Ellen Degeneres at Tulane – UPDATED

UPDATE: I initially posted this video without comment because I didn’t want to influence anyone’s thinking on it.

A pal of mine watched and wrote back, “Why do I feel emotional pain after watching that?”

I don’t know if she meant it as a good, salutary sort of pain, or a bad one, but I had found the video moving, also, and I think it’s because Degeneres is nakedly honest there, about her whole life and her self; I don’t know if we see that sort of honesty anymore, from too many people. She’s very courageous and forthright, and I admire that a lot.

And too, I think she spoke a great deal of plain truth. Polonius advised his son, “to thy own self be true” but Degeneres spells out the loss and pain that can come from doing exactly that. The truth – the whole truth – is one part courage, one part discipline and two parts sacrifice; the great paradox of life is that one must be willing to sacrifice one’s very self in order to wholly own who one is. Rather like the gospel admonition: “who would lose his life will save it.”

There comes a moment in all of our lives when we get a sense of what we are born for. Degeneres got it when she wrote that letter to God. Whether she realized it or not, she had a blessing at that moment; a revelation. In her exquisite pain she wrote the whole, honest truth; she revealed herself or, in another sense, gave herself up. And in response she got the truth back at her, an answer, in the form of a “showing” (or a knowing if you will) of what her life would be.

I’ve heard many people talk about the crystalline moment when they suddenly “knew” something or “envisioned” something in their lives and it turned out precisely as it was seen or known. In fact, something very similar happened in my life, when I -also in a moment of huge pain and confusion- spoke to God from the depths of my heart, and rose to my feet knowing with certainty that my life had a plan and a purpose; that plan and purpose began unfolding within hours, and continues to unfold, instruct and reveal itself to me.

It’s a very intense thing, the truth, and often painful. It’s one of the reasons, I think, that some people prefer having a “choice” as to living or dying (or allowing others to live or die); so many people want the biggest, most intensely painful and real events of their lives (childbirth and death, for instance) to be tempered and made painless. But that is living life in a sort of anesthetized state, feeling nothing but “fine,”

When every blow is softened for us, how do we ever get to the deep down bones-naked truths of our lives, where love and pain reside and joy somehow fits itself between the two? The place that can only be answered and consoled, finally, by Truth, itself?

This is a deceptively powerful little speech by Degeneres; it is a challenge to go deep.

At the deepest part of our bones, we find our blood-and-tissue regenerating marrow. At the deepest part of our bodies, we find our material essences.
At the deepest part our hearts, in the abysses of our own spirits, we find our whole, revealed selves.

Jesus made the same challenge 2000 years ago: “cast your nets out into the deep.”

It is where you will find your abundance.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Dagwood

    Nice video.

    DeGeneres, I believe, made a conscious decision not to go for cheap laughs, regardless of how raunchy her most successful peers chose to be onstage. I respect her for selecting that standard, and admire her for becoming such a success without resorting to using expletives to get a rise from her audiences.

  • dick

    I also found this very moving. She really is one of the honest people today. She doesn’t seem to hide much at all but just shows herself and how she feels. I may or may not agree with some of her choices but she shows that she thinks long and hard before she makes the choices and I think she deserves full credit for that.

    I also think she gave a whole lot better speech than my commencement speaker did almost 50 years ago – and he was a cabinet officer, Dr Arthur Flemming, Sec of Health, Education and Welfare in the Ike era.

  • Sissy Willis

    My mother left this world in physical and psychic pain with ALS. Nothing good could come or go of that.

    [Oh, Sissy, I'm sorry for your pain and for you mother's suffering. When my brother died of AIDS, he suffered, we all suffered so terribly, and I miss him so very much. But I know we'll meet again, and our last journey together, despite the pain of it all...I look at it and see so much beauty, besides, and so many gifts. -admin]

  • Sceptress

    If I had come across this through anyone else, I probably wouldn’t have gone past the first two minutes…but I’m glad I hung in there and saved your comments for dessert. ;-D

  • Kensington

    It is a moving video, but I think Ellen has always overstated the effect her coming out had on her career, or at least on her sitcom.

    It’s true that the show was canceled the year after she came out, and it’s true that the ratings had declined significantly over the last year. However, it’s also true that her sitcom, which had been a very funny showcase for her immense talent, became shrill and decidedly unfunny in its final year. Instead of remaining the sweet character comedy with well-done slapstick it had been, it became a series of tiresome lectures and preachy screeds about tolerance.

    Now that’s a legitimate choice to make, I suppose, but the show became fundamentally different and largely non-entertaining. It pains me to point this out because I didn’t care that she was gay and watched it ’til the bitter end, but whether she’s being deliberately dishonest or simply has maintained a blind spot, I don’t think she’s doing anyone any favors by misrepresenting what happened.

    [Not being a big tv-watcher, myself, I only saw a part of one episode, something about a wedding, but I would not be surprised to know that the tenor of the show changed a bit, and wouldn't be surprised if at that point she wasn't being pressured to be "the voice of gayness" or something. To be honest, I didn't pay much attention to her at all, until youtube came out, so I wouldn't know...but if she does have a "blind spot" concerning those three years, I'm betting she'll eventually learn from them. We all have our own blind spots and damn, but it hurts like hell to take off those shades, doesn't it? :-) -admin]

  • http://dailywoof.wordpress.com Kensington

    I’m so sorry to hear of your loss, Sissy. My friend’s brother also died from ALS some years back, and it does, indeed, seem very hard to find any value in such a horrible, horrible condition.

  • Allison

    I too object to the notion that what I wanted in childbirth by tempering the pain was to [live a] “life in a sort of anesthetized state, feeling nothing but “fine.”

    No, Anchoress. I wanted to stop being afraid I was going to die and kill my baby in the process. I wanted to be able to be present for the experience rather than have my brain shut down my consciousness. Only by having my pain stopped could I be present, could I stop being afraid.

    I know you meant that some pains are revealing, that Christ, through his suffering has made suffering not merely empty pointlessness. But that does not mean my desire to avoid certain pain means I want my life to be “fine”, or that I run from my or others’ real suffering. God created a world with medical anesthesia, and I do not need to deny it in order to be on a Christian path.

    [Good heavens, I'm sorry to have made you so angry. I never suggested that no painkillers should ever be used. Medical anesthesia is a blessing and I'm sure glad I had it during my c-sections, and that all 4 of my brothers had access to palliative care. I am talking about a general cultural mindset. The sense we have that an epidural, for example, is an automatic - I've had friends say "I don't want to feel so much as a twinge" - I'm talking more about the idea which DOES exist in our culture that we should never know discomfort or be discomfited in any way. I was jumping off of this:

    There is a line in the movie A League of Their Own that I always liked. On the eve of the World Series, the team’s star player leaves the game. “It just got too hard,” she explains to the manager.

    “Of course it’s hard,” he responds fiercely. “That’s what makes it great.”

    My husband touched on this a few days ago when we were sharing a cup of tea and waiting for S’s dressings to be changed. “We can’t control birth or death,” he mused. “The two greatest events of our lives are the most difficult.”

    He was right, of course. Birth and death come at a time not of our choosing, and all the anxiety of pregnancy and the shared work of childbirth and child-rearing, all of the agony and the shared work of death, they have to be meant to teach us something. Otherwise, what’s the point? Do we just go through life anesthetized? Feeling nothing, but “fine?”

    Scripture teaches us much about suffering. Meditating on the Passion of Christ teaches us more. Do I see the suffering Christ and his Mother when I look at Mom and S, as they reach for one another in a joined attempt to both console and find solace? Need you ask?

    Perhaps the pain of childbirth and death, besides being natural, are meant to humble us a little, to make an impression on us, to make us breathe deeply, and look inward and get quiet enough to hear these words: Behold, something greater than yourself!

    It says something about our culture that we don't think this way, at all, anymore. That we "don't want to feel so much as a twinge." Best to you - admin]

  • http://westernchauvinist.blogspot.com Western Chauvinist

    Oh, Sissy. I’m so sorry your mother experienced physical pain with ALS. My father died of ALS in 1991 a little over a month after his 72nd birthday and 9 months after his diagnosis. But, he was spared the physical pain. We were tortured by the idea of his psychic pain though, as he was such a vibrant, physically gifted person his entire life. He was a fitness freak before such a term was invented and ran his last marathon at age 71 just months before his diagnosis. And he was one of the dying breed of handy men – he could fix anything – who had the misfortune of losing the function in his hands first. But despite our worst fears, he didn’t complain and died a peaceful death with the family around him. It will sound strange, but, even at the time, we felt blessed.

    I do think the Anchoress has a point though, about the avoidance of pain. I think sometimes, a person is so fearful of experiencing pain he chooses not to engage in life-enriching activities and therefore leads a less full life. I’ve known people unable to have long-term relationships or unwilling to have children out of this sort of fear. This is when faith that God is with us bolsters our courage and helps us to endure. I know faith helped my father. I hope it helped your mother and will help you, too.

  • Sheena

    Thank you for posting this. She really is a terriffic comedian, always has been one of my favorites because the jokes just sneak up on you.

    I think I get your friend’s pain. It’s responsibility, or at least that’s the jab I felt. Once you know what you were born to do, you have to actually go and do it. To cast your nets into the deep, you have to go to water that’s over your head.

  • Minorcan Maven

    Would’ve never thought to hear such thoughts from Ms Degeneres…this is a very poignant and close to home topic for me at this time…ironically, I am speaking to a women’s church group about this topic (titled “Are You Living to Die or Dying to Live?” this week)

    And the casting your nets verse is a life verse for me…much on my mind of late…I never thought of it as relates to abundance (I know, I should’ve – but I was coming at tit from a diff angle) and this just was very good.

    Thank you for a lovely post!

  • Minorcan Maven

    P.S. – I took the avoidance of pain to be the way our present day culture tends to run and hide in the fridge, on the ‘net, texting, the busy parts of life, relationships, etc…not allowing ourselves to process, not taking our pain to the cross, allowing ourselves to “feel” the pain and then surrendering it…pain of our failures, broken/delayed dreams, betrayal, etc….

  • Sheena

    The comments about physical pain made me think of something, which may be the wrong thing to say, so I totally understand if I’m moderated out… my brother died of AIDS, too. And I don’t get it. I don’t get why it has to be so visibly, undeniably painful. When my brother told us all about his diagnosis, I remember my parents saying they felt “just like when we found out Sheena was pregnant at 17″ and I remember thinking, annoyed, “yes there is pain about pregnancy, and crisis pregnancy in particular…but it leads UP…an increase of life, while this only leads down.”

    I still get uncomfortable when I think of it, because my brother and I, in so many ways, are the same people. We both did (er, sort of) the same thing to end up with the diagnosis that defined us for the rest of our lives. And yet, I got an increase of my life. A horribly painful pregnancy (google herpes gestationalis) that ended with not one but two healthy babies, and with me healthier than when I had started out. And Beto got…pain…and pain…and rejection…and pain…and then, in literally the days before his death, a change I still don’t understand, a change in how he spoke and regarded himself and even how he seemed to register pain…and then death, hooked up to machines, on a ventilator. I don’t get it. I don’t get how, then, it seemed that his pain was leading up, too, or even how to put into words exactly what I saw in him or what I mean…all I can say is that suddenly his past two years, didn’t seem pointless.

    Thanks for indulging me.

  • Bob Herreid

    Just yesterday I read (and wrote down) St. Paul to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 4:8). A beautiful and frightening passage that I don’t remember reading before:

    We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For while we live we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.

  • Dirtdartwife

    What a great commentary Anchoress. I did nothing but nod my head throughout your commentary and I will have to admit, while I don’t agree with Ellen’s chosen lifestyle, I enjoy her. She’s honest, yet simply honest, ya know?

    Thanks for giving me something to really ponder today.

  • Jenny

    I agree with you that our culture has a mindset to avoid pain at all costs, especially childbirth.

    I have a generally high tolerance for pain and have been blessed with the ability to birth babies very quickly–the last one was under two hours, start to finish. Believe me when I say I know how lucky I am and am grateful for it. Because of those two factors, I choose not to use anesthesia. I know it will be over quickly and I can mentally prepare and deal with it.

    When other people hear that I do not use anesthesia, they act like I am crazy. They question why I want to feel the pain (I’d prefer not to feel the pain, just prefer it to a fuzzy head and numb legs). They act like I am judging them for using pain killers (I’m not. I don’t care what they do).

    I wonder why they care so much? Why does it bother them that I spend two hours in pain? I doubt I would get the same reactions if I told them I was up sick for two hours last night, so it is not concern for my well-being. It seems to be a visceral reaction to someone rejecting numbness, physical or spiritual.

    Required disclaimer: I am not claiming that anyone who uses anesthesia for childbirth is spiritually numb. If my two hour agony stretched to eight or ten, I’d probably take it too. I don’t think I’m superior for avoiding the meds; I consider myself lucky for not needing them.

  • http://deirdremundy.blogspot.com Deirdre Mundy

    Jenny– just a note– my labors are 24 hours, and I can barely feel the contractions for most of them–only the last 2 hours really hurt!

    The women with precipitous labor have more pain— it’s like running a mile a top speed compared to my leisurely walking a mile while I stop for icecream, pick a few daisies, spend an hour talking to someone on their front porch…. watch a few birds build their nest….

    So, for the record, you probably WOULDN’T endure that over 8-10 hours.

    I do think many people are too afraid of pain–but I think it’s because our culture teaches us to fear pain rather than working with it…. And for women in labor, I think a big aspect of the pain is the fear of the unknown– I mean, most women get maybe a 1 hour hospital course on childbirth… part of living woth pain (physical or emotional) is understanding the REASON for it.

    In childbirth, the pain is because your body and the baby are working together– If you can move your body to help the baby, it hurts less… so understanding/responding to the pain makes for a shorter, easier labor.

    Psychic pain is the same way. For instance, guilt tells us that we’ve done something wrong–that we’ve hurt another person, ourselves, or our relationship with God. If we work to understand why we feel this pain and try to correct the problem, we actually help ourselves along our journey. If we ignore it, drown it in drugs or alcohol or sex or TV, we just allow the problem to persist and grow worse.

    All new life is brought to birth in pain. Not just babies– look at the cross…… the hard part for all of us is looking beyond the immediate suffering and discerning the higher purpose. In childbirth, that’s easy. We’re helping our baby make is way out of the womb— in the rest of our lives, it’s a lot harder, but we have to trust that the pain is for SOMETHING… even if we can’t see it yet….

  • http://www.savkobabe.blogspot.com Gayle Miller

    I awaken every morning in some degree of pain, due to the arthritis in my bottom 5 vertebrae. I was taking Celebrex which helped but I stopped taking it when I realized it raised my blood pressure. I would rather live with the pain than stroke out! My choice, my body. In an interesting development, because of my sleep apnea, I am now using a CPAP machine and find that I awaken in less pain due to the more rejuvenating quality of my sleep at night. Weird that!

    Anyway, dear E, sorry for your mother’s pain. My mother died of complications from emphysema (she didn’t smoke – hadn’t for over 25 years) and her pain was mostly psychic – she hated being sidelined to the extent she necessarily was! We all experience all kinds of pain – each in our own way.

    I wish everyone some form of gentle relief from their soul deep pain. I too have always found Ellen deGeneres quite likable and quite funny in a gentle, self-deprecating kind of way.

  • http://kafirtiti.blogspot.com jaujau

    When I was giving birth to my fourth child, Rachel. I had no pain relief. I was on welfare, and most of the other mothers on the floor were, too. One mother craved a fix, another just wanted a smoke, but I wanted some peace and quiet, to reflect on the fact that I was no longer pregnant…I suffered from prenatal depression quite badly, so giving birth was a blessed relief for me. My daughter was healthy, and she was born on Easter Sunday, during a full lunar eclipse, while a comet was in the sky.
    Sunday, March 30, 1997. Roanoke VA

  • Klaire

    Nothing helps me more with “love the sinner, hate the sin” then when I see or listen to Ellen. She also reminds me as to what a real cross, to many, homosexuality actually is. And that’s the way I see it, as a BIG CROSS, always trying to stay conscious of praying for the “sinners, i.e., active gays” to also know that their ‘gayness’ is indeed not only a cross but a very heavy cross.

    After all, no sin in “just being gay and not engaging in sex.”

    Likewise, is the sin any less for all of us heterosexuals who engage in sex outside of marriage? We are ALL called to holiness.

    As for pain, and all of this discussion about childbirth, isn’t the REASON (i.e., sin) for the pain of childbirth found in Genesis? Isn’t painful childbirth the consequence of sin, as all sin, has ‘painful’ consequences.

    All said, do many ever think of the pain of the separation of body and soul, AFTER death that no one will escape? I tend to think that the more we are “detached” from earthly things, and the closer we are to Christ, the less painful this body and soul separation will be.

    As Father Corapi often reminds us like the Midas man, “Pay now or pay latter, but a heck of a lot easier to pay on “this side.” Fulton Sheen often said the biggest waste in the world was the waste of human suffering (pain), not united to Christ. He also often said, “It’s not what we suffer in life that is the greatest tragedy, it’s what we miss.”

    Great post Anchoress, and a great reminder of how much our homosexual brother and sisters, and all who suffer, need our prayers!

  • Pam

    Good article and comments; What a cross to bear for Ms Degeneres and a reminder for us all to pray for each other; I do not have the exact quote but believe St Thomas More said “We cannot expect to arrive in Heaven on featherbeds”

  • dr kill

    I was there, just another proud father in the crowd. She was very good.

  • http://lowlytuber.blogspot.com tim maguire

    I’m not a fan of Ms. Degeneres’ humor, but I’ve always admired her for how she’s lived her life. Refusing to live a lie, she experiences her failures as publicly as her successes. She is who she is, which is rare and courageous in her line of work.

  • http://www.savkobabe.blogspot.com Gayle Miller

    Speaking of the pain of childbirth – my mother was on full bed rest for the last six months of her pregnancy with me and because of the difficult pregnancy, they gave her morphine when she was in labor – not knowing that she was hypersensitive to it. I was 3 days old when she woke up! A family friend – a distant priest relative – apparently incited my father to his first and only full on temper tantrum when he pranced into my mother’s hospital room and informed her that she had “cheated God” by not suffering through childbirth. My father, God love him, tossed him out and told him to never come near his wife or child again. I had the pleasure of throwing him out of my mother’s funeral 32 years later! It felt like it should be done that way.

    I think Ellen deGeneres is a lovely and immensely talented human being. I get a kick out of the fact that she does Cover Girl commercials, thus kicking some stereotypes right in the buns!

  • Pingback: Sarah Et Cetera » Free for All Friday 32