How Nora Ephron woke me up

Katz's Deli=When Harry Met Sally
Tuesday night, when my Washington Post email broke the news that Nora Ephron had died—of complications from the leukemia she had kept so private—I experienced a rush of emotion I didn’t see coming. Nora Ephron was a successful woman in the man’s world of movie comedy writing, she was an accomplished novelist and memoirist, she was thrice married to interesting men, and she correctly surmised the identity of Deep Throat without a hint from second spouse Carl Berntein….There is much to admire.

But  what I appreciate most is that, even before I Feel Bad about My Neck and I Remember Nothing, Nora Ephron confronted me with my own feelings about aging. When Harry Met Sally hit theaters I was thirty and, though I hadn’t yet identified it, unattached and changing careers I was experiencing an early mid-life crisis. The scene in the movie that most resonated for me–even more than the simulated orgasm in the deli–was when Sally, having just learned her ex-boyfriend had become engaged to someone else, calls Harry for solace. He arrives at her apartment to find her sobbing, forlornly itemizing a laundry list of the reasons her ex chose the other woman, concluding with what seems to Sally the coup de grace:

Sally: No, no, no, I drove him away. AND, I’m gonna be forty.
Harry: When?
Sally: Someday.
Harry: In eight years.
Sally: But it’s there. It’s just sitting there, like some big dead end.

At thirty, that scene stopped me cold. It was the first time I realized that, for women, age was the ultimate betrayal, and that someday, I too would be forty. I realized then I had a choice: To rise above the trap of letting my age define me, or to fight the futile battle against age.

I never quite decided.

Two years ago and a generation later, when I heard her I Remember Nothing book tour interview on NPR, I was once again struck by Nora Ephron’s insights on aging. “I think it’s like a lot of things about getting older,” she told Neal Conan. “[Y]ou have absolutely no imagination that this is actually going to happen to you. You think for quite a while you’re going to be the only person who doesn’t need reading glasses, or the only person who doesn’t go through menopause … and in the end, the only person who isn’t going to die. And then you suddenly are faced with whichever of those things it is, and you can’t believe how unimaginative you have been about what it actually consists of.”

Well…she certainly nailed it for me. I remember clearly, being in my mid-forties, still reading the newspaper without glasses, never experiencing the slightest twinge of a hot flash. “I’m just lucky,” I’d tell my friends. “I have good genes.” But inside, at least a part of me was thinking, “See? I knew it!

I knew I’d never get older.

But I did. Nora Ephron  told me I would, and with humility and humor she showed me how to navigate it. And now that I’m finally paying attention, she’s gone.

Maybe it’s time I read her books; I have much to learn.

Rest in peace, Nora Ephron. Your legacy is that you had the courage to be yourself throughout your life. Yours is an attitude to be emulated.

Photo credit by Flickr User Aaron_M

2 thoughts on “How Nora Ephron woke me up

  1. this is interesting stuff. for me, it’s all about being comfortable in your skin — something that is hard to attain — something that i had been at one point, then wasn’t, but now am, again. all that said, i think when people think too much about the aging process, it means they think too much about themselves and if we only knew how little time others spent thinking about us, we’d realize how lame all our preoccupation with our appearance / our age / our selves truly is. the focus should be outward.

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