Norman Lear: To Be Continued…
Reboot Network Member and Silver Screen Studios Creator Tiffany Woolf reflects on her recent cancer diagnosis and how Norman Lear teaches us the importance of living life to the fullest to the very end.
“In every direction, to be continued.” Those were the final words that the legendary Norman Lear passed on to Noam Dromi and me during an interview for the award-winning Reboot funded digital series Dispatches from Quarantine, part of the programming on the Silver Screen Studios platform I created in 2017 in my quest for generational guidance. As we mourn the loss of Mr. Lear at the age of 101, we remember his contagious awe and zest for life. He was truly a national treasure.
My conversations with Mr. Lear embodied the purpose of Silver Screen Studios, a project designed to chronicle the testimonies and collective wisdom of older adults in their 70s, 80s, 90s and beyond as a roadmap that could help each of us make sense of our own lives if we got the privilege of growing old.
The platform has been a conduit for intergenerational dialogue, inspiring audiences to envision a meaningful last act in their lives. The wit, wisdom, and candor of legends like Lear, Carl Reiner, Larry King and Ellen Burstyn, alongside everyday seniors, offers a tapestry of experiences that are both empowering and entertaining.
The Game of Life
Mr. Lear’s involvement with Silver Screen Studios was particularly impactful. His interviews, rich with personal anecdotes and reflections, offered a unique perspective on life’s journey. Lear’s candid sharing of his experiences, from his early years overshadowed by his father’s imprisonment to his service in the Army, and his ascent as a groundbreaking screenwriter and producer, encapsulated a life lived with resilience and purpose. His philosophy, that every moment in life, including the agonies and pains, contribute to the significance of the present, resonated deeply.
Mr. Lear’s contribution to the fabric of American popular culture, his civic work as the founder of People for the American Way and the important research being done by the Norman Lear Center at USC not only honors his legacy but also exemplifies the core belief behind Silver Screen Studios: the enduring impact of sharing stories. His insights remind us that every stage of life is an opportunity for growth and that even in the twilight years, there’s a compelling story to tell and wisdom to impart. Norman Lear’s reflections reinforce the timeless message that every life is a collection of unique experiences, worthy of being heard and celebrated.
This Too I Get To Experience
After 12 years of living cancer free, my breast cancer recently returned. Stage 4. It was completely unexpected. With a 96% success rate of my cancer being permanently in the rear view mirror, my doctors and I were shocked to see the PET scan results (delivered on October 7th, as if the day wasn’t bad enough already) after a lesion had broken through my skin.
When I first received the diagnosis, I was terrified. I still am. The fear of dying and leaving my kids without a mom is a certain kind of despair that can break me if I go too far down that rabbit hole. I started Silver Screen Studios because of the loss of my own parents when they and I were far too young. I have carried that grief throughout my life and had never entertained the thought that my own children would have to bear that kind of pain. And I’m angry.
I’ve spent the last eight years of my life driven to capture the stories of our older loved ones, learning how to have a great last act of your life, and suddenly I’m facing my own mortality and the prospect that I might not live to put those concepts into action. At 52, the margins of my life have become more defined and I am envious of anyone who could be so lucky to live into their senior years. The cruel irony doesn’t escape me.
And then this week, Norman Lear died. Past subjects I’ve interviewed have also passed on, but this one gave me pause and a moment to turn my attitude around. Mr. Lear talked about the game of life and to love all of it, even when you are dealt a lousy hand. That every moment in one’s life leads you to this moment now, and no matter how good or bad, as Mr. Lear says “This too I get to experience.”
Instead of future tripping on how long I have to live (the doctors say it could be decades, if I can just treat this as a chronic disease, stay healthy and kick the can down the road as new treatments comedown the pipeline with laser speed), maybe I could take these lessons from Mr. Lear and start living NOW, in the moment. I can just play the game of life well, appreciating all of it, good or bad.
To Be Continued…
In our Silver Screen Studios interview with the then 97-year-old Mr. Lear, conducted just a few months after COVID lockdowns had begun, he concluded our chat with the following reflection:
“I’m very well aware of my age. It doesn’t scare me so much as it lingers in my mind. Because I want more of what got me here. I like waking up in the morning. I like looking forward to this event with you right now. It was fun having that on the calendar and experiencing it now. I don’t know what I’m having for dinner and I’m looking forward to that too.”
In the end, his stories and insights provided not just entertainment but a profound sense of direction and understanding. Some of my best memories are yet to come. I am going to live life to the fullest — to the very end.
Now I’ve just got to figure out what I’m having for dinner.
Thank you Mr. Lear. May your memory be a blessing.