I was pleased and intimidated to be asked to do a weekly book review on KSL television’s noon news show some years ago. As a young, stay-at-home mother, it was a chance to have a once-a-week chance to leave the laundry and use my literary skills.
With about 15 minutes training, they slid me into a seat under the bright studio lights right next to the news anchor, turned on the teleprompter and said when the red light went on I was live.
If you’ve ever known a modicum of self-consciousness before a still camera, you can imagine the breathless terror of knowing you are live on camera before scores of thousands of viewers. No one understands the words, “Uh, can we just do that one more time?” or “Retake, please?” No, what you gave is what they saw out there in television land where every smile or twitch of your eyebrow was noted with or without charity.
I made my way through several weeks of book reviews with pounding heart, dutifully reading that teleprompter. The words were familiar, because, I had written them, but they looked like stark strangers on the machine, rolling in front of me. I had been told that if ever there should be teleprompter problems, if it got stuck or jumped ahead, that I had the script in front of me on yellow sheets.
The script was there, all right, but in huge letters with big spaces between the lines. A single paragraph could take many pages. The trick was to keep your script up with the teleprompter, turning over those yellow pages in sync with the rolling words in front of you. That sounds easy enough, but glancing down at your script, means you’ve turned away from the teleprompter-even if just for a few seconds. I was afraid I wouldn’t find my place again in those words rolling in front of me-or that it would look strange to glance down frequently on live TV.
Instead, I acted glued to that teleprompter and camera, the script lying untouched before me.
Probably a session of practice could have solved my heartburn, but every time I was behind that desk, it was to go live. I dropped in from my life as a mother, blood pounding, just long enough to do my little gig and was gone again.
It is not good to imagine worst-case scenarios. Those with the imagination to see the worst probably participate in bringing it about. My worst-case scenario, under those studio lights, was this. These were the old KSL studios on Social Hall Avenue in Salt Lake City, and for some reason, the studio wasn’t adequately cooled for those lights. Since nothing is so unappealing as a sweaty anchor (drips at 10:00), to keep those under the lights cool enough, a breezy fan blew in on us from vents in the wall behind the camera.
I am not talking here about a cooling whish of air; it was a wind that even caught and moved your hair just when you had it ready to go on camera. I sometimes thought about models who in photographs have wind machines blow their hair back, so they look oh so breezy. I thought we must look oh so breezy sitting at that news desk with the wind blowing on us.
But I thought something else, too. Here comes my worst-case scenario. In those days when I wore hard contact lenses, I thought-what if this steady gale from behind the camera dries my contact lenses out and they fog up and I can’t see? I should have stilled my restless brain from ever conceiving such a notion, because, of course, it happened.
It was the day before Thanksgiving. I was at the anchor’s desk, mentally checking off my grocery list for the dinner I would make the next day, when the red light came on, I looked into the teleprompter/camera and began my book review. All was well for about a minute. Then it happened. My contact lenses could no longer take the gusts of air and promptly fogged up.
For me the words on the teleprompter disappeared just as surely as headlights are swallowed in fog. I strained harder to see, blinked several times. It was nothing but a murky fog between me and the teleprompter. Desperately, I looked down at my script-which, of course, was not at the proper place-and in my panic I couldn’t see where I was. I looked up again, blinking slower, trying to clear those lenses. No hope.
If I had been an old hand at this, I would improvised a few things, and joined the teleprompter later when things became clear. But I was manifestly not an old hand at this. I sputtered, stumbled, mumbled a few words. I looked down. I looked up. I was at a complete loss. If I started to just amble off the top of my head, I thought it would throw the timing off of the entire program.
And, oh, you know how time does not move consistently. In this moment of abject humiliation, time slowed down to the speed of a glacier’s crawl. It was like turning a tape down to slow motion so that everything was lower and slower, vowels elongated.
I looked away from the camera toward the anchor, hoping she could see I was in big trouble and needed rescue. I hoped she could see I was unraveling there with my blind eyes and no way to recover. She didn’t catch on.
I sat before that live camera looking back and forth between her, my script and the teleprompter for about ten years. The only thing I could see clearly was the red light of the camera reminding me that all of Utah was watching.
As viewers, we are used to speed and efficiency on television. Any mistake is immediately evident-and this was a big mistake. Every viewer watching the TV that day knew I was botching it. Some must have been agonizing with me. Some must have thought they had tuned into amateur hour. With my rather vivid imagination, I could feel the thousands of eyes upon me as I faltered. It didn’t take imagination to hear a Boy Scout whose troop was on a field trip to KSL, whisper to his teacher in the studio, “What’s wrong with her, teacher?”
How long I was there staring at a live television while it stared back at me, I cannot say. My lenses finally cleared enough that I could catch about every third word on the teleprompter so I improvised wildly.
And then the red light went off. I skulked away from the anchor’s desk, eyes down, tears stinging. I hoped no one would say they were sorry or I wouldn’t have been able to contain those tears.
You know how I remember so clearly that this was the day before Thanksgiving? It is because all of Utah must have been at home that day making pies, the only day of the year so many could have happened to be watching KSL’s noon news.
People said to me, “Oh, I saw you on the news.” That’s it. Nothing more. Admitting they saw me was enough to express their sympathy and send me into a tailspin of humiliation.
I thought then that this was one of the worst things that had ever happened or would ever happen to me. My dignity squandered, my self-worth smashed. Of course, I was entirely wrong. It was nothing compared to what I’ve known before and since in the way of real heartbreak and those things that are common to all humanity.
Actually, it was nothing at all.
Whatever tears I cried that day have long since dried up. I know I cried them, but they no longer belong to me. It’s as if they belong to an actress on another stage a long, long time ago.
I have wondered since about some of the other tears I’ve cried over much more serious things, things that anyone would count as real and terrible losses, that sent me gasping to my knees. One day, perhaps every one of those tears will seem like something I cried a long, long time ago on another stage. Whatever hurt caused them will seem far away and removed, swallowed up in the encircling arms of the Lord.
I may even wonder why the hurts hurt so much-when they were all so temporary.
So this Thanksgiving, I am thankful for so many things. My list would probably look very much like yours, but I am also aware in a world where we have losses as well as gains that our sense of gratitude may ebb and flow.
Fresh from the chagrin of a little, and now nearly forgotten moment, I wasn’t extremely thankful on the Thanksgiving following my television debacle. I was blind as clearly as I had been the day before when my lenses fogged up.
But I have come a long way since then. I can be happy when things are quite imperfect because my gratitude need never be stolen away by what life does not seem to offer at any given time. I can be grateful even though I do not have a guarantee that life will roll according to my script, that all will line-up to respond the way I wish they would. I can sing praises even though I do not have a guarantee that I will always be healthy or that those I love will always be close by. I can cherish principles even when those in our world trample them. I can regard myself as a precious child of God even when I don’t turn in perfect performances.
Most of all, I have come to find that my gratitude lies neither in things, nor events, but ultimately in God’s graciousness. I was sitting in the temple recently in a prayer of thanksgiving and I realized what I am most grateful for in all the universe.
I am thankful beyond expression that God is God. That’s it. That is where my gratitude is focused. Everything else springs from this understanding. What hope would there be if God were entirely different, as quixotic as the Greek and Roman gods? What could we count on if He were great, but not good? What if He were intelligent, but disinterested? What if His character had flaws, bouts of selfishness? Instead, I am astonished to be anchored by our God and all He is.
I am grateful for his beautiful character. I am awed that He combines perfect intelligence with the most personal love of me. Who is this God who loves me and smiles upon me and comforts me without turning away-and does the same for every one of us? He is beyond my imagining because everything I see and understand is limited by my shuttered eyes, but still he stands constant with an invitation to let his light fill me.
I am so grateful that in heaven there is no change of political administration, no erratic surprises, no change of rules, no change of venues. He does not alter from age to age or time to time. Since God cannot lie, I can trust his word, trust He means it, trust He is right. I am grateful that when I am found wanting, he feels the lack and feeds the hungry soul. I am grateful that God plays no favorites, has no weaknesses, gives in to nothing petty or trivial.
I am glad that bringing to pass our immortality and eternal life are his great work, and that he tells us quite frankly that he is able to do his own work. That means, even when I am discouraged and fallible, He means to succeed with me.
I am thankful that behind harsh realities-small or large-that there is a Face of Love, that this universe isn’t empty and meaningless, random and hostile, a sling of galaxies and planets flung thoughtlessly into space. I am thankful that God is utterly reliable-that He is there when I call, that his covenants are sure and his promises will absolutely be fulfilled.
Things will happen to us in our lives that tempt us from gratitude, but no matter what is momentarily subtracted from our lives, God never will be.