Ode to Oprah

Today is Oprah’s last show, and I hope you will all watch it, because Oprah is my friend.

Oprah went global two months after my fabulous daughter was born. I’m not sure when I started watching, but I’m pretty sure it was close to the beginning. At that time there was no such thing as TIVO, so I didn’t tape it. Let’s say I watched five times a month. I don’t remember any of those shows, but I do remember she was a part of my life as far back as the birth of my fabulous daughter. I also remember that I never discussed watching her with anyone. It wasn’t until the last few years that I came out of the Oprah-Watcher Closet and demanded that those I care about take a look at some of her shows. Many of them looked at me like I was nuts, but I didn’t care.

I’m not alone. Some of Oprah’s stats boggle the mind. Oprah’s audience is predominantly female, white, and over the age of 55. Nationally, 7.4 million people watch Oprah daily—about 2.6 percent of American households. Four percent of American women (about 5.7 million) watch her daily, compared with 1.2 percent of men (1.7 million people). Overall, 2 percent of Americans age 18 to 49 watch Oprah—more than 5 billion people over the last twenty-five years.

She has sold millions of books, propelling unknown first-time authors to the New York Times Best Seller List and bringing some of literature’s classics to those of us who would never have read them. As a kid, I was a voracious reader, but somewhere along the path to adulthood I’d forgotten to pack books, and she reminded me that they needed to be a part of my everyday life. I remember the summer she said, “Let’s all read War and Peace together.” Here is what she said about it. “War and Peace is not so much difficult as it is long. Dig in, though, and you’ll quickly see why Tolstoy’s exuberant opus—set in the years just before, during, and after Napoleon’s invasion of Russia—is arguably the greatest novel of all time. Within these pages, you’ll find family drama, trenchant social observation, military history, brilliant discourse on the question of free will, and a love story for the ages.” I loved that summer, and War and Peace was one of the reasons why.

She has dealt with politically hot issues, including race, incest, bullying, and pretty much anything that has more than one passionate point of view. If topics like these hurt the heart too much, I sometimes have to look away, but she always does it with compassion, humor, and intelligence; and I can honestly say, I have never looked away or turned off an Oprah show. That’s a testament to her greatness right there.

I have watched some Oprah shows with Ms. Sarah, daughter extraordinaire. And, while Sarah sometimes rolled her eyes when I asked her to watch with me, generally she was transfixed after the first few minutes. She and I sent contributions after some shows. We laughed at Oprah and Gayle’s cross country drive, and at least I was imagining Sarah and me making the same trip as they lovingly bickered their way cross-country. I am closer to Sarah because of Oprah. Thanks, Oprah.

Oprah was born poor and black, deep in the south. Her mother left her with her grandmother when she was a baby. When she was around five, she was sent back to her mother. She was darker skinned than her sister, and when she arrived at the house her mother lived in, the owner of the house made her sleep alone on the porch outside because she didn’t want her in the house. Oprah was terrified out there. Alone and frightened, she invited an imaginary angel to sleep with her to keep her company and to keep her safe.

Her mother was on welfare, and one Christmas she said there would be no Christmas presents because there was no money. Oprah was saddened by this, mostly because she didn’t want to have to go to school and say they didn’t get gifts because there was no money. Nuns arrived on Christmas Eve and brought gifts, and Oprah received a doll. She was relieved because she could now go to school with a present to share. But, she also says that what was truly extraordinary was that she mattered to someone. She said she felt as if she was really somebody who was worth something to someone, or why would the nuns have brought her a gift?

Ok, last story, I promise. Her grandmother was hanging clothes to dry in the backyard of their house and she told Oprah that she wanted her to learn how to do it well so she could get a good job with a nice family when she grew up. Oprah was four. She remembers thinking, even then, that she was destined for something better and that she was not going to be hanging anyone else’s clothes on any clothesline.

I think Oprah’s pain and her experiences are what her shows relevant to her viewers. Been there, done that, and lived to share it with you, audience, if you just hang in there with me. And, isn’t that true for all of us and our friendships? Our shared experiences of our different lives are important to our friends, and sharing those experiences bring us closer.

There are Oprah-isms that have stayed with me through the years. Let me share a few of them.

Aha Moments. I have a lot of them, but not until she taught me to stop for a moment and notice them did I realize their value. I write them down now, and pass them on to my child and my friends. I like aha moments. They enrich my life.

God has a bigger dream for you than you have for yourself. While I don’t believe in the traditional God, Oprah and I have found our own God-voice over our years together, and I often go to that place that says I can do more than I dreamed. And while the journey to that end is slow indeed, I’m still striving toward it because I believe it.

You are enough the way you are. This is the hardest one of all. It’s hard to remember to view yourself through your personal mirror rather than out the window that shows your reflection through the eyes of others. It still eludes me, but it was brought to my attention by my good friend Oprah, and I thank her.

I should point out that I am not actually Oprah’s friend. She doesn’t know I exist, and that’s ok with me. Oprah is my friend. Her secrets are mine. Her glass, which seems always to be half-full, is my glass. When I am going through a difficult time I often think of her and remind myself that each of our journeys are a part of someone else’s journey, and that I need to remember that. So, I don’t really care if Oprah goes off the air. I have a lifetime’s lessons from her already inside me, and my friendship with her has nothing to do with seeing her every day, but rather with our mutual experience and attitudes over the past quarter-century. So, I bid you a fond farewell, old friend. It’s been a pleasure.

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