Brett, Regina. Be The Miracle: 50 Lessons for Making the Impossible Possible. New York: MJF Books, 2012.
[An installment of the “Read Me” Project]

Be The Miracle got to the Read Me Shelf from the sale table at Barnes and Noble, and was still wearing its “members pay only” sticker. I try to avoid buying “upbeat” books these days, even at a discount. They make me reach for the Benadryl. But this one seemed different, as I remembered once I started reading it again: it was upbeat but not sugary, it was more about God than the average Tony Robbins-style motivational manual but not all about God, it had magical thinking but balloon-weighted with reason. So it was intriguing, and seemed like something I “could handle.”

Cover of Be The Miracle

Brett has survived breast cancer. That alone is a major accomplishment, that transforms a person’s outlook on life. Her first book, God Never Blinks: 50 Lessons for Life’s Little Detours, shared the life wisdom she collected along the way to that accomplishment. This follow-up volume outlines more life wisdom, gathered from her decades of writing a column for the Cleveland Plain Dealer and observing “ordinary” people’s miraculous ability to be extraordinary and to do extraordinary things.

There are many ways to be extraordinary. Sometimes “extraordinary” means raising children who graduate from Harvard when you’re a single mom making $4.25 an hour. (“Lesson 38: You are a child’s most important teacher.”) Sometimes it means donating $20,000 of home construction so a sick child can go home from the hospital with the specialized equipment she needs (“Lesson 27: Believe in abundance.”) Sometimes it means finding the way to grant a college degree to an 85-year-old veteran and night-school student whose original graduation was denied by an ill-timed snow storm, a heedless professor, and a lifetime of following the alternative path (“Lesson 41: Make someone else’s dream come true.”) Brett has distilled her wide acquaintance with the many ways to be extraordinary into 50 life lessons she presents for the rest of us ordinary extraordinary folks.

Brett writes well – which doesn’t quite go without saying, even for professional journalists – with a crisp, engaging voice, so the book moves at a brisk pace, with plenty of human interest. I admit she lost me at Lesson 33 (“Harness the power of hope”) with a long list of “universal in the particular” things that give her hope. That might not have been her fault. They probably ought to give me hope, too, and might have if my “I hate lyricism” button weren’t so twitchy. But she got me back at Lesson 34 (“Watch well your words. Practice restraint of tongue and pen.”) on the need to put the brakes on “loshon hora”, negative speech. That’s a practice I can see the need for, embrace, and hope to get better at. The most affecting lesson, though, was Lesson 19 (“Pray like you mean it”), which outlines a philosophy of prayer that emphasizes trusting God to be looking out for our best interests enough to register our specific needs and requests once, and then only follow up with thanks for God’s steadfast love and superior wisdom. I suspect that will change my outlook on prayer for good, as Brett says it changed hers.

All in all, I was convinced, at least while I was reading the book, that a little more focusing on the positive and the possibilities probably is a good policy, and little less discounting and denying the wisdom of looking on the bright side might not be disastrous. I could change that much. Enough to grant that maybe if more of us did that, it would be better rather than worse for us, our neighbors, and the world we live in.

I think that makes Be The Miracle a good book, in the best sense.

And I didn’t need more than a couple of Benadryl.


interior of book tower in Prague Municipal Library