I’m working on a project that lead me to be at the Oprah talk last night in Edmonton. It was me, a producer friend, 11 other guys and about 20,000 women. I can assure other men that no gym muscles or hot cars will ever get a man the sort of credit you get for just being a guy at Oprah. We were congratulated several times just for coming, which felt odd.
I’m sorry, I never remember to take photos at these things, I’m always too much in the now to think to interrupt the moment in order to try capturing the moment, and I don’t use a smartphone.
It was in general a very happy, cooperative, friendly crowd and it felt good to be there. The talk itself felt a bit more like a highlight reel featuring mixed metaphors than a one long whip cracking.
Rather than a raconteur spinning out a theme and ending it with a swell and a snap –where there’s a beginning, middle and end with a climax– this was more a collection of vignettes of poignant scenes done more like an anthology of distinct stories. It was a bit like the difference between a band performing an entire concept album, versus just their greatest hits.
Her ‘greatest hits’ included video clips that featured Gary Zukov, and she had Wild author Cheryl Nyland on stage for a very authentic-feeling section that seemed to really focus the audience’s attention. In the end, everyone we asked really enjoyed the event.
I was there for a very particular reason, but it was still very easy to notice how invested people are in their health and in caring about others. That entire show was about a generous, caring, open and accepting way to see life, and there were 20,000 disciples all saying, ‘yes, we’re on board.’
How can we see the world as ugly when that many people show up just to share space and love?
What struck me most about her talk was a particularly vulnerable section regarding her early life. For those unaware, Oprah had a half-sister given up for adoption, and she herself was not seen as a gift to either her mother or her grandmother. In short, she was almost entirely unloved throughout her childhood, and you could feel that she still carries the pain of that even today.
She spoke of forgiving her mother before her death, although I got the sense that is still unfinished business with her. She did say something beautiful and true, which is that it was the neglect of attention that Oprah suffered early in life that lead her to a life on TV, and then as a talk show host, and ultimately she became the loving person she is precisely because she had those unloving forces in her life.
Maybe what made last night work was that Oprah wasn’t some deity administering her balm to the audience’s wounds, she was there more as an equal. While the talk used phrasing about how grateful she was for the wisdom she had gained from so many wise people, it felt less like a talk from an expert, and more like another human connecting and saying, “Life is hard at times, but worth it. This is what I’ve found and it works pretty good. I’m glad we’re in it together.”
Any kid who doesn’t get love will either get super cold or they will become an expert on love, and Oprah both demonstrates love and she clearly also basks in it. It’s always a nice thing to see people who need love, openly enjoying getting it.
Considering what she’s given people, it feels appropriate that her mother’s missing, stable, narrow mile-deep love is being replaced by her audience. Maybe they can’t give her the sort of love that knows her as well and goes as deep, but regardless, it can extend across her horizons in every direction. After a tough childhood, it’s wonderful that she would have used her pain to build such a beautiful view.
I share with Oprah her sheer joy in sharing love with others, and I too cannot help but be grateful for even her grandmother and mother’s cold feelings, for without those the way would not have been paved for one of modern society’s most potent outlets of positivity. On a universal pain-to-benefit ratio, Oprah is a clear win for love.
Every person struggling with their parents will have benefits grow out of that struggle. The question isn’t so much; why didn’t Oprah’s mother openly love her, because we’d have to be her mother to fully grasp that. That means the real question is; what did Oprah do with that sad fact?
What Oprah did with that fact was to beam love through the airwaves into TVs and books across North America, and that lead to massive amounts of love flowing toward her. And that is a pretty good outcome out of two uncaring caregivers. Such is the yin and yang of life.
The final question is, how are we weaving our pain into love?