Olympia Dukakis – Lessons Learned

I was so sad last night to hear the news that Olympia Dukakis had died.


I met Olympia in 2009 and was so very fortunate to spend two days with her. She was appearing as part of a speakers series at the college and it was my job to escort her during her stay here.


She was a wonderful lady. Extremely gracious and so very down-to-earth. Truly, she did not at all fit any stereotype you might have of a well-known, Academy Award winning actress.


We talked about a great many things during that time together and I learned a lesson I have kept with me and shared with others ever since.


I have three stories from her visit, the third is the lesson learned:


Harvest Moon

It was evening when I met her at the airport. I drove a convertible then and I still remember being nervous she would think it too small and difficult to get into, but she never said a word or indicated any displeasure with crawling into it.

Olympia Dukakis
Olympia Dukakis

As we drove over the Mississippi River bridge into Bettendorf, it was one of those perfect nights that could have easily been a scene from one of her movies, maybe even Moonstruck, the movie for which she won her Academy Award. The moon was large and a deep orange, just rising over the river.


Olympia was so excited by it. She couldn’t believe how beautiful it was and asked if that was what is called a Harvest Moon. Honestly, I had no clue but I said yes, I guess it is. Looking back on it now, it was Fall and did indeed, qualify as a Harvest Moon.


She went on to admire how beautiful the sky was and what a pleasure it was to see it. Living in New York City, with its tall building and many lights, she seldom saw a truly clear night like we see in the Midwest.


It reminded me how we so often take things for granted. Yes, I did think the moon that night and the way it reflected on the river was beautiful but, I expected to see it again. As beautiful as it was, I still took a bit for granted.


I learned from her that night that we need to truly appreciate the things we all too often take for granted in our own back yards.


That Irish Actor

Ok, sorry, not sorry, I have to share this. As I helped carry her bags into her room and make sure she had everyone thing she needed she said to me, “You look like that Irish actor. What’s his name?”

The only name I could come up with was Sean Connery and he’s Scottish. She continued to try to think of this actor’s name. “Oh, he’s been in several movies. What IS his name?”


Pierce Brosnan

Photos of blog author and actor Pierce Brosnan
That's Pierce Brosnan on the right. Not sure who the clown on the left is.*

Now, I’ll let you be the judge of that one. I did think it funny she struggled so much to come up with his name. I was really expecting it to be some supporting actor who I might vaguely know, if it all.


Seriously now, can you really blame me for thinking it’s pretty cool that Olympia Dukakis thought I looked like Pierce Brosnan??


Don’t worry, it’s not going to my head. I see the face that stares back at me from that bathroom mirror.


No Fall Back

At this point in time, Darling Daughter was just starting her second year in college. As I drove Olympia back to the airport, at the conclusion of her stay with us, I was telling her how I’d tried to convince Darling Daughter (here forward to be referred to as DD) into minoring in Business.


DD was going to college for theatre design. I wholeheartedly believe you should pursue your dreams, especially at a young age because you just never know if you’re going to get a second chance. Too, too many people let the dreams of their youth slip away without ever giving it a shot, only to regret it as they become old.


I like to think I instilled that in DD and it was the reason she was pursuing her dream of designing for theatre.


Having said that, my practical side couldn't help but make an appearance. I fully supported her majoring in design but suggested she might pull in a minor in business just in case she needed something to fall back on. If she didn’t land that design job, maybe she could work in a theatre front office or an art museum, and still be close to what she loved.


Of course, she quickly took that advice and filed it away in the most appropriate receptacle, the trash can. Instead, she doubled down on the theatre design major with a second major in art.


As I told this story to Olympia she looked at me and said, “You know, I don’t think I’ve ever had a fall back plan. I had to make this work because there was no second option. I didn't have a safety net. I’m not sure I would have done what I have done if I knew there was something to fall back on.”


That really struck me. What might we accomplish if we summon the courage to chase after it, knowing we have no fall back plan? No safety net? It’s either this or who knows what, because there’s nothing else to go to. Would having nothing at all to fall back on make us work even harder to make that dream come true? Push us to reach things maybe even BEYOND our wildest dreams? Like, maybe, an Academy Award.


I know my answer to those questions. The lightbulb lit so very brightly the moment she began talking about not having a fall back plan.


I was telling a friend that story just a couple of weeks ago, as I talked about my retirement and my feelings about it. I don’t know if I’m really ready, I don’t know if I have the necessary finances, but I’m going to do it. I don’t have a fall back plan, this has to work.


I know it will. A wise woman name Olympia convinced me it’s true.


*(Brosnan photo courtesy of Heal the Bay www.flickr.com/photos/healthebay/4027252025 )

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