Sometimes I forget who I am and why I came. The older I get, I'd like to believe the less it happens, but it happens still, and in those moments, I am reminded there is still so much for me to learn.
Or better yet, to remember.
To remember who we truly are is often challenging when we find ourselves in places where we don't always feel we "fit in."
Because I can sing, a warm melody or lyric usually breaks the barriers that might otherwise keep me from that feeling of "fitting in," and over the years I've met many famous people because I could carry a tune or two.
Although fame has done a fine job of protecting me from its blessings and curses, its fair to say I've had my share of some pretty famous friends. I know well from the sidelines both the trappings and the comforts of that life.
One of those famous friends was recently visiting the east coast the same time I was and invited me for dinner the night before I was to fly back to L.A. My brother told me I should bring along a family friend to dinner. His name was Steve.
After all, my brother reasoned, Steve was going through some difficult times, and it might do him some good to meet a visiting star from Hollywood.
I said I didn't think it was a good idea and I wouldn't have given it a second thought had my brother not sent a text that read "Bring Steve."
For some reason, I read that text as, "Don't forget where you come from," so whether it was out of guilt or good will, I decided to call and invite Steve along.
When I arrived at the house, I had no idea it was a formal sit-down dinner for 12. I knew there would be a chef, but I thought the chef was cooking just for us, not 12 people. Had I known, I might not have been so cavalier about the time, or even bringing someone without asking ( although that may not be entirely true, as I'm known as the Harriet Tubman among my friends -- always stretching a single invitation into a plus four or five )
They quickly set another place at the table for Steve, and I could immediately see the shock and discomfort in his face. He was hardly dressed for the occasion. After all, he'd just left my dad's Sportspub with billiards and beer and suddenly, he was thrown onto the set of Downton Abbey.
Needless to say, he felt like a fish out-of-water, and I must admit, to my chagrin, I didn't really do much to make him feel otherwise. In fact, that night after dinner, I went back to my brother's and told him how awkward the evening was.
After they'd made a space for Steve at the table, he told them he'd just come from dinner and wasn't hungry, pushing away his first course. I was mortified. In that moment, you'd never know I grew up on foodstamps and wellfare. I'd lived on the fringe of fame for years in Hollywood, and I had long become accustomed to being waited on in private homes with a fancy dinner.
It's easy to forget where you come from when you get caught up in the glitz and glam of things that ultimately don't really matter.
The dinner came and went and before we left, Steve had a picture taken with the famous friend ~ and all was well.
But not really.
The next day, I attended the celebration mass for the mother of another friend, and as I left the church, I got a text from Steve.
It read something like, "You are the truest soul I've ever met. You've changed my life just knowing you."
I felt ashamed of myself.
I knew in that moment I had forgotten the night before who I was and why I was there.
I like to fancy myself a "people person," someone who can easily navigate any crowd, make everyone "feel welcome." I rarely feel "out of place" and I am equally "at home" in a prison or a palace, as long as there are people there.
Or at least that's what I tell myself.
I'd like to believe my life is about "inclusion" not "exclusion" -- and yet, reading that text from Steve, I realized I'd done nothing the night before to "include" him at that dinner table, other than extend a half-hearted invitation.
L.A. has been a good teacher for me -- a vortex of so many emotions and feelings. The highs and lows feel higher and lower there than anywhere else. One day you can feel "a part of" and the very next "completely left out."
In a world where so many of us never feel as though we really "fit in," it's nice to remember in a perfect world, we don't really have to.
There comes a telling time in every life when you are no longer eating the fancy dinners -- the fancy dinners are eating you. And ironically, as for the fancy dinner with Steve, he'll most likely be the only one who even ever remembers it.
It's nice to get invited to fancy events and meet the people everyone's talking about. But its even nicer -- and far more important -- to remember who you are, and why you came.
The other day, while leaving a church, I got a text from a friend. In a very unexpected and sacred moment, I was immediately reminded of who I really am...
I am Steve.