I recently was privileged to see a living legend of Hollywood perform in Atlanta, Georgia at the Ferst Center at Georgia Tech. I was given two tickets to see actress, singer, and entertainer Debbie Reynolds perform a retrospective of her career in a surprisingly good performance.
Surprise, Surprise, Surprise
I say “surprisingly” because I am not a traditional fan of performance theater, but I really enjoyed this evening with my wife. I didn’t know much about Debbie Reynolds and was quite surprised to see how many movies she was in and how many other famous people she worked with over the years.
I had no idea that she was in “Singin’ In The Rain” with Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor. I also didn’t know that she was “the mom of Princess Leia” actress Carrie Fischer from the Star Wars movie series. I was even surprised to hear that she was the mom on the TV show “Will & Grace.”
I also didn’t know that she had collected a massive number of Hollywood memorabilia items from classic movies. I wasn’t shocked by this information, but this was certainly interesting to know. I didn’t know that she had been married 3 times and that her second husband had gambled away both his $32 million and her $12 million fortune, then died.
Life is Fragile
During the performance, the 78-year old performer had what she described as a dizzy spell and needed to slightly slow and modify the live performance. Her professional talent is so refined, that one barely knew that she was going through a physical episode that could have ended the show at any moment.
She requested a chair and some water and moved right through her well-rehearsed routine like a pro. She joked throughout the balance of the program about her near-fainting spell as if that was going to be her final thing in life to do, like she was going to die right then and there.
Adding to the oddity of witnessing a living legend get gracefully wobbly before my eyes was the entire backdrop of her show. The whole show was a retrospective on the Golden Era of Hollywood and had songs and movie picture clips of famous (and dead) actors and actresses. It seemed like she was the only living famous person that was mentioned, and her life on this planet was short-circuiting right before my eyes.
She made it through the performance with as much grace, poise, and polish as anyone could. She is an amazing talent. But she is in the latter part of autumn of her life. She is a living legend, but for how long? Given the framework of an eternal perspective, she is a leading lady who is almost dead.
As I looked around the theater and studied the audience, the average age of the bulk of them was in their late 60’s. All of these folks are almost gonners.
But then again, so are all of us almost dead. We never know how long we have on this planet.
I started to feel creepy…
People and Things
Well, just like the actors from the Golden Era of Hollywood, they’ll be gone soon, too. The day before Reynolds performed in Atlanta, it was announced that she would be losing the collection of stuff.
Reynolds, 78, amassed the collection over much of her lifetime and has estimated its value at $50 million. It includes the famous slippers and dress worn by Judy Garland in “The Wizard of Oz,” the fur coat worn by Orson Welles in “Citizen Kane” and Marilyn Monroe’s subway dress from “The Seven Year Itch.” SFGate article
The collection was scheduled to go on display in a newly constructed museum, but the museum went bankrupt during construction and the collection is forced to be auctioned off to settle claims from creditors.
So… I am watching a wonderful performer take a grandiose walk down memory lane and see that almost everyone with whom she had worked that was highlighted in song and film clip was dead. A massive pile of $44 million had come and is now gone. Her vast array of collectible things was about to be auctioned off. And the 78-year old woman was looking a bit faint and joked about dying right there.
I had to ask myself: “But for what? What does all of this fame, glory, and leading-lady stuff have to do with anything?” I was given a jolt of reality seeing that no matter how big your leadership in “stuff” happens to be, it all eventually vanishes. How sad!
This verse came to be that helped put life into perspective for me:
Matthew 6:19-21 (New Living Translation)
19 “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where they can be eaten by moths and get rusty, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 Store your treasures in heaven, where they will never become moth-eaten or rusty and where they will be safe from thieves. 21 Wherever your treasure is, there your heart and thoughts will also be.
This verse brings to me comfort in knowing that all the things that we do, that we have, that we collect, are just here for a time and really provide no value in the long run. We cannot take these things with us when we die.
This verse comforts me because I have put all of my “stuff” in the hands of Jesus Christ. I can’t see Him, touch Him, hear his audible voice, but my trust in Him provides me peace and comfort like nothing else I can see, touch, or experience. That is His promise: to provide peace that surpasses all understanding.
It also reminds me that when leading people, we should have an eternal perspective as well. When we unselfishly serve others without any expectation of repayment, we are building on our eternal “back account” and making investments where we can use them forever. No bankruptcy court can take it away.
When I wake up in the morning, I try to have my first thoughts be a prayer to ask the Lord to give me wisdom on how best to serve those that He puts before me this day; To also put people before things; And to be a servant to others so as to give glory and honor to His kingdom and not for my future film clip walk down memory lane.
So how are you doing at looking at your role as a leader as one that serves a greater purpose? What sort of things are you using your position for that will end up rusted, stolen, or eaten by moths? How are you taking an eternal perspective to your daily life and the people who you lead? Are you about to have your last performance?
Tom Schulte is Executive Director of Linked 2 Leadership
He provides leadership training fit for the Blackberry-Attention-Span
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- Reynolds’ Hollywood memorabilia set for auction (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Auction set for Reynolds’ Hollywood memorabilia (sfgate.com)