Seeing each other through…

We are not on this earth to see through each other; we are here to see each other through. ~ Gloria Vanderbilt

Today’s SPARK! is a little different from usual. I want to share with you a personal story about my life.

And how I quickly, immaturely and unfairly judged another woman — and the twist that occurred when that woman surprised me and helped me along my path.  Here’s how my story begins…

I grew up feeling terribly self-conscious about my smile.

I had perfectly straight teeth except for one prominent, crooked tooth.

So, when I was 26 years old and working full-time as a newspaper reporter in Columbus, Ohio, I took the leap to get braces.

Here I am as a reporter, self-conscious about my smile, before my braces.

As much as anything I wanted to straighten out my feelings that this “flaw” somehow made me less than.

And, on the day the little metal brackets were glued to the fronts of my teeth, I returned to the newsroom, feeling terribly insecure about how my colleagues would react.

I also worried that the subjects I covered and interviewed would view me as a middle-schooler rather than the professional I prided myself on being.

I walked into the newsroom and no one said anything.  If they noticed my braces, they pretended they didn’t.  I felt too awkward to say anything myself.

My city editor, too, ignored my mouth full of metal and briskly handed me an assignment for that day.

In two hours, I was to interview the heiress Gloria Vanderbilt.  I flinched.  I knew nothing about her but thought I did: Poor little rich girl.  Society woman.  Snob.

Of all people to have to interview, I wailed to myself silently. Why would it have to be a socialite who would surely negatively judge my appearance on this of all days?

Why did I have to interview her, anyway?  I was a hard news reporter.  What had she done to be worthy of a real news story?

As I did the research, I learned that Gloria Vanderbilt was launching the first designer blue jeans.

In 1981, it also was nearly unheard of for a designer to personally travel the country to promote their clothing.  She was blazing a trail to put herself out there as a designer and businesswoman.

As I prepared for the interview, I also learned more about her sad life.

Even though she was born into the wealthiest of families, her father died when she was an infant; her mother handed her off to nannies; and when she was 10, she was the subject of a huge trial in which her aunt was awarded custody of her, ripping her away from the only person who loved and cared for her — her nanny.

I read that she had finally found great love with her fourth husband, but he had died in open-heart surgery at 50, leaving her with two young sons.

After boning up on her life story, my edge softened and my mind opened up.  And, now I was off to meet her at her Hyatt Hotel room.

When I knocked, she opened the door a crack and then nervously welcomed me in.

It was just a regular hotel room – not the suite I expected – and we were alone. No staff. No entourage. No bodyguard. Just Gloria and me.

We settled into two chairs so close together our knees almost touched.

She was a tiny, little thing with dyed dark brown hair cut in a bob.  She complimented my lipstick and asked if it was Clinique.  It was.

She was sweet and kind and answered my questions with warm enthusiasm. Her nervousness disappeared. I forgot I was wearing braces.

We were two women just doing our jobs and giving it our best.

We wrapped up our time together by her telling me the downside of her traveling the country was being away from the loves of her life – her sons Carter, 16, and Anderson Cooper, 14.

As I was thanking her for the interview and preparing to leave, she did something that floored me.

She gently took my face in her hands, looked me in the eyes, and said, “Darling, your braces are adorable.”

I ran out of the hotel feeling all giggly and relieved.  Not that I thought my braces were adorable.  I didn’t.  And, not that I believed Gloria really thought they were either.

But because Gloria saw me and somehow knew how to reach in and lift me up with support.  Her action broke through the awkwardness and gave me the confidence I needed to get through a tough, uncertain time.

I returned to the newsroom, animated and exuberant, and told my editor that Gloria pronounced my braces adorable.  He rolled his eyes and told me to get to work on the story.

From that point on and for the next 11 months that I wore braces, I never worried about my appearance.  Gloria’s gesture and words played over and over in my head.

And, when my braces were removed, I had a smile I was proud of. I couldn’t stop grinning.  But few even noticed!

For three years after, people who saw me regularly would ask, “when did you get your braces off?”

Today, I am the age Gloria was when I interviewed her at the Hyatt Hotel that day.

Gloria is now 88 and her beloved son is the Anderson Cooper of CNN fame with his own talk show.

Anderson Cooper interviewed his mother last fall in a charming and wide-ranging interview you can watch by clicking on the link.

I hadn’t seen her “in person” for 30 years.  I was struck by her same bob (though different color!) and her warm, supportive nature to her son and all others.

During the interview with Anderson, she remarked that she lives by the words, “we are not on this earth to see through each other; we are here to see each other through.”

Thirty years later, I can attest she was there to see me through. And, I hope in these past 30 years I have grown away from my quick judgment of another human being and any fear of what others think.

Every day I hear from Women on Fire around the country reaching out a hand, giving support and inspiration – seeing each other through.

Thank you to each and every one of you for the difference you are making in each other’s lives.

Who in your life this week needs your gentle touch and words to be assured all is well?

Have a great week and I welcome any of your stories of Women on Fire who’ve seen you through ~