Two of Regina Brett’s aunts died from breast cancer before their 45th birthdays — a disease she too had battled at age 41. It was something she thought about often in the days leading up to her own 45th birthday.
“I was lying in bed feeling really grateful to grow older,” Brett recalls. “I grabbed a journal and started writing what I’d learned in these 45 years.”
Brett’s 45 life lessons became one of her most popular Plain Dealer columns. When her 50th birthday arrived, she added five more lessons. The list became a popular e-mail forward that reached people around the world.
This month, Brett’s 50 lessons arrive in book form with God Never Blinks: 50 Lessons for Life’s Little Detours (Grand Central Publishing, $21.99). We talked to Brett about the book, her column and the lessons closest to her heart.
Cleveland Magazine: How did your 50 life lessons become a book?
Regina Brett: I was writing a different book about my cancer experience. [Former PD writing coach] Stuart Warner called me and said, “Do you have any idea how popular these lessons are? They’re everywhere. You should turn this into a book.” When Stuart says that, you listen. So I stopped writing the [other] book and wrote this.
CM: Who was the ideal reader you had in mind?
RB: I wrote it for all the “mes” I used to be. The me who was an unwed mom at 21 and was lost. The person I was when I had cancer and was scared — all those little past lives we all have. When I write my column, I have one reader in mind, my dad. He was a sheet metal worker who had to quit high school to work. Cleveland is full of blue-collar guys and women … doing these amazing things just trying to raise their families. That’s who I write for.
CM: Which of the 50 lessons do you consider closest to your heart?
RB: The hardest learned was “The Best Is Yet To Come.” I came from a family of 11 children. My mom was so busy; I didn’t really connect with her. I didn’t think I ever would, but the year she turned 75 we had a renewal. I tell people it’s never too late, the best is yet to come no matter how old you are.
The [lesson] that’s still hardest for me is “If You Don’t Ask, You Don’t Get.” I can write a column for 300,000 PD readers, but if I have to return a sweater at Macy’s, I get scared. ... There’s part of me that’s still a coward. I keep this sticky note on my desk: “God will not have His work made manifest by cowards.”
CM: How do you deal with writing about people’s heartbreaking life circumstances?
RB: I am drawn to people who have been wounded by life. I keep a journal by my bed and cut out the faces of people in the newspaper. Maybe I can’t solve their problem but I can keep them in my prayers. Every writer has their calling, their sense of mission, and I think mine is to inspire people to help those people.
CM: Will there ever be a time you stop your column to focus on books?
RB: Every time I get an e-mail from a reader that would be a great column, I think, How could I not write that one? There are so many great stories to tell. People who would never have their name in the paper, you write about them and change their life. It’s such power.