Thursday, July 19, 2012

Memorable Moments

Think of some of the major milestones of your life, some of the big moments, and then think about which times -- major or not -- stand out among your happy memories.

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
What are the emotional high points of your life? Were there times you thought would be great, but weren't -- and times when joy caught you by surprise?

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.


  1. Another great post. I think our expectations are often set too high and we disappoint ourselves. Like my 50th birthday. It was nice, but not as good as I'd hoped. My 51st was so much better and I had no expectations at all for that one....

  2. What a gamut of emotions in this post! Oh, I felt your pain with a little smile at the play and the wardrobe mishap. I am glad Oprah redeemed herself, although that was unecessarily rude the first time. I so loved your list of the wonderful things. Many of my favorite moments are like that- the unexpected ones you don't plan for and build and swell into magnificence.

  3. I was a bit disappointed in your experience with Oprah. She always seems so warm and sincere. But then she was nominated for an Academy Award.
    Cracked up at the panty hose episode.What a humbler.
    I agree, the best moments are the unexpected and unsought after ones.

  4. What a delightful image, Kathy dashing into a TV studio with a dress in her pantyhose! One thing's sure, you'll never forget it! I would agree that the best moments are the quiet ones. Have you ever seen the Japanese Movie "After Life" in which those who have died get to have a movie made of one memory, only one, to take with them forever. It's the little things -- the day in the park, being with a loved one -- that most wanted. That's what I would want, too, as I see you would.

  5. Very interesting, Kathy... I feel like I know a 'celebrity'... You have really had an interesting life... BUT--I agree that it's the little unexpected things in life which mean more than anything big like meeting Oprah.... (Too bad that Oprah --and other celebrities like her could be so nice in front of the camera--and yet so rude behind the camera...)

    Little moments --some expected and some not---which come to mind in my life:
    -having my babies (what a miracle)
    -my sons' weddings
    -birth of my first grandchild
    -finding so much love with George (love I never knew was available)
    -my marriage to George
    -waking up every moment with George by my side
    -eating peanut-butter pie made by my sweet mother-in-law
    -emailing with my father-in-law when he was about 90--and had taught himself to learn the computer at that age!!!
    -sitting on a mountaintop watching a sunset
    ETC ETC ETC..... I could go on and on and on...

    Thanks for a great post.

  6. OH what memories you have and such beautiful one's with family and friends.
    I have always admired you for all the accomplishments in your life and have thought of you on the Oprah show trying to remember if I had seen you as her guest. I seldom watched Oprah because I have dreamed of making my dream come true of writing and then only to be put down by Oprah on her show. haha
    Honestly I have had others that have dealt with her at one time or another in her personal life not on the show and none had anything really nice to say about her. One friend of mine was her neighbor for a long while and the stories he could tell. hahaha
    I think sometimes people like her forget that they came from humble beginnings just like most of us and only by the Grace of God have they made it but actually we are happier with our memories than they are.
    My special moments are like you with my family and friends.
    I would not trade those for anything.
    Sorry I have been absent from visiting but as always I just love coming by here and visiting with you.
    You have been such a blessing in my little life.
    Love ya

  7. Well, now I know why I connect with you. I've had my share of dress tucked in the back of my panties or pantyhose moments. Once in London at a very nice hotel, I walked almost into the dining room this way. Thankfully I only got to the door before my friend caught my problem. Once, I walked all the way across the airport in Colorado Springs like this. It was in the days when carrying a computer in a case over the shoulder was rare. I thought everyone was looking at the computer. No one told me of my problem. I even met friends who noticed. I realized it myself when I sat down. Finally, walking into a college classroom, a male colleague caught the problem, told his female colleague, who told me before I humiliated myself in front of the classroom. These moments are burned in my head, so you would think I would remember to check the problem more often!

  8. A very thought-provoking post Kathy. It is so true that those events we imagine will be so special and wonderful are often over-wrought and disappointing. It is always the 'simple' things we remember most fondly. What a sad anecdote about Oprah. One would like to think she was just having a bad day -- she sure didn't do much for your's. More evidence that fame and success come at great cost...

  9. Dear Kathy, your posting and the listing with which you ended it got me thinking, of course, about my own life and my expectations and realizations. I won't give you a long list of all that goes into my gratitude journal each night--something I've been doing for over twelve years--but I will say that my first sip of hot tea each morning eases me into whatever the day is to bring and brings to me a sense of tranquility. Peace.

  10. Kathy, I really enjoyed your post. I made me really think, reminisce and reevaluate. Thanks for the memories.