The first time I met Gloria Steinem was at a Voters for Choice fundraiser. We'd spoken by phone before that -- I'll never forget the first time I heard her unmistakable voice on my voicemail. My friend Maureen was running Voters for Choice, and I was helping out whenever I could. When Gloria came to town for a dinner before Whoopi Goldberg's foul-mouthed hysterical show, Maureen sat me next to her, knowing that it would be a gift to me. It was. I was dumbstruck, so all I could think of to say was how much she has meant to me and to so many others. She looked me square in the eye and said the same could be said about me. I said I wasn't meaning to put myself down by putting her up on the pedestal (where she belongs), and she said okay then, she would accept the compliment.
By the time I met her, Gloria had married David Bale. Only a few months later, I heard that David was sick. I reached out to them since I've had so much experience with illness. And so began my telephone friendship with David, who was so afraid and so unhappy about what he was putting Gloria through. We talked for hours and hours. I loved our talks, no matter how hard they were, because of his British (South African, really) accent -- he called me "love," and I loved that. We talked about what illness was doing to him, what the meds were doing to him, what it was all doing to Gloria. It was a horrible time, but a gift to me. I didn't know I was particularly good at speaking to other people with illness until then.
David died and Gloria allowed me to be part of it. She sent me photos of him and of them with a gorgeous note. But most of all, she made me family. When I wrote an essay about David and how much our time had meant to me, she had me send copies to all of his children. When I visited her when she was ready after he died, she made me tea and introduced me to his dog (now hers) Moji, now also gone. She made me feel welcome.
She asked me for help for a neighbor. She came to see me in the hospital -- nothing could have made my surgeon happier than to meet her. She dragged me to the health food store. She answered every email I sent -- I saved every response. She made me feel special.
One night, we met for dinner in the Library at the Regency Hotel, where I love to sit and people-watch. That night, people were watching her. That night, she told me that what I am doing for people with chronic illnesses is the same as what she and her compatriots did for women forty years earlier. I could never, ever receive a bigger compliment from anybody.
Gloria is an amazing person. She's done so much. But it's what you don't know about that makes her most special. Because everybody is special to Gloria. Everybody. She is so beautiful, so kind, so giving -- and so brutally honest -- and when you talk to her, it's as if you're the only person on earth. I've rarely visited her when there wasn't someone staying at her house -- a young activist, an African women's leader, a struggling writer. I think she's friends with everyone she's ever met. Her heart is not only huge, but so very unique. I have never felt more unconditionally loved than I have by Gloria and David.
Gloria: In Her Own Words airs on HBO at 9 pm on August 15, with many re-runs if you miss the first showing. I hope you will watch it and get a glimpse of just how amazing she is. Sure, it's about the women's movement, no doubt. But it's also about how we ought to treat each other, the interest we ought to have in each other, the beauty that comes from meeting another human being.
Edited by Jody Smith