There is a video that’s travelling around Facebook and other social networking sites right now of Bette Midler talking on the phone to a young cancer patient named Anna Greenberg as she sits in her hospital bed with loved ones gathered round her. The 8 minute video ends with Bette singing an emotional, vulnerable version of Wind Beneath My Wings. I’ve thought about the video a lot in the days since I first watched it. There is a moment in the video that I’ve most wrestled with. At one point, Bette tells Anna, “It’s a mean world, a really mean world and I think the idea that people are kind and they enhance the world, their life enhancing, it’s so important.” I think that Ms. Midler was talking about how cruel it is that people suffer from deadly cancers, but I think she was also referring to the unkindnesses that occur in this world.
Just last week, I wrote a blog post about something unkind that I did as well as something unkind that was done to me. Both parties involved were culpable. I think about the things I write about here on this blog and I think the theme I’m most obsessed with, particularly at this point in my life, is the way we vacillate between kindness and cruelty. It’s a theme that’s amplified in my work environment, but it’s also always everywhere I turn. On Facebook, I see the nicest people say the most hateful things about our president. I have neighbors that greet me kindly on the sidewalk that seemingly don’t know how to stop at a stop sign when they are driving in their cars.
The fact that Bette Midler took time out of her day, especially during a very busy time in her life, speaks volumes as to how big her heart is. I don’t think she did it as a publicity stunt, I actually think she had a connection to this young girl, saw something of herself or perhaps her daughter, and it made her want to do what she could to lift Anna’s spirits. I could be wrong about this, but I do believe Bette’s gestures, Bette’s involvement, made Anna’s exit from this world a little bit easier. At least, I hope so.
The internet is littered with stories of unkind acts committed by celebrities, Bette Midler is no different. Google Bette Midler bitch and you’ll have reading material for hours. I don’t think all the stories or true, but I suppose some are. I’ve only had two interactions with Bette Midler. The first was not face to face: I attended one of her concerts in Oakland over 15 years ago. It was the most amazing concert I’ve ever attended (Sorry, Amy Grant!) and the entire audience went crazy, laughing at every thing she said, crying when she sang The Rose, riveted by every word and movement. And the funny this was, she kept telling us what an ungrateful audience we were, that we didn’t seem to be enjoying ourselves or appreciating her enough. We 4,000 gay guys and 10 straight women looked at each other incredulously and thought, HOW COULD WE LOVE HER ANYMORE? I’ve thought about that night so often. Here was one of the wealthiest, most talented, most revered performers in the world pleading with an audience, “Love me. No, that’s not enough, love me a little more.”
My other interaction, I can’t actually talk about here, but I will say it was face to face and I would not say that she was kind to me. For a while after the interaction, I felt a little sad when her name came up in a conversation or she was interviewed on television. I had loved her so much for so long and my thoughts reverted to the memory of our interaction, where I felt like she didn’t really like me very much or take me in as a fellow human being. When I listen to The Rose or From A Distance or Hello in There, I feel like she is singing to me, just to sensitive, easily crestfallen Ray Barnhart. It’s so personal and poetic and beautiful and it’s a gift.
There are any number of people that I know that could tell you stories about their interactions with me. There are folks who would tell you how sweet I am and folks who would tell you I am cruel. And the people who really know me would tell you I am both. We are all both. I actually think I started this blog to “work out” some of the themes that play out in my life, to try to make sense of them. Yes, Ms. Midler, this is a mean world, a mean, mean world. But it’s also a beautiful world and you taking the time to sing to your friend Anna Greenberg one of her favorite songs is an indelible, magical example of this world’s beauty.