I love Oprah. I’ve been watching her since I was a pimply teenager looking for diet tips and ways to attract a boyfriend. My dream was to become a journalist and interview newsmakers and celebrities just like she does. I wound up a TV news producer and writer and — although I never got my own show or theme song — I thank Oprah for motivating me.
O and I have been through a lot together. Big hair, shoulder pads, and several body types. We’ve also taken a spiritual journey as we grew up and began to recognize the world outside ourselves. The cynical will snicker, but I believe she encouraged me to be a better person. Her shows prompted me to read great books, be more generous with time and money, and better understand my fellow man.
When I heard it was her last season, I wanted to make the pilgrimage to my hometown of Chicago to see her in person. I lobbied everyone I knew who might have a connection until I scored tickets. I booked my flight and shared my excitement with friends.
But each time I told someone I was going to see Oprah, instead of embracing the experience, they began to fantasize aloud about every possible giveaway I might receive: “Maybe you’ll get a car, or a trip, or an iPad!”
I struggled to respond to the unenlightened.
But an iPad would be nice.
In the days leading up to the taping, I received a slew of emails from my show contact with detailed directions and expected codes of conduct: no cell phones, cameras, or gifts. If your purse is too big, you are required to check it with your coat and any extra clothing. Oprah runs a tight ship.
The date of the show changed twice. The topic was a documentary called “I Am,” which we were encouraged to see beforehand but the screening time changed as well. All the changes affected our travel and social plans but it’s Oprah, so the producers knew no one would bail.
I rose before dawn for the 6:15 a.m. call time. My friend and I waited in line for an hour and received a breakfast snack while sitting in another waiting area for a second hour, before finally entering the studio.
“ I Am” is a cerebral and inspiring documentary on how to fix the world by changing the way we think and behave. It’s directed by Tom Shadyac, best known as the writer/director of blockbuster comedies like “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective,” and “Liar, Liar.” Shadyac had a life changing bike accident that prompted him to reevaluate and set out on a quest, talking to scientists, writers, philosophers, and spiritual leaders. The film examines our core values like survival of the fittest and the race to acquire wealth and power, instead of helping each other and working together as a global community.
The movie was intense and thought provoking, but pretty heavy for 8 a.m. Just as I started to ponder how I’m to blame for kids starving in Africa, Oprah’s audience coordinator got everyone on their feet dancing and cheering to boost energy for the big show. When Oprah entered, an electric surge went through the room, the adoration reminiscent of The Beatles emerging for a concert encore.
As I expected, Oprah radiated beauty and was a gracious host—although she looked the same up close as she does on my DVR. She put everyone at ease by cracking jokes, commenting on all the new outfits in the audience, and thanking everyone for rearranging their lives to be there. Watching her hoist up her jeans a few times during commercials was amusing and a reminder that she’s only human.
The show was mellow. It was mostly “I Am” clips and an interview with Shadyac about the film’s message. The hour went by in a flash and as I stood applauding, my heart sank. It was over.
I knew from OWN’s “Behind the Scenes” show that Oprah usually takes questions from the audience after the taping so I waited eagerly, trying to think of something original to ask. But with a quick wave and a broad smile, she was gone. All the schedule changes before the show meant she was shooting multiple shows that day so she had to move on, which — as a producer — I understood. But I was disappointed.
At the giant Harpo store — feeling like a cheesy tourist — I sheepishly bought a coffee mug emblazoned with Oprah’s signature and “25th Season,” just to remember I was there.
When I returned, friends wanted details but each question was punctuated with “So you didn’t get anything?” Coming home empty-handed made me feel like a failure. Somehow crossing Oprah off my bucket list, spending quality time with old friends, and being fortunate enough to have the means to take the trip, all seemed to pale in comparison to snagging swag.
It wasn’t just the stuff. Other guests that week included my writing idol, Tina Fey (free copy of Bossypants!) and a best friends show with Gayle King (3-day Arizona spa trip giveaway!). In following weeks, I missed Chris Rock, Michael Douglas, Rob Lowe, and the Obamas. One show featured Nike founder Phil Knight who handed out running shoes and watches with a special “Oprah” monogram. Sour grapes? Nope, not me.
Have I learned nothing from all my years sitting at Oprah’s knee as she sang to me of gratitude and being present in the moment?
I hated myself for being jealous and greedy. In an “A-ha!” moment, I realized I was griping about not grabbing goodies at a show about rejecting materialism! So I didn’t get advice from Dr. Oz or take home one single favorite thing. Did I only want to live my best life if it came with an iPad?
There’s one thing I know for sure: I had to allow myself time to mourn my lost loot, and reclaim my dignity and self respect. If I was living my truth, I had to acknowledge my feelings and let them go so I could open my heart to appreciation and acceptance. That’s what Oprah would do.
Thanks Oprah. I’ll miss you.