When you're trying to impart a hard truth about life, it's often difficult to get people to listen. But if you have the gift of summing it up with wit and style -- and can deliver it so matter-of-factly that nobody feels the punch until they're reeling from it -- then you're getting through.
Nora Ephron's legacy is all about getting through. You could see it in the faces of the audience at the end of her movies when the house lights went up -- and hear it in the buzz of conversation as they left the theatre. It was evident in any discussion of her books whether it was among a group of friends or those morning or midday shows that purportedly tackle the concerns of women. Even when confronted with stupid questions, Ephron always had smart answers. She's been compared to Dorothy Parker, but I think she's better. She was a kinder, gentler Parker whose sharp wit was balanced by an innate compassion and understanding.
And she started a public discourse about so many things women knew but never could broach with men. Fake orgasms. Whether or not friendship could exist between a man and a woman or if it was always predicated on underlying sexual interest. And she could communicate those subjects in a way that made people laugh instead of bristle in self-defense.
You didn't have to be "a woman of a certain age" (namely Ephron's age) to get it. When I first watched When Harry Met Sally with my older daughter, she was a high school teenager who absolutely believed she could have male friends free of sexual entaglements. Five years later, Jaye has reversed her opinion although I still cling to that notion. Ephron gave us a convenient shorthand for that kind of relationship, and it's not the least of her gifts to us.
And she left her mark doing so many different things. Journalist, author, playwright, screenwriter, film director -- to excel in just one of those fields would have been enough. But not for Ephron. Yet she wasn't smug about it or overinflated. She confessed to having a moustache, worrying about her neck, and harboring all those other concerns that grip aging women and would seem so petty or trivial if described by a less discerning, less brilliant mind. She was a smart woman who made it okay for other smart women to say, "Hey, don't downgrade my intelligence just because I care about how I look." Photos of Ephron belie her age. She looked better at 71 than I do at 51. (Maybe I should go back to dyeing my hair.) She retained a youthful quality, probably because she didn't seem to believe that aging meant anything more than numbers on a piece of paper. It certainly wasn't a barrier in her own mind.
In an interview she gave while promoting her final film Julie and Julia, she noted:
Julia Childs's book was published when she was 50 years old. That is wild that she didn't become Julia Childs until she was 50 and I think a lot of women have that fantastic ability to go, "I think I'm going to do something different for a while," and they do it more than men. Men instead buy a boat.
Thankfully, Ephron didn't submerge those urges in boat buying. Instead, she wrote, told stories, and made us look at ourselves in ways that would have made us feel uncomfortable if we weren't laughing so hard in the process.
Even as I mourn her passing, what I learned from Nora Ephron continues to make me smile.