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Phyllis Diller passed away on August 20th, at the age of 95, and has been widely remembered for her eccentric persona -- the wild wigs, the claims of terrible housekeeping, the rapid fire one-liners. But besides being one of the first female comedians to make it big with her brash style of self-deprecating humor, Diller was also a relatively late bloomer. In fact, she didn't become a comedian until she was 37, and already a mother of 5. (I'm sure any mother of 5 is either a comedian or too tired to speak, or possibly both.) As Diller once told NPR, "The thing is, I had been doing [comedy] all my life without realizing it because I'm a born comic." So when her family was struggling financially, her husband convinced her to try her hand at comedy. And what do you know, it worked.
Besides a willingness to do anything for a laugh, and the creation of an outlandish persona, what set Diller apart? As she wrote in her 2005 memoir Like a Lampshade in a Whorehouse, her impulse as a performer was never to copy, never to mediate, never to even pay homage; it was always to be purely herself: "I purposely never watched other comedians perform because I didn't want to copy anyone. I wanted to become me, totally me. The more me, the better. I instinctively knew this and I was right. My attitude, my material, and me—those were the components that distinguished me from the rest of the field right from the start."
Becoming "totally me" -- what a good goal, performer or not. And a useful mantra, it turns out, as it launched the 30-something star of PTA-skits into the annals of great comedy. Starting with her first television performance, seen in the clip below, in all its sweet awkward glory:
Remembering Maurice Sendak
Tiny Fey Talks to Oprah
War and Forgiveness
Homeless Female Veterans
Words are so wonderful. We use them all day long, and everybody knows what they mean. What always surprises me, though, is when you really try to sit down and describe what a word is, it's incredibly difficult. For example: cat. We all know what at cat is. But how to explain it? A short furry animal that—uh—will scratch the freckles off your face if you attempt give it the pill prescribed by the vet?
This is why the dictionary is such a glorious invention—its ability to precisely explain the complexities of our seemingly simple language. And as of yesterday, one of our favorite phrases, "Aha Moment," has made it into Merriam-Webster's Collegiate version, where it's described not just as a noun but as "a moment of sudden realization, inspiration, insight, recognition, or comprehension."
USA Today spoke with the Merriam-Webster's associate editor, Korry Stamper and found out that "aha moment" was first introduced into the lexicon almost 75 years ago and was cited in a 1939 psychology textbook. But we know who brought it into our lives:
Now when are they going to put bing-bing-bing-bing in the dictionary?
See Rihanna on Oprah's Next Chapter this Sunday
Nora Ephron's Aha Moment
The Aha Moment Hall of Fame
Recently at a Fort Worth, Texas, community pool, two parents had the unthinkable happen, when they saw their kids nearly drown. Luckily for them, a string of coincidence led Christy Daae to be at the pool, which she told the Star-Telegram she almost never visits. Daae recounted how she saw the two kids playing happily. The three-year-old girl then started struggling, and her four-year-old friend, brave little guy, tried to help her. (Cue throat-lump.) Another good Samaritan saw the kids go under and pulled them out. Daae, who is an ER nurse, and another woman began giving the boy CPR. (The girl was in better shape and breathing on her own.) The kids were both whisked away to a nearby hospital. Daae called her presence at the scene "a God thing." "I do feel that it was divine intervention," she said. "We never go to that pool." (Read the whole story here at the Star-Telegram.)
There are so many moments in life when a split-second, a mere millimeter, a seemingly random decision, ends up changing everything. Thank goodness, in this case, for Daae's bravery, quick thinking, and the "God moment" that brought her to that pool on that day.
Mothering in Public
A Small Act of Kindness
Of the many inspiring stories to come out of the Olympics, how many of them have to do with a champion's excellent manners? Usain Bolt, world's fastest man, was being interviewed after winning the gold medal in the 100 meter dash, when US sprinter Sanya Richards-Ross's own gold medal ceremony began. He stopped his interview (in a very low-key way) to listen to the national anthem, and to let Richards-Ross have her moment over on that other side of the screen.
In a world that rewards competitiveness, how lovely it is to see an athlete take a moment to honor a fellow athlete's accomplishments. If only we could all feel this way about each others' successes -- writers, businesspeople, politicians, artists, even parents -- after all, we're all in this whatever-we-are-in together, and it never hurts to take a moment for someone else's moment.
(And you have to love how, when told he is a legend, Bolt chuckles, saying, "Yeah, people say that." Do they give gold medals in class and humility, too?)
Do you ever wonder what your legacy will be? Aaron Collins, according to his mother in this heartbreaking CBS news clip, "wanted to leave the world a better place than when he found it." His family always knew he would do something amazing, something to change the world, to help people. When he died last month at age 30, he left behind reputation for kindness and a peculiar wish: "leave an awesome tip (and I don’t mean 25%. I mean $500 on a f***ing pizza) for a waiter or waitress.” According to Aaron's brother, "Aaron was the type of person that took great joy in unexpected kindness...Of course, the way he lived his life meant Aaron never had much and didn’t leave much. We want to make his wish come true... His hope was clearly that such a random gift of kindness would leave an impact for life."
The family started raising donations and soon they had thousands of dollars to bestow upon unsuspecting waitstaff. Like Sarah, at Puccini's Smiling Teeth in Lexington, who said, "Are you kidding me?" and then, immediately, "I'll share this with everyone." (Just as, one suspects, Aaron had planned.)
The story is a beautiful one for Aaron's kindness, and for his family's devotion to helping his kindness live beyond him. But it also serves to remind us all that our contributions to the world, our own acts of kindness, need not be huge. That sometimes the best way to reach out is in some small, specific way -- making a harried waitress's day, for example -- a gesture that helps to create a culture of kindness. The kind of culture we all want to live in.
Oprah's Pay it Forward Challenge
When Fate Puts You Last for a Reason
One of the most happy-tear inducing moments of the Olympic torch relay was when 13-year-old torch bearer Kieran Maxwell, who lost his leg to cancer and now walks unsteadily with a heavy prosthetic limb, stumbled and fell. Immediately, his family and neighbors hurried to his side to help him. And, as he has with every other setback life has thrown at him, Kieran stood right back up and kept going, with a smile on his face. All across the world, hearts swelled.
Particularly moved were Colin and Chris Weir, Britain's largest lottery winners, who have donated some of their millions to buy Kieran a lighter, state-of-the-art prosthetic limb. Kieran's family had been fundraising to buy him the new leg, as his current heavy prosthetic restricted his movement; his mother told the BBC, "He couldn't believe it. I am still pinching myself...He can go back to being a normal boy. He can be himself. Words cannot describe what they have done."
The Weirs have donated to other causes since winning their jackpot, saying they wanted to "share the luck." And in doing so, they are transforming lives. How's that for a torch to pass on?
Turning a Disability into a Superpower
How a Double-Amputee Becomes a Mermaid
Sunday night something happened that caused grown-up scientific types to go crazy with happiness, like so:
That's right, the little (one ton) unmanned rover that could has survived its "seven minutes of terror" and landed safely on the surface of Mars, tweeting to announce its arrival: "I'm safely on the surface of Mars. GALE CRATER I AM IN YOU!!!" And all of NASA breathed a sigh of relief. According to Anita Sengupta, one of NASA's aerospace engineers who had helped create the parachute needed to slow down the spacecraft on landing, "There's no room for error." (And how we loved to see women in that room....)
People even gathered in Times Square to watch the landing and celebrate. Hooray for science!
The Curiosity rover, with no time to celebrate, immediately started taking pictures of its surroundings (and itself, seen below in shadow) and beaming them back to its beaming family at NASA.
Dare Mighty Things! It's a message for everyone's day, on Mars or not.
Real-Life Visitors from Outer Space
Read Comic Books, Learn Science
Until, that is, a vacationer recently found the ring on that same beach and returned it to Rafferty; it turns out the ring traveled less than a mile (surviving some major hurricanes) in over three decades. (For more on how the good Samaritan found the ring's owner, read the whole story.) Rafferty says, "It made me think, maybe nothing's ever lost forever." And it makes me think, maybe Planet Lost Thing is a closer, and more benevolent, place than we ever knew.
Message in a Bottle, Finally Delivered
A Ring Saves a Life, and Other Everyday Miracles
This story comes from the City of Big Shoulders itself, Chicago, where a visitor from Alabama made the mistake every rider of public transit fears, and accidentally left her purse on the train. Take a moment to make sure you know where your purse is. I know I had to after reading this, form the Press-Register: "Minutes after exiting Chicago’s elevated train, known as the "L," Nancy Pierce was in a panic. She realized that she’d left her purse with her cash, credit cards, iPhone, even her favorite dangly silver earrings, on the train. " SHUDDER. After a complex ordeal, including some creative ID work to be able to fly home, Pierce settled into her daily life back in Oakleigh, Alabama. Two weeks later, a mysterious UPS package arrived. Yes, it was her purse, sent by the good Samaritan who found it. (Read the whole article for the sender's sweet apology for taking so long to return it.) Pierce said, "I was so excited, and so touched that this woman would do this. It certainly restored my faith in people, and made it even stronger. I know there are really good people in this world." She says she'll visit Chicago again, and even ride the L.
Kind of warms even a city-dweller's crusty polluted heart.
The Ripple Effect of Kindness
Modern Tales of Good Deeds
The Card Game that Encourages Generosity