Few people will forget Jodie Foster's speech when she received the Cecil B. DeMille award at the 2013 Golden Globes. Was it her charismatic stage presence? Her poignant delivery? Her sincerity? All of the above, for certain. But the real grabber was her standing at the podium and baring her humanity as she talked about what it was like to live in the public eye without a moment of privacy. It was also wonderful that Ms. Foster chose to share the moment with her family and friends and honor them as well.
Something about Jodie Foster's speech jogged a memory trace of a chance encounter I had with another entertainer 30 years ago at Miami International Airport. At the time, I was waiting for a flight to Atlanta and was sitting in one of those plastic chairs designed for orangutans. I'd just finished perusing the Miami Herald and did a double take when I looked to the passenger sitting on my left. He was a dead ringer for Perry Como, complete with a classic grey cardigan sweater. I took a closer look. Holy cow! It was Perry Como, trim and handsome, not a hair out of place. And the iconic sweater! It was more than part of his image; it was clearly spun from his DNA.
My mind raced as I thought of appropriate things to say, like, "Gee, Mr. Como, I so loved your Sing to Me Mr. C album," or "My mother will smile for the next 10 years if she could have your autograph."
Instead, I blurted out, "How ya doing today, Mr. Como?" It could have been worse -- at least I didn't ask him to hum a few bars from "Gigi."
He wasn't taken aback, but his answer surprised me, given that I was just a regular guy and had never spoken a word to him before this encounter. Mr. Como looked directly at me and said he was feeling sad that morning because he'd received some bad news about a close friend's health. It bothered him that there was nothing he could do to make things better. In fact, he said, he actually felt guilty that he couldn't do anything, and went on to say, "I may have influence in the world, but I don't have influence when it comes to God's work."
I paused for a moment in the hopes of saying something insightful and deeply profound, words that he'd surely remember. But I was still feeling starstruck, with my mouth disconnecting from my brain. So without any segue, I began blathering about Belle, our long-departed family dog, who became very sick after apparently consuming a dead squirrel. The vet told my mother that the next 48 hours would mean the difference between life and death. I felt incredibly guilty for not being there to stop Belle from feasting on the squirrel, even though she had the run of the woods behind our house, and I was in elementary school when her instinctive memory about good food hygiene had lapsed. There was nothing I could have done. Still, I felt guilty and sobbed for two days. Fortunately, the incident occurred on a Friday, and I didn't have to reveal my swollen red eyes to my classmates and teachers. By Monday, Belle had miraculously recovered from her culinary indiscretion and was back to terrorizing live squirrels. Meanwhile, I had my first glimpse of the mortality of those I love.
When I finished talking, Mr. Como reached over and touched my arm and thanked me for telling him the story. He went on to say that a lot of people are under the impression that famous folks aren't touched by simple life experiences, like everyone else. "We are," he said. We boarded the plane (he was in first class), and after taking my seat in steerage, I jotted down my thoughts about our conversation on the back of a napkin. During the flight, I read the napkin again and again, realizing that no matter what our stations in life, if we are willing to be truly sincere with ourselves and those around us, we can all respond to our frailties from a shared place in our hearts where healing takes place.
When the plane landed in Atlanta, I was in for a second surprise. I made my way from coach to the exit door, and there was Mr. Como, standing by the cabin exit to say goodbye to me. He thanked me again for telling the story.
Well, thank you Perry, for sharing from your heart. And thank you, Jodie, for sharing from yours.
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