The Legacy of a Life in Four Words: In Honor of Valerie Harper

Learn from the legacy of an amazing woman.

Continued from page 1

There is an antidote, happily. Interestingly enough, Yalom arrived at the solution through years of psychoanalytic study. Harper arrived at pretty much the same destination in the days following her diagnosis. As Harper puts it: “Cancer makes real what we try to obscure for ourselves. We spend our lifetimes thinking, ‘I’m never going to die.’ But cancer says, ‘Hey, not so fast.’” Harper adds: “Confronting the truth will always set you free..at least it has for me.” Yalom says something similar when he adapts some of Nietzsche’s words to show the way: “To become wise you must learn to listen to the wild dogs barking in your cellar.”

What does the other side of denial driven by fear of death look like? Again, Harper is our guide. Sometimes she admits to feeling sad, angry, frightened and hurt. But, too, there are moments of hope and laughter. In other words, she allows herself the entire range of human emotions. And while Harper doesn’t believe in reincarnation, she finds herself curious about what the future may hold. “I have a lot of interest in what lies ahead.”

This is not spirituality for beginners, by any estimation. Inspired by Harper, as I waited for the result of my medical exams, I challenged myself into a state of deep acceptance. I could live thirty more years; I could die tomorrow. The question was not the length of my life, but that I missed as little of whatever life I have to live. As Harper says: “I’m not going to focus on the end until it becomes reality.” Embracing one’s own mortality, neither denying nor suppressing, while committing to live in the present moment as fully as possible, is a tall order, indeed. When I got the results of my tests back, and the prognosis was good, I had a double celebration. Not only do I have an indeterminate amount of runway ahead of me, but I’ve got a fair shot at not missing any more of it as I go.

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The article in "People Magazine" leaves us in the end with an image of Valerie Harper standing on the edge of her lawn, gazing up at the stars. “Life,” Harper whispers, “Is amazing. Live it to the fullest. Stay as long as you can.”

So this is the legacy of Valerie Harper’s life in four words: “Don’t miss your life.”

What will yours be?

Carol Orsborn is Founder of FierceWithAge, the Digest of Boomer Wisdom, Inspiration and Spirituality. Dr. Orsborn is the best-selling author of 21 books including her newest book: Fierce with Age: Chasing God and Squirrels in Brooklyn. (Spring 2013) With a doctorate in religion from Vanderbilt, Dr. Orsborn is a sought after speaker/retreat leader and spiritual director.

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Carol Orsborn, Ph.D., Fierce with Age
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