Photo by Sonya Sones
I loved Mary. And Phyllis, Sue Ann Nivens and Georgette... but I was, I am, a Rhoda. Through Rhoda, Valerie Harper gave me and countless other girls permission to be outspoken, opinionated, talk with a funny accent and dream of shining in a supporting role so brightly as to become a leading lady and a star, while remaining true to her essence.
A woman of grace, she's garnered nothing but praise, not only for the talent and the funny, but also for the person she is and has always been.
For a bossy yet sensitive Jewish girl from the Bronx, it's what I aspired to.
I met Valerie and her husband Tony Cacciotti last year right around the time her memoir, I, Rhoda, was dropping. I was immediately struck by the love, care and respect they share. I wanted what they were having. Warm and gracious, they patiently listened as I made my pitch for her to read at Women Who Write. Which takes place in my living room. On the other end of LA. Right in the middle of her fancy schmancy book tour.
Lest you judge, Carl Reiner, Garry Marshall, Micky Dolenz, Kevin Pollak, Jackie Collins, Marlee Matlin and Robert Morse are a few who've made the pilgrimage.
I continued my pursuit on The Facebook. But we weren't friends and you know where those messages go...
Fate stepped in to lend a miracle.
Pamela Cameron, a Women Who Write regular who works part time as a salesgirl, waited on Valerie a month or so ago and reconnected us. A few weeks and emails later, sans fanfare, Valerie and Tony arrived at my home in time to cheer on singer-songwriter, Cynthia Carle and writers Wendy Lawless and Judi Hollis. Cause that's the way they roll.
If I were told that my time was limited, how would I spend it? Dinner in Paris? Seeing every play on London's West End? Begging Ryan Gosling to sleep with me? What the hell was she doing readying to read to a roomful of mostly middle-aged women on a Tuesday afternoon, a schlep-and-a-half from civilization?
Valerie isn't living her bucket list. She's living her life.
Defying age and any inkling of illness, Valerie took to the podium with the feisty passion, enthusiasm and good humor of Rhoda Morgenstern. I swear there were moments she looked exactly like she did in the '70s and sounded precisely like one of the tribe.
She noted something specific and special about each of the performances, a gracious act of generosity, which dispelled any notion that her organ in question was firing on fewer than all cylinders.
She read a bit from her charming, funny, informative, I, Rhoda, something she doesn't usually do, but she wanted to honor our forum. She encouraged us to ask questions. She answered them dispassionately, rationally and without censor, about her symptoms, illness, diagnosis and spiritual beliefs.
She was calm and measured. We were a mess.
In spite of the only six day advance booking, and being packed to the kishkas, it was an almost effortless event. It flowed and was drenched with love. Just like Valerie.
They say we reap what we sow.
For the past two weeks people have been sharing their stories, one more extraordinary than the next. What's come through from all of them is Valerie's consistent, extreme kindnesses when no one's looking. Typified this day.
Not only was she determined to sign every book, she made sure to date each one as well, so they would have more value for the owner. She shared a hug, a few words, and took a picture with each and everyone... never stopping to eat, or drink, sitting in the most uncomfortable chair in my house to be more accessible, and staying way past her allotted time, causing her to have to rush like crazy to her next appointment.
What Valerie did for just about every woman in the room as Rhoda was magnified a gazillionfold that day... showing up for us, deeming us that important, exemplifying the true power of now, of sheer will and grace, and filling our hearts to overflowing. The day was a collective treasure. Goddess energy at its best. Valerie our queen. Long may she reign.
Valerie Harper is teaching me how to live.
I'm a Rhoda. I aspire to be... a Valerie.
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