Anderson Cooper, who spoke on Sunday night as part of Seattle’s Unique Lives lecture series, filled McCaw Hall on Oscar night. McCaw Hall is the opera venue, and it has a lot of seats. Cooper himself joked that when he realized he was booked to speak during the Oscars, he figured nobody would come. Wrong!
In person Cooper is every bit as engaging, witty, charming and funny as he is on CNN. I really like his nightly news program, and watch both hours every night that I can. He is my go-to guy for political coverage of contemporary events.
He has a really interesting and powerful life story, much of which I knew. His mother is Gloria Vanderbilt of “poor little rich girl” fame. His father died when he was ten, and his brother committed suicide jumping from a ledge in their mother’s New York apartment when Anderson was a senior in college.
Cooper had lots to tell about his life as a journalist, his travel through war zones reporting on conflicts, and the current state of political reporting. What intrigued me most, though, was a personal story. During the Q&A someone in the audience asked which celebrity Cooper might like to invite for dinner. Cooper responded that because of his job, he’s had dinner with tons of celebrities. The person he’d most like to have dinner with is his late father, whose memory exists fleetingly through a book that the older Cooper wrote, through a still existing recorded interview made during the book tour for that publication, Anderson’s own memories, and stories people have told him about his father. Cooper quoted a favorite author, Mary Gordon, who lost her father when she was seven. I know Mary Gordon’s work well, and recognized the quote. It’s this, approximately — I don’t have the citation in front of me: “When you lose a parent, everything is possible and nothing feels safe.” Cooper expanded that to “when you lose a parent and a sibling …”.
I share that experience with Cooper, having lost my father when I was fourteen and my infant sister when I was four. I came across that Mary Gordon quote myself many years ago, and it affected me as deeply as it did Cooper. What it means is that losing a beloved parent when you are a child is the worst thing, so if that can happen, everything else terrible can happen too. “Nothing feels safe” means there is no protective barrier — not religious faith, not other people who might fill in for the lost parent, not your own still less-than-adult-level resilience. Each of us — Cooper, me, Mary Gordon — figures out individually how go on, rebuilding a sense of safety about life and about the world.
For Cooper, that meant throwing himself into as many dangerous reporting situations as possible, and working through. For me, that might have been a good part of the motivation to go into the Peace Corps.
I like watching the Oscars, especially this year when I’d seen most of the Best Picture options and was heavily invested in the Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress nominations. But I’m glad I went to hear Anderson Cooper. It was important for me to be there.