On October 20, 2013, I had the chance to stand on stage at The Kennedy Center in Washington DC in front of about 2400 people and look up to the first tier of boxes to my left and see Carol Burnett looking back at me.
Sometimes when I replay the whole thing in my mind I put her in a sort of hovering position with gossamer wings in a mist of gold. I’m only partially kidding. She does feel like an angel to me, and the magic she has spread over my life feels ‘not of this world’.
My heart is so full of gratitude for the opportunities she has given me but equally so for the lessons I’m learning. The first is about
I don’t think I have ever seen or met anyone exhibit more grace than Carol. And I have been around many, many graceful ballerinas, as well as royalty from the Netherlands.
But there was one moment, when I got nervous. Nervous of what I was going to possibly witness in Carol. On Sunday the 20th, I was sitting in the green room with just one or two people watching Carol rehearse on a monitor. The audio wasn’t great but it was fun and surreal to be seeing her practice her speech in her rehearsal duds. And then something happened. There were many people on stage with her. A youngish woman, an assistant director maybe was trying to give “Ms. Burnett” some information about her cue. (I should point out that I had never seen or met Carol physically until that weekend!) I couldn’t hear the woman on the TV at all but I heard Carol. She touched the woman’s forearms and began in a somewhat direct tone, “Dear, if we are going to continue you must. . . I braced myself thinking, "Dear God, please don’t be a behind-the-scenes-jerk! I'll never be able to stand it!"
. . . call me ‘Carol’. Or you can call me Miss Jolie, Angelinnnnna Jolie” she joked with an accent.
And it is this down-to-earth friendliness and humility that comes so effortlessly to this legend, putting everyone around her at ease. Not only did I hear her ask to be called by her first name but she is a master at remembering and calling other people by their first names. People she’ll never see again. I overheard so many stars and ‘civilians’ at the
Mark Twain show talk about Carol with such awe. One fellow said that before she gets to a set she knows everyone’s name!.
The same goes for her thoughtfulness about writing ‘thank you’ notes. I have sent her a few things over these past months and her response rate borders on freaky. You’re at the post office putting a stamp on the thing to go out and then turn around to get mail from your PO Box and there’s a return letter!
As I was writing this, in fact, a package had arrived outside my door. It was from "Angelina Jolie", aka Carol. It was a beautiful gift and another beautifully handwritten note. (Her penmanship is incredible!) This one was complimenting me on my performance. Carol was thanking me for going to DC! I mean, who does this? The woman just handed me the dream of a lifetime and she sends me a gift? Huh??
Beyond all of this, what I really find myself wanting to emulate is the grace she shows by what she doesn’t say. Over the past few months there have been situations that have arisen in my life where I was challenged by a difficult person or sticky circumstance .
In those tough moments I found myself asking, “What would Carol do?” particularly in business . . . and it wouldn’t take long before the answer was there. Carol would keep her cool and she’d probably say very little and stay focused on something positive. Like her comedy, she doesn’t seem to join the fray. I never liked the word ‘classy’, kind of like how I hate the word baby-bump. I just don’t say it. But that’s the word for her. (Classy, not baby-bump.) Carol, the true star, stays above it all, just like how I remember it at The Kennedy Center.