Today is the last day of the Oprah Winfrey show, at least the week day incarnation of that show that most of us have known. I was in my last year of undergraduate school when that show aired, and it meant a lot to me. Oprah talked so openly about so many things. These days, I get weary of people spilling their guts about anything and everything on national television, but it's important to remember how rare that used to be just 25 years ago. Few people talked about incest or battering or what poverty feels like as you can't find a job that lets you earn what a man would earn. Oprah took feminist concerns to a global level that likely wouldn't have happened otherwise.
Today is also Emerson's birthday, and this article in The Washington Post makes a comparison between Oprah and Emerson. Marjorie Jolles, a professor women’s and gender studies at Roosevelt University, says, "'I see Emerson as her main rhetorical ancestor, in thinking that the individual is something that unfolds in a divinely-inspired way.'”
Here's a quote from Emerson's 1841 essay, "The Over-Soul": "And this deep power in which we exist, and whose beatitude is all accessible to us, is not only self-sufficing and perfect in every hour, but the act of seeing and the thing seen, the seer and the spectacle, the subject and the object, are one. We see the world piece by piece, as the sun, the moon, the animal, the tree; but the whole, of which these are the shining parts, is the soul. Only by the vision of that Wisdom can the horoscope of the ages be read, and by falling back on our better thoughts, by yielding to the spirit of prophecy which is innate in every man, we can know what it saith."
Sounds Oprah-esque, doesn't it?
Oprah's done an amazing amount of spiritual work with/for many of us. My favorite Oprah was the Oprah that we saw in the middle 1990's, when she decided that her show had been getting too slimy, and she headed for higher ground. I loved the segment that ended every show on Listening to Your Spirit. I loved her focus on self-improvement. I loved the books that she recommended during that time. I loved the deeper connections that she encouraged us to make.
With a nod to this piece by Linda Holmes, here are some of the things that I learned from Oprah through the past 25 years.
Listen to your Spirit.
I love her ideas about getting in touch with our inner wisdom, our essential selves. I love her notions of self-care and how necessary it is to take care of ourselves so that we can care for others.
Your Spirit knows a larger Spirit; it’s good to know that Spirit too.
I've been impressed with Oprah's willingness to talk about spiritual issues, and I've been grateful for her ecumenical spirit.
It’s worthy to search for an authentic life.
I love that Oprah is willing to let us each define what authentic means for us. I love the guides she's given us.
You can reinvent yourself as many times as you need to.
It's been fascinating watching the various incarnations of Oprah. I love the idea that the adult self doesn't have to be static.
You may need to try, try again, when it comes to reinventing yourself. The road is a spiral, not a straight line.
As a woman who has struggled with weight issues for my whole life, watching Oprah's struggles with weight have inspired me. I'm especially grateful for her honesty about her feelings of shame when it comes to regaining weight. There are days I castigate myself: "I've earned a Ph.D., I've accomplished this and that, so how can weight management be so hard for me???" Hey, if one of the most powerful women in the world can have weight management trouble, maybe it's not just a personal defect in me.
It’s good to let people talk about their problems.
She's done an amazing job of shining light into the darkness that's out there. She's done wonders when it comes to healing people.
You may need to stop letting people talk about their problems.
I also like that she doesn't wallow too deeply in the darkness. I like the Dr. Phils of her show who call people on their destructive behavior and their blindness to the chaos they're causing.
You can bring your friends along.
We should all have a friend like Gayle!
Not everyone will be grateful and/or gracious.
I'm thinking of Jonathan Franzen, whom I blame for the premature death of Oprah's Book Club. When that happened, I swore an oath to the universe that should I ever have a novel out there and should someone with Oprah's clout want to adopt it, I would smile and be grateful and not turn up my nose at additional readers.
Careful viewers can probably come up with a comprehensive list. I'll just leave it there.
You can have luxury and social justice too.
I've been impressed with Oprah's quest to do good in the world, whether it's by building schools in South Africa, awarding money to those who are leading good programs, bringing social justice crusaders to the show, reminding us all of our power and privilege and responsibility to do good in the world.
I'd have found her lavish lifestyle and endorsement of high end products much more difficult to take if she hadn't also been relentless in quest for social justice.
The death of books may be prematurely reported.
As a writer, I cannot stress enough how much I appreciate her visibility as a voracious reader and her generosity to writers.
With fame, comes responsibility. You can't just endorse everything just because it sounds good to you.
Frankly, the problem I most had with Oprah, especially in later years, was her gullibility. That whole fiasco with Suzanne Somers and bioidentical hormones--spare me! Does no one on the show do the most basic research? I was willing to forgive The Secret, because I understood the appeal, and it seemed to do no real harm to encourage us all to think positively so that we attract what we want in our lives, but when it comes to medical issues, I did wish she would be more careful. Happily, the presence of Dr. Oz was often enough to counteract misinformation, and so, I was willing to forgive her for her more egregious errors.
So, farewell Oprah, even though you're not really going far. Good luck on all your future projects!