Photo: George Burns, Copyright ©Harpo Productions Inc.
I never foresaw doing the Oprah show for 25 years. Twelve years in, I was already thinking about bringing it to a close. I didn't want to be the girl who stayed too long at the fair. I dreaded the thought of overstaying my welcome.
Then I did the movie Beloved, portraying a former slave who experiences newfound freedom. That role changed the way I looked at my work. How dare I, who'd been given opportunities unimagined by my ancestors, even think of being tired enough to quit? So I renewed my contract for another four years. Then another two.
At the 20-year mark, I was almost certain that the time was finally right to call it a day (although I was uncertain about what to do next). That's when I received an e-mail from Mattie Stepanek.
Mattie was a 12-year-old boy with a rare form of muscular dystrophy who had appeared on my show to read his poetry and became an instant, dear friend. We exchanged e-mails often and talked on the phone when we could. He made me laugh. And sometimes cry. But most often he made me feel more human and present and able to appreciate even the smallest things.
Mattie suffered so much in his young life, going in and out of the hospital, yet hardly ever complained. When he spoke, I listened. And in May 2003, as I was in the throes of deciding to bring the show to an end, he was a singular force in changing my mind.
Here's what he wrote from his hospital bed in May 2003, 13 months before he died:
We Hear You!