Health food for the soul
July 06, 2012

by Jack L. Kennedy

Ruby Hillsman had conviction, a variety of experiences as a nurse for more than 30 years, minister’s wife for 20, and business owner. She also had an idea.

Why not, she reasoned, think about the meaning of various incidents in life, record them, and pass them along. She did, in If I Knew Then What I Know Now, subtitled “Time to stop recycling the same old mistakes” and “Life lessons to last more than a lifetime.”

The thin, thoughtful tome from West Bow Press is a modest attempt to meditate about events in life, often not overwhelming or newsworthy, and which at the time they happened, perhaps, seemed of little consequence. Hillsman the nurse does not pretend to have a cure for all ills, scrapes and problems. She does not claim to be a psychiatrist. But her best lesson may be in the format of the book itself: After each chapter in life, good and bad, big and small, try to remember, respect and actually record what is most memorable or useful from a situation. Perhaps, this is a good idea for all of us.

The personal tales and unadorned everyday stories span several phases of the author’s life. As times changed, she had to cope with newly integrated schools. She was the only black face in her elementary class for a time. She was a longtime oncology nurse, and her days on the hospital floor are memorable. Somehow she found the strength to go on and to pass some of that strength to patients.

The human interest stories often tell and sell themselves. Through them Hillsman’s own outlook on the world around her develops. Page by page the reader learns her beliefs--that one must be understanding, and listen, really listen, to what others say. She is a firm believer in hope, options, keeping an open mind and heart. At times the situations may seem somewhat simplistic or naïve. But Hillsman is a disciple of love with firmness, standing up for what one believes, being yourself, and giving others the benefit of a doubt but not the right to walk all over you or anyone else. Trusting one’s own instincts and believing in the power of education are recurring themes.

Along the way the book has thoughts on sex education, welcoming diversity and avoiding stereotyping. One memorable moment tells how difficult it was for some of the nurses on her cancer treatment floor to give up their smoking between shifts—a practice now more recognized as hazardous to smoker and cancer patient.

Much of the book is sometimes seen as common sense, perhaps the world’s greatest oxymoron. When read thoughtfully, savored and put into practice, bit by bit, it might cool some people down on a hot summer day, or any day.

Title - If I Knew Then What I Know Now
Author: Ruby Hillsman
Publisher: West Bow Press (Aug. 29, 2011)
$11.86/paperback; $7.69/Kindle at
ISBN-10: 1449723896
ISBN-13: 978-1449723897

For an article about the Hillsman family's Sunshine Nutrition Center stores in Tennessee go here.

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