I accidently stumbled upon Rhoda during my senior year of college. Wide awake at 2 a.m. one night (thoughts about life post-college often kept me up back then), I turned on the TV and started flipping through the channels until I landed on this vibrant, colorful sitcom I'd never seen before, but it somehow felt intimately familiar. About 15 minutes in, I found myself utterly delighted by Rhoda, Joe, Brenda, and Ida. The following night, I deliberately stayed up to catch another two episodes and maintained this pattern until I had seen all 106 episodes, courtesy of Nick at Nite.
Rather than pandering to the lowest common denominator or relishing in mean-spirited cynicism, Rhoda's humor reveals a profound appreciation and love for humanity, our foibles, fears, vulnerabilities, and strengths. It's smart, honest, and real. And it resonated with me deeply. At the show's helm, Valerie Harper created a character who's funny, authentic, courageous, and remarkably endearing. I rooted for Rhoda to marry Joe. The episode when she goes to night school and cheats on a test struck me as especially hilarious. The dynamic between Rhoda and her strong-willed but well-intentioned mother... well, I could relate. Watching the last episode of Rhoda felt like reading the final chapter of a beloved book -- I knew the end was near, but I wasn't happy about it at all.
While visiting my sister the summer after I graduated college, I read in the local paper that Valerie was performing her one-woman show at a nearby theater. Of course, I had to go. At that point in my life, I was on the verge of law school, which seemed like a very reasonable and most appropriate next step. I happened to feel passionately about acting, but committing myself to the life of an actor didn't seem nearly as reasonable or appropriate. I rationalized my decision by thinking that I could become an entertainment lawyer, establish myself financially, and then, 10 or so years down the road, give acting a go.
As I watched Valerie transform into multiple characters at the drop of a hat, use all of herself to communicate an extraordinary story, and elevate the stage with her expansive presence, something inside of me clicked. Just like that, in a heartbeat, I knew with undeniable certainty what I intended to do with my life. All the confusion, struggle, and muddiness dissolved in a delicious instant. In the past, my tendency had been to seek external guidance when making pivotal decisions. I wouldn't dare trust the capacity of my own internal compass to know what's best for me. But watching Valerie at work must have activated my inner resolve because, for the first time, I felt absolutely no need to reach outside myself for answers. I was too full of my own inner knowing to worry about what anyone else had to say. I had never experienced such a crystallized moment of clarity before, and I was truly grateful.
When I learned that Valerie had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, I felt that same mix of shock and sadness that so many others felt upon hearing the news. I also felt compelled to acknowledge the impact she's had on my life and express my gratitude for her incredible work, comedic brilliance, and willingness to share her gifts with the world. She prompted me to access courage within myself that I didn't even know I had. If Valerie could make the leap into acting, then so could I. Watching her interviews this past week, I continue to be inspired by Valerie as she acknowledged her fears and readiness for whatever lies ahead while still remaining firmly optimistic and open to a miracle. Her generosity of spirit and strength of character is truly astounding. She has learned and encourages us to accept the inevitability of death -- we're all terminal -- but don't dwell on it. Dwell instead on the intention to savor each moment fully... well, those are some wise words to live by. So, while I think I've exhausted my allotment of adjectives in this blog, I'd like to simply say: Thank you, Valerie Harper. Thank you.
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