Oprah Winfrey closes her talk show down today, a quarter century after she began it. I was a young girl when the show premiered, always liked it, and feel a sense of loss at its ending. It’s not that I never missed an episode nor would I even qualify myself as a fanatic, but The Oprah Winfrey Show was definitely a part of my life over the last twenty-five years. I learned, laughed, grew, and, yes, cried, while watching the program. Even though I am not an authority on all things Oprah, I do want to offer my tribute to the dynamic woman who I will sorely miss at four in the afternoon.
My mother raised me on Phil Donahue. He’d be on while she began dinner and I was underfoot either playing or, later, doing homework. I loved Phil Donahue because he was personable, warm, funny, engaging, and ‘worked the room’ effortlessly. I probably didn’t understand most of the topics he discussed, but I knew it was entertaining and I adored when he had celebrities to his show. By the time Oprah Winfrey started her show Phil Donahue was being phased out. Times were changing and Phil Donahue was considered “old school”. I seamlessly switched my allegiance from Donahue to Oprah without any regret. When Phil Donahue retired from doing his show, it was with interest I watched, but felt no loss as I had Oprah’s show to fill the void.
Oprah had celebrities, interesting social topics, and pushed the envelope of what was once taboo in society. From her weight to abuse suffered by the hands of family members, Oprah shined a bright light on the dirty little secrets society was hiding for far too long. Not only did she shine the light, but, through her own strength, hope, and guidance, continued to shine the light to a path of health and freedom. Oprah was not mired in problem, but steered toward solution. Oprah was not beaten down by her circumstances; she stood tall on the rubble given to her. Oprah made her own fortune, fame, and empire through good old-fashioned hard works, education, and networking. I admire her for her continuous struggle with weight and dealing with it on television year after year. I supported her when she found herself in legal trouble over a statement about beef, and was fascinated by the lessons she learned and consequently shared after the affair was over. I relied on Oprah’s wit and wisdom in a time of my life when I thought I wouldn’t make it another day… another hour. Distraught, scared, overwhelmed, and uncertain of my future, I opened myself up to an Oprah suggestion, and found my first step on a path to wellness. Oprah reignited a passion for reading among her fans; as a lifelong reader and educator, I rejoiced! Oprah celebrated women, raised good men to the light, and consistently found ways to push her viewers to be more active, physically, mentally, emotionally, charitably, and reasonably. Oprah values teachers and mothers, my two careers, as well as writers, my newest vocation. While I missed far more episodes of The Oprah Winfrey Show than I ever saw, I loved knowing that when I was home and starting dinner, I could turn on the kitchen television set and see what Oprah was discussing. Sometimes the hard-hitting topics were too deep for me, other times I reveled in the feel good shows like her “Favorite Things” episodes or makeover shows. Her celebrity connections run far and wide so A-listers always stopped by to promote a movie, discuss a pet project, jump on couches about their love life, or show off their hours old Oscar award! I will miss all of that. The following list is comprised of the wonderful things about The Oprah Winfrey Show that enhanced(s) my life, gave me courage, saw me through, and entertained me.
Gratitude Journal. Always I writer, I had kept a diary and later a journal since I was seven. Throwing my innermost thoughts on paper, writing the secrets of my heart, and even gossiping on the pages to entertain myself. By the time I was twenty-five my life was in turmoil and my writing had all but stopped as the content of my entries were too painful, scary, and terrifying to secure on paper daily. Finally, when my world seemingly fell apart, I felt lost and alone, and seeing myself to the next minute was excruciatingly painful, I remembered Oprah had done a show about a gratitude journal. She explained that finding the things in life you are grateful for helps keep life in perspective and keeps your heart able to accept goodness. I tried making one previously, but I was so negative I couldn’t get passed “blue cheese dressing” and “chocolate”. After I reached a bottom and was unsure if there was any strength or wherewithal left, I took out a blank book and labeled it “Gratitude Journal”. It was ironic; I was at my lowest, yet I knew that I had to find my way out of my pit. I put pen to paper and wrote one entry that first day, “I’m grateful I’m breathing”. That was it. But that was enough. From that moment forward I gathered my senses, my hope, my character, and my chutzpah, and made a decision to get out of my sad circumstances and do better. I continued writing in that gratitude journal. My entries got longer, my outlook more positive, and my life, thankfully, truly did improve. It didn’t happen overnight, but it did happen. I do believe Oprah’s “Gratitude Journal” idea helped save me and shaped me into the woman I am now with a positive vibe.
Talking. Phil Donahue was a master at it, but not until Oprah Winfrey admitted on air to such problems as childhood abuse, low self-esteem, and weight issues, did those topics become powerful conduits to change. Whether therapy or talking with a trusted friend/adult/clergy/teacher, the act of talking, admitting, and dealing with the problems one faces, allowed for society to have a say in their mental health and well-being. Stigmas were released, ownership was explained, and change occurred. There is always work to be done when self-improvement is at hand, but talking, the way Oprah Winfrey fearlessly did through her show, modeled the way change could happen positively. It wasn’t about blaming, finger pointing, or accepting one’s circumstances; it was a lifting up of social mores that swept disturbing topics under the rug. By talking about anything and everything, people… I… could make their situation better. They could become healthier, stronger, more confident, and better for having talked. I am not afraid to be honest about who I am. I tell my children about honest talk. I thank Oprah Winfrey for tearing down the walls of social taboos for talk shows. Again, I am the better for it.
Book Club. Increasingly more and more people I came in contact with categorized themselves as “non-readers”. They were “too busy” “too uninterested” or “too bored” to read. I, a life-long reader and educator, was always disheartened to hear this, whether it was from my peers or my students. Oprah’s Book Club launched a revolution that saw books become popular media! Classics, modern stories, well-known authors or rookies were given props by Oprah. I didn’t join the Book Club per say, but I have read several selections and always enjoyed them. Among my most favorite I read at Oprah’s suggestion was The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. I knew I’d seen the book when I was growing up (my parents had each read it) but I had never picked it up. It was a beautiful, action-packed, sweeping novel that truly captured my imagination and transported me to another time. I’ve keep book journals, recommended books to friends, and taken recommendations as well. I thank Oprah for bringing reading back into vogue. I plan to never let it go “out” again!
Feel Good. As much as Oprah inspired change, good works (Oprah’s Angel Network), education, and hard work, she also loved to simply have fun. She enjoyed sharing her “Favorite Things” with her audiences and left them with everything on her list. She enjoyed providing makeovers for all kinds of people and allowed them to keep the clothes. She had a knack of making those shows so magical and enticing to watch. I usually laughed and cried. Good for ratings, sure, but Oprah seemed to be turned on by just making people feel good. I can totally get behind that! I think these shows I will miss most of all.
There must be so much more that can be attributed to Oprah over the last twenty-five years. I could write for days and not cover it all, but these topics speak to the Best of The Oprah Winfrey Show for me. I am thrilled Oprah Winfrey will still have a presence on television (OWN on cable), but I will sorely miss the five-day a week treat that was The Oprah Winfrey Show. I simply feel fortuitous that I was able to be under her indirect tutelage low this quarter century. I can only hope that what I have learned in my life shows through in what I do here at Chief 187 Chatter. I am a student of Oprah Winfrey. Thank you, Oprah, for giving me a front row seat in your classroom and for enriching my life in myriad ways. Good luck and Godspeed.