The Time I Met Oprah
As we were sitting around home today, watching the news & trying to do our part to help flatten the curve of the coronavirus, I fell down a rabbit hole of old pictures & came across these from the time I met Oprah back in 2014.
It was one of the most bizarre, ethereal experiences of my life and as many times as I’ve told the story, I hadn’t ever written about it & decided to expend some of my nervous energy tonight by putting it down in words. In writing this, I kept thinking of that quote from the book Rebecca:
“If only there could be an invention that bottled up a memory, like scent. And it never faded, and it never got stale. And then, when one wanted it, the bottle could be uncorked, and it would be like living the moment all over again.”
-Daphne du Maurier
Since no invention like that exists, I’ll have to make do with the written word.
For my 10-year wedding anniversary, my husband gifted me a meet & greet ticket to go to a Life You Want tour that @oprah was bringing to Houston. As soon as I found out, I purchased regular tickets for my mom and aunt to come with me because we were all huge Oprah fans from back in the day when she wasn’t an international public figure but just a local Chicagoan with a morning show at 9am.
So the day of the show, I arrive at the @toyotacenter with my mom & aunt only to immediately separate from them b/c they have nosebleed seats while I find myself in the second row from stage – sitting in front of @gayleking (who was an absolute sweetheart through & through) and one of my favorite writers of all-time, @elizabethgilbert. You guys, I swear when I turned around to talk to @elizabethgilbert, she stood up and hugged me like I was her favorite person in the entire universe (she was the best hugger I’ve ever embraced).
I was inches from the stage and Oprah ran an electric discussion with inspiration, grace and the unwavering impression of being present. She was fire and the entire room of 20,000 women were a puddle.
At lunch time, there was a break where vip ticket holders got to go meet Oprah & as I went through the corridors, I was filled with anxiety. I felt guilt-stricken that I couldn’t have my mom meet Oprah knowing how much she would h
ave loved the experience. I felt cautious knowing that real-life Oprah was not going to be anything like what I imagined & it would only be a quick photo encounter where I would barely get a good look at her.
As I entered the large room, brimming with women in a never-ending makeshift line, I heard nervous laughter and again, felt some sense of dread at the disappointment ahead. I caught the kind eyes of two women nearby & they began chatting with me & asked what I would say to Oprah.
I rambled on about how I couldn’t possibly say anything she hadn’t heard before but had drank the Oprah kool-aid since 1986 when I was a newly-migrated Pakistani kid trying to learn English with my mom. Come to find out, the lovely ladies (Patti & Karen) were working with the tour & gave me a great pep talk before I bid them goodbye & proceeded with the line.
So, it’s a pretty fascinating thing to be in a room with Oprah. The entire room buzzes with this palpable energy and as you shift closer to the source; the reverberation was like nothing I’ve experienced before. And then all of a sudden, you’re face to face with THE Oprah Winfrey. Larger than life & fixating her large, all-knowing eyes on me. She reached over, took my hands tightly in hers and thanked me profusely for coming out to the tour.
Here’s the thing, you guys. The entire room was a circus but Oprah did not take her eyes off me. It is not an easy task to render me speechless but there it was.
I got it together & let some overly emotional words tumble out. Something along the lines of “My mom & I watched you every morning at 9am in a small Chicago apartment. I’ll never forget those cold mornings when the heater never worked & we were in this new country that didn’t make sense. I think you had a profound effect on raising both my mom & me into much more open-minded, compassionate women”.
She hugged me so hard, y’all that I got excited that she was going to take me back with her. That didn’t happen but she did give me the immense gift of being completely present with me and giving me her absolute attention. She never glanced sideways to look at how many people were behind me or signal to her handler to move me along. She shared the space with me in its entirety. And that was a magical thing. Then it was over.
As I walked out of the room, feeling more than a bit stunned, one of her producers approached me & asked where my mom was now. I told her how my mom and aunt was stuck in the 300s section & she took my phone number & said she was going to fix that. I walked back to my seat & found my phone ringing. It was the producer & she had my mom & aunt in tow with her and they were coming to find me so we could all sit together. YOU GUYS!!!! As luck would have it, the two people sitting right next to me had just departed (after we facebook friended each other, of course) b/c they were driving back out of town and didn’t want to hit traffic.
So…my mom and aunt joined me and we squealed and laughed.
But then as the show was about to resume, here comes Oprah waltzing down the aisle and high-five’s my mom – which I captured you guys!!!! So much joy, I can’t explain it. THEN Oprah gets on stage and proceeds to tell the entire audience about how she just met me and what I said meant so much to her that she was going to write about me in her journal that night. I don’t know if my jaw actually ever came off the floor the whole afternoon!
On the way out, as we’re all floating out of the Toyota Center with 20,000 other attendees, who do I see standing by the exit door? Karen & Patti!! I was able to exchange email addresses and thank them again for being so kind. I don’t know how much they had to do with all the
things that transpired but honestly, they were angels in disguise that day.
The entire experience was so much more than I could have ever imagined. And I just wanted to share something euphoric with you guys tonight. I felt like magic because I felt seen. And that was the start to everything.