Nora Ephron


June 27, 2012

“I lead a small life — well, valuable, but small — and sometimes I wonder, do I do it because I like it, or because I haven’t been brave? …I don’t really want an answer. I just want to send this cosmic question out into the void. So good night, dear void.”

These words are spoken by Meg Ryan’s character in You’ve Got Mail, as she types them to her internet-boyfriend, Tom Hanks. Long before OkCupid was a thing, Meg poured her doubts and aspirations into an email to a man she’d met in a chat room — who she ACTUALLY knew in real life.

Later, of course, they figure it all out and fall in love, despite their professional differences. Yes, I know, this sounds trite and formulaic. But let me tell you this: when I first saw the movie, way back in the seventh-grade world of 1998, I was enchanted. I loved the witty dialogue, the unique relationships, even the music (I bought the soundtrack right away, because soundtracks were what I was all about), but mostly I loved the feeling. It’s New York in the fall, and it’s full of all kinds of possibility, bursting from the screen as Meg Ryan walks to her job at a bookstore while “Dreams” by the Cranberries plays behind her and the newly-fallen leaves swirl.

The credit for this feeling (and for similar emotions evoked from watchingWhen Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, and Julie and Julia, among others), goes to one Nora Ephron, who passed away last night. Ms. Ephron, who died at the young age of 71, was a very special lady. I can’t pretend to be an expert on her life, or to have read all of her books (although I intend to now — funny how death works that way), but I felt a real sadness when I heard she was gone. She had a long, successful career as a multi-genre writer and everything she produced was good, the kind of good you say with emphasis, meaning: totally solid, really heartfelt, genuinely funny. Quality stuff.

I called my mom as soon as I heard she’d died, remembering the nights we’d spent together watching Sleepless in Seattle (and listening to that soundtrack, too. The woman put together a good playlist).

“Oh I know,” my mom said. “What a loss. I remember reading “Heartburn,” about her divorce from that guy Carl Bernstein [Note that Carl Bernstein was Ms. Ephron’s ex-husband, and one of the journalists who unraveled that whole Watergate thing — remember “Deep Throat”?]. That book was hilarious. Bitterly hilarious. Here he was, this icon of the time, one of these people who had changed history. And then to see that while he was covered in adulation he was treating his wife like absolute shit — oh um … it was very revelatory in a sense. She had the courage to knock this icon off of his pedestal and show the human cost for the woman in his life while he was collecting awards. It certainly fed into perceptions of the time …It was hilariously funny, and refreshing to see the domestic view.”

Nora Ephron was so honestly funny, long before funny was considered an asset in a woman. She will probably be most remembered as the woman who wrote the famous orgasm scene in When Harry Met Sally, but she was much more than that.

She submitted her words into the popular lexicon again and again, and, long before we had Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, she gave lady writers someone to look up to. This is a life we should pause to admire.

Dear Nora, you will always be an inspiration. I send my love into the void, and hope it makes its way to you.

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