the happy marriage charade. That's how I handled everythingthe loneliness, the emptiness, the pretense. Staying meant I wouldn't have to choose between breaking Zuri's heart and mending mine. At least that's what I told myself.
But the longer I stayed, the unhappier I became. And the unhappier I became, the more I started to understand what my friend Laura Nyro, the legendary singer-songwriter, tried to tell me many years ago when I was at another crucial crossroads in my life.
"Many a false step is made by standing still," Laura said to me when I told her that I wasn't going to leave Labelle.
Like a lot of people close to us, Laura knew that the creative differences between Nona, Sarah, and me were destroying us. Deep down, I knew it, too. But instead of acknowledging the problem, I ran from it. Instead of facing the music, I stayed and suffered in silence. Until the day we broke up, I kept all the pain inside and pretended.
"You don't get it, do you, Pat?" Laura said to me one day when I called her in tears after a particularly ugly fight with Sarah and Nona. "Doing nothing doesn't get you off the hook. Because if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice. If you choose not to leave, you have decided to stay."
I wish Laura were alive so I could tell her that, almost thirty years after that phone call, I finally get it. I finally understand what she was trying to tell me: Not to decide is to decide. Doing nothing is doing something. Silence is the door to consent.
You know the old saying "You can run, but you can't hide"? Well, it's a cliché for a reason. Take it from someone who's tried to run from her problems more times than enough. Enough to know it never works. And here's why. Because you can't hide from yourself. It's simply not possible. As the book title says, "Wherever you go, there you are."
As I've learned the hard way, if you choose to do nothing about your problems, you have actually made a deliberate choice. Because not saying "no" is saying "yes." Not saying "I won't accept that"whether it's a bad marriage or an awful job or an abusive relationshipis actually saying "I will accept it." Not deciding to progress is deciding to stand still.
In my life, that single awareness has been worth its weight in gold. Because it has led me to an even greater understanding: Even if you fall on your face, you're still moving forward.
Excerpted from Patti's Pearls , by Patti LaBelle and Laura Randolph Lancaster . Copyright (c) 2001 by Patti LaBelle and Laura Randolph Lancaster . Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY. All rights reserved.Back to top