Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Farewell to Oprah

Right now I am at a place in my life where I feel truly, authentically, and completely happy. I have said that at other times in my life, but I don't know if I really believed it before. Overall, I've had a pretty great life, so it's not that I was unhappy, just that I didn't feel completely fulfilled until recently. I didn't know what changed until Wednesday when I sat down to watch the final episode of the Oprah Winfrey Show. When she said, "...that's what a calling is. It lights you up and it lets you know that you are exactly where you are supposed to be and doing exactly what you're supposed to be doing." As she spoke that sentence, Reese climbed across my legs and sat in my lap. I had a brief flashback of all the time I've shared with my daughter this year; all the things I taught her; all the things she taught me; how much I've enjoyed my job as a full-time wife and mother; and how much I've grown as a woman. With teary eyes, I scooped her up and kissed her. That was it. That was the change. I had answered a calling. I listened to "the voice bigger than myself" that led me to leave my career and serve my family. At that moment, I knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be and doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing. And then I realized that I just received my last "aha moment" from The Oprah Winfrey Show.

Over the past 30 days, I have been religiously watching the final episodes. Each day, I cling to a box of Kleenex and experience wave after wave of mixed emotions... I can't believe it's over. However, until the last 30 days, I wasn't a regular viewer. I always knew Oprah was a special person and that she was doing special things, but there were plenty of times when years would go by and I would catch only a handful of episodes. Needless to say, I never expected to spend this entire 30 day countdown glued to the TV, tears coming and going, feeling more and more disbelief as the number of remaining episodes got smaller and smaller. As 30 became 20, and 20 became 10, and 10 became 1, I have been growing more sad and trying to figure out why I'm so upset about a show I hardly watched.

Although I was never a regular viewer, I was still among millions of kids who knew Oprah Winfrey as a household name. I remember seeing her on TV when I was in grade school, high school, college, and now as a wife and mother. Through every season of my life, there have been few things as constant as The Oprah Winfrey Show. She was as ever-present as the tree in the backyard of my childhood home. Its roots keep it firmly planted on the ground while its branches reach for the limitless sky. With modesty, humility, and grace as her roots; and hope, freedom, and inspiration as her branches, Oprah is the metaphorical tree in the backyard of so many childhood homes. I may not have looked at my tree every day, and I may not have always appreciated it, but I took comfort in its unchanging presence and it's constant reminder that the sky is the limit.

The 30 day countdown felt like the destruction of that tree; each passing day was an axe swinging against its base. Only it's not just any tree. It's a tree whose roots run so deep that they connect people on every corner of the planet. It's a tree whose branches reach so high that everyone can experience the safety and comfort of its shade. Everyone who is striving to be a better person; everyone who is recovering from abuse or addition; everyone who has been plagued by depression; everyone who has suffered a loss; and everyone who is desperate for hope can gather underneath it for an hour a day and be reminded that "What I say matters" and  "I am not alone."

If Oprah's goal today was to tie a beautiful bow around 25 years of inspiration and encouragement, she succeeded beyond measure. Even as only a sporadic viewer, I have shed countless happy and sad tears. I have been encouraged to live a better, fuller life. I have been inspired to make a difference. I have been amazed by the resiliency of the human spirit. And I have been reminded to completely disregard all that we are taught to see as impossible. 

Most endings come with another beginning - the next big thing, the next Oprah Winfrey. But the reason we are all so sad is because there will not be a next Oprah. A person with the combined spirits of Mother Teresa and Santa Claus comes only once in a lifetime. I believe that the 25 years of the Oprah Show were a phenomenon that will only be experienced by the generations fortunate enough to have been touched by it. And as sad as it is, I know that Oprah doesn't want us to be sad. She wants us to go out and continue her legacy of hope and inspiration by encouraging each other to keep rising from the ashes, lifting veils of shame, making big differences, and "using our [callings] to serve the world."

Thank you, Oprah, for 25 years of serving your calling and for validating my pursuit of mine.

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