Culture At Large

A Little Grace for Oprah

Mary Hulst

When the headline popped up on my yahoo news that Oprah was at 200 pounds, I immediately clicked on the link.  I'm not a celebrity stalker or a daytime talk show addict, but when I taught a college communications course Oprah was one of our subjects.

I have an empathic view of Oprah.  I subscribe to O magazine, which I enjoy, and in my studies of her last 20 plus years in the communications business I have been repeatedly impressed by her.  She is funny, generous, creative, insightful, and--here's the key to her success--completely transparent about her strengths and weaknesses.

Her latest admission, splashed across the latest cover of O, reads "How did I let this happen again?"  For those of you who aren't subscribers, the short story is that her health went off the rails last year due to a thyroid condition and the resulting fatigue and depression and changes in her metabolism led her to return to food as a comfort source.  She's up 40 pounds from where she was a few years ago.

I read the Yahoo piece and the O article and I thought, "Oh, honey."  She sounded so beside herself, so embarrassed, and I just wanted to give her a hug and tell her that it was going to be okay.

I feel the same way when a student admits to me that he's smoking again, or when a colleague laments his need to lose some weight.  They, like Oprah, feel overwhelmed and embarrassed and weak in the area of self-discipline.

I have high empathy for this because I've had things in my life it's been hard to shake.  It took me years--years--to wean myself off Diet Coke.  This may seem a minor problem, but let me describe its depth and breadth and width: When I was writing my dissertation I went through several cans a day.  I wouldn't leave my apartment to fetch a book from the library, but I would grab my keys if I was out of Diet Coke.  When I would travel to conferences, I would leave a Pepsi-only hotel where the conference was held and walk to a McDonald's (I can still tell you which fast food places serve Pepsi and which serve Coke).  During one winter conference I had cans of Diet Coke in my trunk, and would leave the warm confines of the building to walk to the car, open the trunk, and retrieve a can.  My current office has a mini-fridge under the desk where, up until a few months ago, the only residents were cold cans of Diet Coke.  One colleague and one Board member knew that I had a stash and would stop in.  I wasn't just an addict.  I was a dealer.

I had tried to give up Diet Coke at various points throughout the last few years.  Lenten sacrifices, New Year's Resolutions, limiting consumption to one a day.  Nothing worked.  Finally, this summer a friend was told by a doctor that artificial sweeteners are poor choices for optimal health.  My friend, like me, was a Diet Coke fan.  We decided to give it up together.  We replaced the crack of an opening can of pop with the turn of water-bottle lid.  Not as audibly satisfying , I will be quick to say, but over a few days, and then a few weeks, we did it.  We stopped drinking Diet Coke.  We stopped buying Diet Coke.  And, eventually, we stopped craving Diet Coke.

But even last night, as I was falling asleep, I had a sudden inexplicable craving for it again.

So, Oprah, I get it.  We all have our things that slip into our lives gradually and then begin to take over.  We all have those bad habits we can't break, those addictions we can't shake, those fall-off-the-wagon moments that we want to have back.  We get it.

I look down at my chewed fingernails which were lovely, long and strong at the end of the summer.  I glance around my office at the assorted mugs that once held tea.  I see a colleague's office littered with Pepsi cans.  We get it.

And we offer grace.  We offer grace to you, dear Oprah, and we offer it to ourselves.  To those of us addicted to food or drink, to those who spend too much money on books or music, to those who surf the net to avoid real humans, to those who try to find their comfort in places where comfort cannot be found: grace.  Grace.  No judgment, no wagging fingers or shaking heads.  Just grace.  To try again tomorrow.

Grace to you today.

Topics: Culture At Large, News & Politics, Social Trends, Media, North America