Almost exactly three years ago, I read that Nora Ephron died. I had just moved the farthest I'd ever been from my family and friends, and started law school a few weeks earlier. Life was changing, but I always expected Nora to be there to explain the changes and all that goes along with them -- the feelings, the thoughts, the food I ate to cope with the feelings and thoughts -- for me. I remember thinking, "Who will do that now?"
I recently reread emails I sent when I found out about her passing to friends who I knew would take the loss as deeply as I did. "No other screenwriter wrote women like her," I wrote, and "I won't be able to sleep tonight." Thinking back now, I wonder how I could feel so dramatically about someone I had never met -- someone I had no close personal relationship with at all. And the simple fact is Nora got it. She just got it. And she always got it so acutely and effortlessly, whatever "it" was that she was talking about in her essays, plays, interviews and films. This talent made so many women -- and men -- feel understood, not alone, and empowered.
She got it when she pointed out for all of us that having it all doesn't mean being perfect all of the time: "In case any of you are wondering, of course you can have it all. What are you going to do? Everything, is my guess. It will be a little messy, but embrace the mess. It will be complicated, but rejoice in the complications."
She got it when she described being an educated, career-driven woman trapped by traditional expectations of what a woman should be:
And so I saw that what Wellesley wanted was for us to avoid the extremes. To be instead, that thing in the middle. A lady. We were to take the fabulous education we had received here and use it to preside at a dinner table or at a committee meeting, and when two people disagreed we would be intelligent enough to step in and point out the remarkable similarities between their two opposing positions. We were to spend our lives making nice.
She got it when she described the enchantment we feel for places we blindly love:
I look out the window, and I see the lights and the skyline and the people on the street rushing around looking for action, love and the world's greatest chocolate chip cookie, and my heart does a little dance.
She got it when she described the deepest kind of love: "You are the butter to my bread, you are the breath to my life." And of course, "When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible."
She got it when she described the deepest kind of heartbreak: "And then the dreams break into a million tiny pieces. The dream dies. Which leaves you with a choice: You can settle for reality, or you can go off, like a fool, and dream another dream."
She got it when she made us all feel OK about how much we love food: "I don't think any day is worth living without thinking about what you're going to eat next at all times."
She got it when she made us all feel OK about not having all of the answers:
Here are some questions I am constantly noodling over: Do you splurge or do you hoard? Do you live every day as if it's your last, or do you save your money on the chance you'll live 20 more years? Is life too short, or is it going to be too long? Do you work as hard as you can, or do you slow down to smell the roses? And where do carbohydrates fit into all this? Are we really all going to spend our last years avoiding bread, especially now that bread in America is so unbelievable delicious? And what about chocolate?
She got it when she showed us how to take control over the things that happen to us: "When you slip on a banana peel, people laugh at you; but when you tell people you slipped on a banana peel, it's your laugh," and "Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim."
And she got it so many more times. Fortunately, her movies are still playing and her writings and quotes are readily available in print and online. They are as relevant now as they were when she first wrote them because she wrote and felt honestly and bravely about issues that still very much affect so many of us, while encouraging others to do the same. I'm not worried about who's speaking for me now because Nora still very much is.