How a young guest helped her prepare for the next chapter and move forward with no regrets—only grace and gratitude.
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.
Hello, it's me, Mattie...your guy. I am praying and hoping to go home around Memorial Day. It's not a guarantee, so I am not telling a lot of people. It seems that every time I try to go home, something else goes wrong. The doctors are not able to "fix" me, but they agree with me going home. And don't worry, I am not "going home to die" or anything like that. I am going home because they can't do anything else here, and if I heal, it's because I am meant to heal, and if I don't, then my message is out there and it's time for me to go to Heaven. I personally am hoping that my message still needs me to be the messenger a while longer, but that's really in God's hands. But anyway...I am only needing blood transfusions about once a week now, so that is better. And it sounds weird, but I think it's really cool that I have blood and platelets from so many people. Makes me related to the world in some way, which is a proud thing to be.
I know that you are planning to retire your show on its 20th anniversary. It is my opinion that you should wait to stop your daytime show on its 25th anniversary. Let me explain why. Twenty-five makes more sense to me, partially because I am a bit OCD and 25 is a perfect number. It's a perfect square, and symbolizes a quarter of something, not just a fifth like the number 20. Also, when I think of the number 25, especially for retiring or completion, for some reason my mind is filled with bright colors and the rejuvenation of life. I know that sounds weird, but it's true. And you've already made history in so many ways, wonderful and beautiful ways, why not make history bigger by having a show with great dignity that touched and inspired so many people for a quarter of a century. I'll let you think on it. And of course it's only my opinion, but I sometimes get feelings about things, and I have one about this. I think it's good for the world and good for you.
As anyone who knows me knows, I "sometimes get feelings about things," too, and my gut told me to pay attention to this angel boy who I believe was a messenger for our time.
Somehow it was clear to him, back in 2003, that I was neither emotionally nor spiritually prepared to bring this phase of my career to a close.
Now I'm truly ready for the next chapter. I move forward with no regrets—only grace and gratitude.
And wherever heaven is, I know Mattie is there. Smiling among all the bright colors.