When You Meet Your Idol

My BFF in college was very tall. At 6’ 6”, he walked with the easy grace of a gifted athlete. He had a full head of red curls, and eyes followed him wherever he went. His energy was infectious. Once, he attended an Obama rally in St. Louis.  The TV cameras picked him out of the <very large> crowd and repeatedly transmitted his image on national TV.  Could have been his height. Maybe it was his red afro. But the reality is that this kind of attention and charisma has been bred into him.

As a child, his parents regularly took him to see the coolest rock stars imaginable, and every type of major league game in Southern California. After each experience, the family would hang out waiting for the stars or athletes to leave the building.  My friend’s collection of autographs & cool stories is astounding. He has the most adorable photo of him and his brother with Bonnie Raitt (she was drawn to their red hair ;-).  And even when he’s not deliberately waiting to meet a celebrity, he has random celebrity encounters all over the place. Eventually, I lost the ability to be surprised. Every time I’d hear about a new encounter – e.g. “I got to play basketball with Magic Johnson” – I’d say something like, “Of course you did. I’m sure it was amazing. Tell me everything.”

In our senior year of college, I got to tag along on such an encounter. We’d driven six hours out of our tiny college town to see The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill Tour. Her opening act was Outkast, and they played an “open seating” venue in San Francisco. We maneuvered ourselves to a spot very close to the stage, and had an absolutely transcendent experience. This may or may not have been due to a contact high. Just kidding!!  Or maybe not… In any case, the show was one of the best concerts of my life.  After it was over, my friend suggested we head to the stage door and wait for L Boogie to come out (he knew how much I adored her).  I thought he might be crazy – this was the middle of the night on the mean streets of San Francisco! But he’s very convincing, so we waited. And waited.  And waited.

Finally, Ms. Lauryn Hill came out the door with her beautiful dreads framed in misty light. Directly behind her was another dreadlocked beauty – Rohan Marley, son of Bob Marley and her man.  I don’t remember much of that encounter.  All I know is that I got to shake her hand.  I probably smiled like a fool, told her how incredible the show was and how much I loved her music. I was stunned by the glory of being in her presence. 

I floated on a cloud back to the parking garage and then CRASHED HARD. The entrance to the garage was locked.  It has closed two hours before, and wouldn’t open for another five hours.  Our overnight bags were in the car, and we were supposed to stay at a friend's house that was a twenty minute drive from the city.  But since we couldn't drive anywhere, we wandered around for a bit, still giddy and shocked, trying to figure out what the hell to do.  We finally stopped at a “by the hour” hotel and made an emergency call to Pops, who graciously paid for a few hours. We had a rough few hours of sleep, trying not to think about the disgusting things going on with the beds underneath us. But the drive back to our sleepy college town was The Best. Road Trip. Ever.  We were on such a <metaphorical> high from the energy of the show, our encounter with Lauryn and Rohan, and our lack of sleep.

For years after that experience, I dreamed of the next time I’d see L Boogie in concert.  Last summer, I finally had my chance when her tour stopped in Portland. The show was again in an “open seating” venue, and my girlfriend and I worked our way to the front of the crowd. It was three hours of pure bliss – the opening act played 90s hip hop for an hour and I danced all my cares away.  By the time Lauryn came on, I’d lost myself in the music… or maybe I’d actually found myself? All I know is that I lost track of time – and my companion – as I danced and sang and rapped along.  Her show was brilliant; she performed incredible arrangements of her old music.  So while all of the songs felt new, they were close enough to the originals that we were able to sing along and be part of the magic (which I captured on Instagram, natch). 

When I got home, I trolled through the comments on my IG photo.  A friend from high school mentioned that her cousin was the bus driver for Lauryn’s tour!  I couldn’t believe the coincidence – literally.  I do not believe in coincidences.  Whenever my mind wants to think “Wow, what a coincidence!” my heart says, “Look deeper, darling.”  So I looked deeper.  I remembered the years of loving and believing in Ms. Hill, and re-lived the ecstasy that comes from three hours of pure bliss.  I thought Lauryn might appreciate knowing of my experience, and decided to ask if my friend’s cousin would deliver a letter to her.   I sent it to him, unsealed, so he could read and decide whether he felt comfortable and if there was an appropriate time to pass it along.

I have no idea if she ever received the letter. In my mind, I’ve envisioned her reading the letter and crying over my words of love.  I picture the little note taped to her dressing room mirror, bringing her strength in weak moments or filling her with light before she goes on stage. I have an over-active imagination, what can I say. ;-) I’ve also imagined meeting and hanging out with Pharell; he’s absolutely my spirit animal.  So much of the advice he gives on The Voice sinks deep into my soul and takes up residence in my heart.  This also happens with the little nuggets of wisdom Elizabeth Gilbert posts on Facebook.

Liz is the globally-recognized author of Eat, Pray, Love, TED sensation (her talk on creative genius is one of the most viewed TED talks of all time), and apparently a good friend of mine… because I’m always referring to her by “Liz.”  She is so damned amicable and authentic that it’s easy to imagine her as the friend you’ve known forever. This feeling could also have something to do with the reading and re-reading of her very personal memoir, which has taken up residence in my heart - along with my own stories of pain and joy and hope.  

This past spring/summer, Liz posted a bit of magic on her Facebook page every Monday. She called it #BigMagicMonday, in reference to her new book release.  The book, Big Magic, is about how to push past your fears and live the creative life that’s calling to you.  She also released a summer series of podcasts, where she interviewed everyday folks who had creative ideas but were stuck.  It was one of these podcasts that finally pushed me over my own threshold of doubt about the Courageous Self Love Campaign.  The idea for this campaign was birthed in February, but I sat on it for months – letting my own insecurities/fear/doubt get in the way of releasing it into the world.  As I sat on the idea, I wrote four beautiful blogs that were miraculous vehicles for healing, I also collaborated with a dear friend on stunning photos of myself rocking a bikini. But I was still stuck behind my perfectionist tendencies. The vision I had dreamed up that my website needed to match before I was willing to launch.  But in one Big Magic podcast, Liz shared the analogy of a runway. Where you’re a big jet engine, andyou’ve been gaining speed with your creative efforts – and you come to the end of the runway and YOU BETTER TAKE OFF BEFORE YOU CRASH INTO THE HOUSES ON THE OTHER SIDE!!!  So I gave up my perfectionist tendencies and went live with the damn website already.  Her advice on creativity and fear is truly brilliant, and I was thrilled to learn her book tour was coming through Portland.

Her lecture was held in a theater with a thousand or so seats, and the ticket purchase included a signed copy of the book.  As I was preparing for the lecture, I had the sense I was supposed to bring along the leave-behinds I’d designed for my campaign – little matchbooks that represent the spark I hope to create with each of my posts.  For some reason, I’d put all of the matches in a gift bag, and had the urge to bring them along.  I wasn’t sure why… perhaps as a thank you for the role she played in helping me go live?  I thought the urge was odd, and I questioned it. Why would she care about my campaign? She must hear thousands of these kinds of stories.  But I got frustrated by that line of questioning.  I turned the “why me” thinking into “WHY NOT ME??” and brought the damn matchbooks with me to the theater.

I got a major shock when we turned up at the theater and found our seats - in the box seating area, right against the stage! And in the copy of our books, a little card had been tucked into it. Apparently, Liz was taking questions from the audience! So I boldly filled mine out.  It said:

“Dearest Liz. Your podcast about The Runway helped me find the courage to go live with my Courageous Self Love Campaign. I’ve brought along a thank you gift – matches that are meant to spark Courageous Self Love in all of us.  I’m sitting just over your left shoulder. May I pass them down to the stage?”

I handed my card to the usher and settled in to my seat just as Liz came on stage.  She placed a very thick stack of cards on the podium, and I wondered where my card had fallen. Would she see it? Would she pass over it like she was doing to some of the cards? I am ashamed to admit that I spent so much time imagining the fate of my card, the possibility of getting to engage with her, that I missed out on a lot of what she shared in her talk.  I have spent so much time and energy on learning to be fully present in my life. Yet in this instance, when I’d gotten a front row seat for the wisdom and brilliance of this dynamic woman, I let my imagination and ego take over my experience.  I left the theater feeling deflated, because I had put so much energy into getting recognized – and giving away all of my matchbooks. 

These matchbooks are a beautiful, tangible gift that I produced as a way to bring my campaign to life.  There are only 30 that exist on this planet, and I was going to give them away to someone who might think they were cool, but could never value them the way I do.  In the moment, I reasoned that I could always buy more… but it was an excuse I made up so my ego could be in charge.  I did have a moment of clarity as Liz was leaving the stage.  My imagination actually came up with the idea of shouting her name and throwing the bag onto the stage.  But my rational mind understood the craziness inherent in that idea, and I realized I was being completely inauthentic in my machinations.

Thankfully, I was with a friend who fully supports my boldness, intuition, and faith.  She was willing to go along with my idea of stalking the stage door… and then I realized that I wasn’t in college anymore. This was a Sunday night, we were both hungry, and I had a family relying on me for our Monday morning routine.  So we abandoned the stage door idea and went for a burger.  We had an incredibly deep, introspective discussion about grief, joy, creativity – and our relationship got an infusion of love that brought us closer together.  And that, my friends, is what being fully present is all about. Letting your soul breathe life into you and your loved ones. Trusting that it knows exactly what experiences will bring you fully alive, at the exact moment you need them.

Maybe I will meet Liz Gilbert someday. Or Pharell.  Or Lauryn Hill (again!). But in the deepest parts of my heart, I truly wish that a meeting of this magnitude – if it is meant to be – would serve the greater good, rather than my ego. 


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