How many of these sweet memories are connected to milestones -- and which came quietly and unexpectedly into your life?
In my own life, I've found that times I had anticipated as major were unexpectedly humbling, with reality bringing me firmly back to earth.
I'm thinking of the times when life and possibilities seemed incredibly full and endless, when I had the thought "This is a time I'll always remember. This is it! I've really made it!" and reality was sitting there just waiting....
Reality was waiting when, as a young professional actress, I was cast in the West Coast premiere of Lanford Wilson's "This Is the Rill Speaking." In this show, the six of us played multiple roles -- with no costume or makeup changes -- and were hailed by the Los Angeles Times as "a distinguished ensemble of actors who interface in and out of multiple roles with diamond brilliance."
But our alleged brilliance eluded many audience members of this theatre subscription series. There were testy mutterings during the show and subdued applause. And one evening, just as the show was ending with each of our multiple characters saying "Good night!", one frustrated patron -- a large older man -- stood up at his seat and roared "Good night, for God's sake! When will this end???" And then he turned and ran up the aisle and out of the theatre. I had the distinct impression that at least half the audience longed to follow him.
Reality was waiting some years later on a particularly heady day during a busy national tour promoting one of my books. The day started in New York with what was a throughly enjoyable stint on "The Today Show." The only problem was, my schedule called for me next to be live on the air at noon in Sarasota, Florida.
A publicity aide and I dashed from the set of "The Today Show" to a waiting limo and barely made it to the airport for the flight to Tampa. Once we landed, we were met by another publicist and publicity escort, frantic to get to Sarasota on time. As we dashed out of the airport, I suddenly realized I hadn't used the bathroom since before going on camera on "Today." I told them I needed to pee. There was a collective sigh. "Well, hurry up!" the escort said crossly. "We'll pull the car up to the curb and you meet us there." So I did and they did and we reached the t.v. station in Sarasota five minutes before air time.
"Get out of the car and go in that door!" one of the aides said. "We'll follow you."
But just as I was opening the door, I heard the aides shout "Wait!!" in unison and run up behind me with an explosion of laughter. After using the bathroom in Tampa Airport, I had pulled my pantyhose over the back of my dress and was flashing everyone behind me. Any fantasies I might of had of my own stardom, complete with publicity entourage, vanished as I pulled my skirt out my pantyhose -- while the host of the show, who had rushed to the door to greet me, looked on.
And reality was definitely waiting the first time I appeared on OPRAH in early 1988. She was doing a show around "The Teenage Body Book" and had asked that my co-author -- my friend Chuck Wibbelsman, who is an M.D. -- appear on the show. She wasn't interested in me because I was "just" the writer. At that point, I was working on but was still a few years away from completing my doctorate.
Chuck, bless his heart, begged the producer to consider having me on the show as well. "Kathy and I are a team," he insisted. "I know you'll agree if you just talk to her." And so the producer did -- and did agree to bring me on as well.
It was a moment of triumph: here we were, on the set of OPRAH, all miked up and ready to go on a show that was truly the Holy Grail to writers looking to promote their books. In those days, the show was live and Oprah didn't meet with non-celebrity guests before the show. She walked onto the set as the countdown to air time as going.....10, 9, 8.....
"Hello, doctor," she said warmly, shaking Chuck's hand. Then she saw me and her eyes narrowed....
"What is SHE doing here?" she yelled. "I just wanted the doctor!"
3,2,1...The cameras blinked on and the show began.
Oprah was and is the best at what she does. When we went live, she sparkled. She was smart. She was charming. I had to admit, as unsettled as I had been by her greeting, that on camera she was absolutely great, the best. And the exposure -- one couldn't ask for more.
All our mikes were off as the closing music played and the credits ran over the visual of Oprah thanking us for doing the show. She came up to Chuck, took his hands in both of hers and said "Thank you so much, doctor! I really appreciate your being here and all the good things you had to say." She turned to me with a dazzling smile, clasping my hands warmly in her own and leaned into me. "When the music stops, get off the stage," she said. "I've got to shoot promos."
Chuck and I left the studio in shock. "It's like finding out there is no Santa," he said sadly. "Here I thought she would be so nice!"
Oprah was much nicer when I guested on the show again several years later, promoting a book I had written by myself. The show was now taped, removing the stress of live television, and inviting me back had been her idea. So the experience was much more pleasant.
But my expectations were different, too. I didn't expect her to be nice at all, so when she was relatively congenial, I was delighted.
Still, when I think about life's most pleasurable moments, they were almost never those big experiences, the times when I expected so much and found the experience humbling or underwhelming.
When I think back over my life and the true emotional highs, they tend to be simple moments. Moments like:
- being lithe and thirty something and running for miles in Griffith Park with a cool breeze in my face
- lovely evenings early in my relationship with Bob when we introduced each other to our favorite music, talked and told stories into the night
- Sunday brunch and art gallery walking tours of Laguna Beach
- wonderful, day-long conversations with dear friends like Mary or Steve and Sharon or Nancy and Jerry or Tim -- both long ago and recently
- ongoing great conversations with my brother Mike, my sister Tai, my husband Bob and friends here in Arizona
- embracing Aunt Molly as we waded into the surf one last time and all the memories of romping in the waves with her during my growing up years
- the softness and sweet scent of a tiny kitten -- Freddie, some 30 years ago and later on, very special kittens named Timmy, Gus, Maggie, Sweet Pea and, most recently, our wonderful Hamish
- the lovely feel of a small child on my lap, eager for a story -- most recently, my niece Maggie, who bonded with me over our shared delight at her incomparable story book about hippos.
- the joy of connection -- with an old friend or a new friend -- in person or online
- sharing laughter with someone dear -- especially my husband Bob as we re-visit private jokes and old punchlines
- the delicious feeling of that first weekday after we retired as Bob and I lingered over coffee in our new Arizona home
- waking up to a bright, beautiful morning and feeling grateful for another day
If you're like me, these moments of unexpected joy were often simple, ordinary moments, situations with no particular expectations, moments that had nothing to do with professional achievement and everything to do with mindfulness, peace and love shared.