One of my favorite movies starring Gwyneth Paltrow is the movie Sliding Doors. For those not familiar with the film, it is a 1998 British-American romantic comedy. Its premise revolves around an opening scene where the heroine is rushing to catch her train. The storyline then splits—one track follows the character as if she caught the train, while a parallel track follows her as if she missed it.
I was reminded of this film recently when I was trying to catch our Seattle light rail. As I hurried to my train, I saw the doors close right in front of me. In fact, I was so close to making it that I actually touched the button on the outside of the doors with my hand to see if the doors would open. They did not. And just after making eye contact with a passenger inside the train, the train began to leave the station. Sliding Doors. With a helpless grin on my face and a slight shake of my head, I connected with that movie. And in thinking of that movie, I was reminded of the time I actually crossed paths with the lovely Gwyneth Paltrow in person.
On October 22, 2001, Pearl Jam, R.E.M., and Alanis Morissette performed a benefit concert at the Key Arena in Seattle for the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The show was the centerpiece of the FAO's Groundwork 2001 celebration, which featured a week's worth of concerts sponsored by the city's Experience Music Project (EMP) Museum, now called the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP). Anyway, the master of ceremonies for the October 22 concert was Gwyneth Paltrow. My sister and I were lucky enough to have backstage passes to the show and our star-struck eyes got really big when we discovered there could be an opportunity of connecting with the then recent Oscar winner.
Many employees kept the whole operation on track behind the scenes. There were security folks, the sound guys, logistics people dealing with the many guests of all the musicians, the musicians themselves, and many more. And within that massive bunch, we saw a woman with an approachable aura, wearing a bright yellow polo, looking official. With big smiles on our faces, we asked her if there was any way we could say hello to Ms. Paltrow, which to our surprise, she said she would see what she could do.
As the concert was winding down, Ms. Yellow Shirt came back to us and stated that Ms. Paltrow was going to be departing from her dressing room soon after the show was over and that would be our best opportunity for us to catch her. She also mentioned that she passed on the news that we were very excited to meet Ms. Paltrow, but what that meant we really did not know.
At the end of a long hallway, our lady-in-yellow positioned us perfectly in front of a growing crowd. Emerging from a doorway halfway down the hall, Ms. Paltrow turned left and started walking directly toward us. First with eyes down, she looked up when she was about twenty feet out and my and my sister's eyes connected with hers. She started to smile and we melted, thinking to ourselves, "Oh my gosh! This is really happening!" Now only steps away from us, she began to open her arms.
People often say that when they have experienced a car accident, in the final seconds before impact everything slows down—as if their senses are so on point that time takes pause so you can absorb all the details. Well, this is how I felt when I met Gwyneth and I remember the moment vividly...
As she opened her arms in a welcoming fashion, so did my sister and I and we began to open our mouths to speak. And in that split-second moment, someone at our backs pushed past us and gave Gwyneth the biggest hug ever. Only then did we realize that that smile was not for us, nor the eye contact.
When the two friends finished their embrace, my jaw was still on the floor. I remained in total disbelief of what had just occurred. "What were we thinking?" I thought. And as I sat there collecting myself, Gwyneth and her plus one readied themselves to continue walking on. It was then that my tongue untied and I got out six words in a volume somewhere between a whisper and somber conversation. "Gwyneth, can I get your autograph?" And with those words, she stopped, looked my way, gave a soft, warm smile, and in a kind and gentle voice said, "What is your name?"
Still rather shocked of our total misread of the situation, I handed her a sharpie and my backstage laminate to sign. She wrote:
To Billy, Love, Gwyneth
It was such a cool moment in time and such a kind gesture—especially because of what followed. As soon as she finished signing my pass, she was bombarded by the mob of people behind my sister and me. What started as something small grew into something rather overwhelming.
Equipped with my sharpie and being the kindhearted soul that she was, she signed anything that was handed to her. Feeling remorse for stopping her, I reached up and touched arm, saying, "I am so sorry this turned into a giant autograph-signing session." She replied, "It's okay."
Kindness is the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate. It is showing warmheartedness and gentleness toward others. Kindness is the act of giving without the anticipation of receiving something in return.
Having a movie star take the time to sign autographs may not seem like much in terms of kindness. And I suppose one could argue that if you are considered famous and in the limelight you have an obligation to your admiring public. But from this experience, I took away a very important reminder—we are all just people.
As I sat there watching the many outstretched hands reaching for Gwyneth and then Gwyneth using her hands to appease their wishes, I could not help but think how odd the whole scenario was. It was basically a clear visual of how our society puts people on pedestals. Certainly some folks have it easier than others, but we are all human. And as humans, we all have our own individual challenges. And just because someone may have fame and fortune it does not mean they are free from struggle. The red carpet seems to generate all sorts of demons—just look at any magazine cover as you're going through the grocery store checkout line.
What I am trying to say is we all need kindness in our lives—both giving and receiving.
Kindness has pure intentions, is given freely and leaves a lasting impression. It is one of the greatest gifts we can bestow on each other. And as the Dalai Lama so eloquently puts it, "Be kind whenever possible—it is always possible!"
It is said the effects of kindness are not always seen immediately. Sometimes it takes years until your kindness will pay off and is returned to you. And sometimes you never see the fruits of your labor—but they are there, deep inside of the soul of the one you touched.
So Gwyneth, thank you for your simple act of kindness those many years ago. It has given me the opportunity to talk about it now and emphasize the importance of kindness in our world.
And as for the immeasurable kindness we at BILLY Footwear have been shown already, we are anxious to continue paying it forward.