Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Meeting Oprah...Instalment Two

The banquet room at Rogers Arena was a hive of activity with at least 150 Very Important People anxiously awaiting the Queen Bee's arrival.  The room itself had a bar, servers milling about with appetizers and wine, several high-top tables, and a roped-off photo area with a large seamless white backdrop and three gigantic soft-boxes.

Once I realized that Oprah had not yet arrived I could finally breathe.  As I took off my leather coat, I felt like a sweaty, wrinkled mess; certainly not the same person who had stepped into that elevator hours earlier.

Danielle suggested that I take off my sweater, (which was a good call...thanks Danielle,) and I was pleasantly surprised at the absence of armpit stains down to my navel.  We hightailed it into the women's washroom to freshen up.  Danielle looked beautiful and I looked considerably better than I felt.  We hadn't missed our opportunity to meet Oprah.  All was right in the universe once more.

Back in the banquet room, guests were starting to form a line for photographs.  Our view of the photo area was blocked by the lighting equipment, so when we saw a few bursts of flash we thought it may be 'show time.'  It was only a few eager VIPs taking their own photos.

As the enormous red numbers on the room's digital clock changed to 6:25 pm,  my high expectations started to lose altitude.  Oprah would have 30 minutes to take photos with almost 200 people.  I joked with Danielle that I might have to revise my three minute speech.

Minutes later, a gentleman, (who I grew to detest,) made an announcement: "Ladies and Gentlemen, Oprah will be arriving in about five minutes.  There will be no autographs and she will accept no gifts.  When you approach Oprah, DO NOT look at her.  Look directly at the camera, otherwise you will ruin your photograph."

I looked around at the members of my group.  I think it is fair to say that the excitement of Oprah's imminent arrival was dampened slightly by this new information.  Had we just been instructed to NOT LOOK AT OPRAH?  I could live with not giving Oprah my book.  I could easily drop the speech, but the single thing I was most thrilled about, from the very beginning, was looking into Oprah's eyes.   How could I be expected to not look at her?

I couldn't believe it.  In fact, I wouldn't believe it!  The Announcer hadn't sound very Oprah-like at all.  I doubted that he was a member of her team.  Surely Oprah would not have condoned such a ridiculous instruction.

The minute Oprah entered the room, I felt better.  I caught a glimpse of her between two soft-boxes.  She was wearing a form-fitting, salmon coloured dress.  Jimmy Pattison introduced her and passed the microphone to her.  I couldn't see her as she thanked us all for coming and said, "I can't hear your life stories and I can't look at your latest books or business plans, but I will try to get through as many photos as I can."

And just like that, a new stressor was born.  I was about 3/4 of the way back in the massive line of VIPs.  I may not even get a photograph.

I had to laugh at myself.  I was SUCH a cliche!!!  There I was with my little book in my purse and my three minute speech in my head.  Oprah had heard it all before; she'd seen it all before, and this was a duty-call for her.  It was an assembly-line type of photo opportunity, and I would be lucky to get ten seconds with Oprah.

Thankfully, the line moved forward quite quickly as I tried to think of ONE LINE to say to Oprah.
Thank you, Oprah.
Oprah, you are a gift to humanity, and you're wrapped up so beautifully!
Oprah, I am so proud of you.
Oprah, I am proud to be a woman walking the planet at the same time as you.
Oprah, you have been my most inspirational teacher.
Oprah, you are my favourite teacher.
Oprah, I am so grateful to be your student.
Oprah, I walk in gratitude because of you.
Stay the course, Oprah.

I couldn't decide.  As I got within about 10 people of Oprah, I started thinking logistics.  Would I keep my purse?  Put it on the floor?  Would I still ask the photographer for a candid shot?

And then suddenly time started to move REALLY FAST!

Jimmy Pattison appeared on my right and was shaking my hand and I introduced myself and I shook his hand and said a few words about what a pleasure it was to meet him and then somebody was taking my purse and telling me that I could collect it on the other side and then there was a hand on my elbow and I was ushered up to the line as the woman in front of me moved toward Oprah and then a flash went off and then it was my turn and I was walking toward Oprah!!!

I opened my mouth and some words came out.  They weren't the words I had planned.  I looked into Oprah's eyes and she looked into mine and I walked toward her and said enthusiastically, "Oprah, I am your favourite student!"

And Oprah, in all of her grace and generosity, said: "Oh, thank you.  Thank you for being my favourite student."  And she pulled me into her and squeezed me around the waist as she said it.

I wish I could say that time stood still; that the seconds slowed down and I could remember every detail of that moment.  Truth be told, I don't remember her smell, I don't remember whether or not I shook her hand, and I don't remember where my hand landed on her.  It's all a bit of a blur.

What I do remember is the feeling.  It felt really cozy, being nestled beside Oprah.  When she pulled me into her, it felt familiar.  When she spoke to me, it felt intimate.  Her energy was warm and familiar.  

It was really noisy in the banquet room, but our heads were so close together that I could clearly hear Oprah's voice.  I remember her dark eyes and her beautiful face.  I remember looking out into a sea of white, and then it was time for me to move on.

I looked at her again, (take THAT 'Mr. Don't-look-at-Oprah-Announcer,') and I said, "Have a good time tonight Oprah," and she said, "Thank you, I will."

In the end, Oprah thanked me three times.  I didn't thank her once.

And then it was over.  I was on the other side.  I was in a bit of a fog, and a friendly, 7 ft. tall Security Guard  bent down and spoke to me as though I was a ninety year old woman who was hard of hearing, "Ma'am....Ma' this your hand-bag Ma'am?"   I could see my purse, and I knew I was supposed to reach out and grab it,  but for a second or two,  I couldn't seem to move my hand to grasp it.  Every fibre of my being was still busy processing the previous thirty seconds.

Somehow, Oprah managed to make me feel special.  In that brief time, with over a hundred people to meet, she made me feel special.

My girlfriend texted me and asked, 'Was it everything you dreamed it would be?'

My answer is a resounding, 'YES!'  The details of the meeting may not have unfolded as I expected, but nothing I ever imagined was as beautiful as the feeling of meeting Oprah.

This was my 'sneak peek' Oprah photo by Greg Paupst.  I was not able to purchase the digital file, so Mr. Paupst's watermark is all over this tiny jpeg, but I have been promised two prints.  Thanks to Greg Paupst and I hope that I am forgiven for sharing this version with you.

Thank you Brett and Danielle, for giving me one of the most memorable experiences of my life.  You were stars throughout the entire evening.  Danielle: your calm, sensible presence kept me sane during the stressful bits and I am so grateful to have shared this experience with you.  Thank you both from the bottom of my heart.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Meeting Oprah

Part I: The Opportunity

For fifteen years I was a teacher in West Vancouver.   One of my former colleagues at Collingwood School, Danielle, contacted me last fall about having some photos taken of her three young children.  A session was tentatively planned, but in the end the timing didn't work out and we decided to postpone the photo shoot and wait until the weather was warmer.

Skip ahead to January 10th, 2013 when I noticed Danielle's facebook post about her husband's company offering VIP tickets to Oprah.  I called Danielle's husband Brett, introduced myself as Danielle's 'photographer friend,' and said that I wanted to see Oprah!  We had a pleasant conversation, during which he explained that the tickets he had were in the 8th row on the floor, and they started at $450.  He also had VIP tickets that included the floor seats as well as meeting Oprah and having a photograph taken with her prior to the show.  The price of those tickets made me laugh out loud!!!  I kindly told Brett to have a great time meeting Oprah and to please wave to me in the nosebleed section, then we hung up.

Moments later, Brett called me back and asked if I would be willing to trade a ticket for a photography session with his family.  I jumped up and down, hooted and hollered and of course, said YES!!!  Brett gave me the option of trading for a floor seat only, or for the full Oprah experience.  I said, "Brett, I'll photograph your kids until their weddings if it means I get to meet Oprah!!!"  and the deal was sealed.  I was going to meet Oprah, and it was all because of my photography.

Part II: The Lead-Up

The two weeks that followed were very exciting for me.  My Oprah meeting was never far from my mind.

I won't go into all of the reasons why I so admire Oprah as a humanitarian; if you're reading this post, you probably share my admiration.  I will tell you that on a personal level, Oprah has greatly influenced my life.  I move through my days from a place of gratitude and I know that Oprah's lessons, as well as the teachings of her friends Maya, Eckhart and Deepak, have all played a part the way I live my life.

This opportunity was BIG for me; REALLY BIG!  I didn't know many details about the pre-show-cocktail-meeting with Oprah.  I knew that we were promised a photo with Oprah and I knew that we had to be at Rogers arena at 5:30 sharp.  That was the extent of my knowledge.  I had no idea how much time we would each have with Oprah, however, it's in my nature to set my sights high!

In preparation for our meeting I did three things:
(Please try to contain your laughter.)

1. I rehearsed a speech of about three minutes.  It had everything: a couple of laughs to put Oprah at ease, a few anecdotes about how she has impacted my life, and finally a few words about why she is a gift to humanity.

2. I decided that I would rather have a candid photo with Oprah than a posed one, so I anticipated saying something like, "Oprah, if you don't mind, I'd like to ask the photographer to take a candid photo of us."

3. I also decided that I would give Oprah a copy of a book I had created called, 'The Grateful Mama,' not because I believe it to be a bestseller, but because she had influenced the creation of it.  As a teacher, I am always delighted when former students tell me how I have influenced their lives, and I  thought that Oprah may feel the same way.

Next, I focused on my wardrobe.  What does one wear to meet Oprah?  And what outfit works in both a cocktail party situation as well as a gigantic stadium?  I didn't trust myself to make the fashion choice alone, so I enlisted the help of my sister Marnie and my sister-in-law Kristi.  They, along with my two daughters, were wonderful stylists.  I had friends loaning me outfits and gorgeous hand-made scarves, but in the end I wore a simple, flattering dress that happened to be Oprah's favourite colour.  (Thanks Livea at Cherry Wine!)

Part III: The Big Day

Thursday, January 24th arrived  and I boarded the 10:30 am ferry without complication.  I retrieved keys from my girlfriend Tracy, I grabbed a quick bite of lunch, and I headed to Tracy's apartment to relax for an hour before getting ready for Oprah.

I think I was more nervous to meet Oprah than I was on my wedding day.  Seriously.  I completely underestimated how nervous I would feel.  My hands were shaking as I dressed and put on my make-up.  I wished that Marnie and Kristi were with me to lend some support.

The universe gave me exactly what I needed.  I walked into the elevator in my fresh, new Oprah outfit and a very lovely elderly woman said to me, "My. You are a very beautiful young woman.  I can say that because I am an old lady."  I thanked her, told her that she was equally beautiful, and we walked out into the rain together.

I had initially thought I would leave West Vancouver at 3:30pm to avoid traffic and ensure that I would be at Rogers Arena at 5:30pm.  I didn't want to leave anything to chance.  The lovely Danielle, however, extended an invitation to ride with her and her group.  I accepted.  She was leaving at 4pm and thought that would give us plenty of time.

If I could, I would go back in time and change everything that took place between 4 and 6 pm.  I know that some people say, 'Oh, I don't have any regrets in life!'  Well, I do.  I have plenty of regrets, and not driving myself to the arena is one of them.

I sincerely hope that I don't offend Danielle or her friends, (because they are all lovely people,) when I say that it was the most stressful two hours I have experienced in recent memory; mostly because everything was out of my control.

 I had no control over the fact that Danielle's friends, with whom we were sharing a ride, would have three vomiting children to contend with, delaying our departure time by thirty minutes.  I had no control over the rush-hour traffic that backed half way up Taylor Way and kept us from getting on the Lion's Gate bridge until 4:40pm.  I had no control over our stopping at Vancouver Club to meet up with more VIP's so that we could board a bus that wouldn't leave for Rogers arena until 5:20pm.  And I had no control over the bus driver taking the wrong route to the stadium, turning an eight minute ride into a twenty minute ride.

When we finally walked into the VIP room at Rogers arena, I believe we were almost THIRTY MINUTES LATE!!!  TO MEET OPRAH!!!

By the grace of God, Oprah had not yet arrived.

(To BE Continued)