Night of Tissues

Night of Tissues

My poor wife brought up iPhoto late last evening just before we went to bed and asked me with just a touch of exasperation in her voice, “why did you take pictures of our kleenix?”  I pretended not to hear the question, especially because the answer is pretty obvious to me-  my blog!

Kathy and I spent much of yesterday evening watching part of the Oprah Winfrey 20th Anniversary DVD set.  There are six disks in all, but we were focused last night on a portion of the first disk called “Heart Prints” – in which Oprah talks about the guests who were the most moving/ inspirational/ heartbreaking over the past two decades.

O my gosh!  We were living out every cliche you’ve ever heard about Oprah and her Sob Fests /  “Welcome once again to Flood of Tears Friday on the Oprah Show. . . “/ Oprah and her “Cry Ladies”/etc. etc. It was one touching thing after another and it was amazing how the tears just kept coming.  At one point, Kathy asked rather plaintively “why are we doing this to ourselves?!?!”   Good question.  I guess I’m mostly to blame.  Saturday I was home alone most of the day, busy doing six loads of laundry – and the Oprah collection seemed like the easiest and handiest way (short of Wagner’s Ring Cycle) to keep myself entertained for that length of time.  And in typical Berg backwards style, I began with the sixth and final disk and worked myself to the beginning.  .  . skipping things like the whole Weight/ Diet section on Disk Five which was of absolutely no interest to me whatsoever. . . but watching most of the rest and really enjoying it.

Not that I  adore everything about Oprah – or about this DVD set.  She leaves something to be desired as an interviewer, mostly because she goes into almost all of her interviews without any questions already formulated.  (I don’t think interviews should be tightly scripted, but the total spontaneity thing is often not as good as one might think.) And for someone who interviews for a living, she is a rather spotty listener – who also tends to retain a little too much of the spotlight for herself, as opposed to giving over that spotlight wholly to her guests.  That’s an issue on this DVD set as well, with a little too much given over to Oprah’s commentary and not enough to the clips themselves.  (I didn’t use a stopwatch or anything, but I would swear that there are certain instances in which we hear as much of Oprah talking about a particular guest as we hear from the guest themself.  That seems strange to me.) And one item on my list of pet peeves is her tendency to say as commercials approach, “We’ll be back with Bob Gall and his Ukulele Band. Back in a moment.  We’ll be right back.”  Arrrgh!   At least we’re spared that on these DVDs!

Enough complaints.  What is of course far more important is that Oprah Winfrey is an amazing human being who has really made a difference for the better in this world. She has reshaped much of our culture and life- and generated new goodness both here and in other parts of the world.  And when one considers where she came from – and what she endured as a youngster – an amazing story becomes still more amazing.  She has an incredible personality, tremendous creativity and vision, and such a beautiful heart.

Anyway, this DVD is  quite a tribute to her – and this portion called Heart Prints is one of the most touching things you’ll ever see.  It begins with the incredible story of Kathy Bray, who was struck down by breast cancer- but who made a long series of videotapes for her young daughter that she could watch and experience as she grew up. . .  think of the strength it took to do that.  And the vision!   There is Mrs Duncan, who was Oprah’s 4th grade teacher, who was such an important and even life-changing inspiration to her – and we witness the moment when they see each other for the first time since Oprah left the fourth grade, and Oprah dissolves in tears of joy and gratitude and bewilderment – and we do, too.  There’s George Dawson, the 100-year-old African American who learns how to read for the first time in his life.  There’s Mattie, the young boy with an especially harsh form of CF who displayed incredible courage and charisma.  On and on and on. . .   I think one of the reasons this part of the DVD set is so powerful is that we’re given much longer excerpts from the interviews themselves and a little less commentary- although what is there is nearly as powerful and moving as the show excerpts themselves.

So the tears were flowing around here last night- nearly as much as the rainfall outside- but it’s incredible how good that can feel. . .  especially when it’s something real about which you’re crying.  Years and years ago when I was dating Chris Roules, I remember sheeplishly admitting to her how much I cried while watching some movie-  maybe Places in the Heart or Witness or something like that.  And I can still remember her saying, with just a touch of gentle reproach,  “I think it makes more sense to cry about the sad things that happen to real people in our lives than to cry over fiction.”  Hmmm.  She had a point- and although I think it’s still perfectly fine to cry at To Kill a Mockingbird or whatever it might be, there is something wrong if we aren’t moved at least that much if not more by the real life griefs and joys in our lives and the lives of those we care about.  And there’s the essence of Oprah’s greatest gift- that so many of the people (strangers to us)  who come on her show with their inspiring and/or heartbreaking stories become people we genuinely care about and feel for.