My pattern began when I was a little girl. I don't know why, but every night of my childhood, I said goodnight to my Mommy and Daddy and then prayed for wisdom. I wish I could tell you that this was for a particularly lofty reason, but mostly I just thought it sounded good. Wisdom-I want some of that stuff! It even sounded delicious, although it might have been better at that age with some praline ice cream and chocolate sauce thrown on top of it.
When I wasn't searching, I was just living the life of a little girl in the Deep South, a place that gave this child room to think. I didn't see giant buildings when I stared out my bedroom window. Instead, my eyes were filled with sky, sun, and stars. It was a wonderful emotional canvas.
My daddy was a good, kind man who always told me, "Diane, you can do anything you want. Just put your mind to it." My mother was a very sweet, graceful, gracious lady who only had one child-me. But I had tons of cousins in Mississippi, because the rest of my relatives were very prolific when it came to reproducing themselves.
I was a very inquisitive child, but also a good girl. I remember one day when I went to church with my boyfriend to pray during our lunch hour. Well, here came the nun, who treated this as if we were committing a major sin that included bodily fluids! I was embarrassed for her because we weren't swapping spit-we were swapping prayers. I learned that it takes all kinds, including all types of nuns, to make a world. On that day, however, I didn't say a word because I was a little bit afraid of that particular teacher.
Instead, I'd go to church and pray during my lunch hour, and I often had other children-out of curiosity-follow me into the sanctuary. One time when I was ten years old, a nun even came in and asked, "Who are the kids who went to pray at lunchtime?"
All my classmates pointed at me, because they thought they were in trouble.
"Diane, you helped save a man's life," the nun told me.
That day I'd seen a man sitting in our church looking despondent. His wife and child had been killed in a terrible car accident, and he wasn't sure how he'd go on. He was completely heartsick.
On this particular day, he'd bought some nasty old pills and was on his way home to end his life. He was in his car, crying about the idea of killing himself, when he passed our school. He knew that it was lunchtime, and he saw a group of children going into church with no nun ordering them to. He realized that we were giving up our lunch to pray. The man said that in the minute he saw us enter the building on our own accord, he decided that he wanted to live.
As the nun told me the story, I thought, Whoooeee, I saved a life! Oh yeah-that's good! I'm gonna be a saint! So I ran over to the church later that day and sat looking at all the pictures of the saints. Forgive me, God, but I stole all of the holy pictures lying around in church and put them in my bedroom drawer.
The next day, I asked the kids to come pray with me, but they refused. "You go ahead and play your silly lunch games. I'm going to be a saint," I told them. I opened the church door all by myself and suddenly heard angelic music coming from inside. I'm sure that it was just Bishop Tulane's choir practicing for Sunday. But on that day, it didn't seem like an earthly rehearsal-it sounded like angels who might be there to take a little girl up to heaven.
In the blink of an eye, I slammed that big ol' church door shut and went to play mayonnaise with everybody else. Sainthood could wait! That halo I imagined around myself was actually a cowardly yellow streak up my back as I ran to join the chanting girls: "M-A-Y-O . ."
When I was 17, I moved to New York City. I stayed in New York and got other dance jobs and worked as a model before finally landing small roles on TV. Once, when I didn't have any money, I passed out fruitcake at Bloomingdale's. I'll never forget one day around Christmas when this society matron stopped eating her cake to ask me, "Wait a minute-didn't I just see you starring on the TV show Naked City?"
"Yes ma'am," I answered. "Have another piece of cake."
When I was young, I got to watch some of the movie greats do their work-icons such as Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck, and Spencer Tracy. I also observed stage actors, including Kim Stanley, Helen Hayes, Ralph Bellamy, and Jason Robards. I was even lucky enough to have the opportunity to work with some of them and observe their professionalism and skills.
You need to be around the best in order to learn. These actors' brilliance expanded my gifts and creativity. They carried me out of my own body. Just watching them, I felt as if I were a part of their glory.
I also learned in those days that the truly great human beings were the most gracious. I'm not saying that they didn't have tempers or say caustic things once in a while, but most of the time they were just plain wonderful and loving to all people. It's the amateurs in life who are the most egotistical and want to play the "power monger." I'm not just talking about show business-this applies to any realm of life including personal relationships.
By the time I turned 18, I realized that this wasn't my only life . . . I knew that I was here in another time and place. I began to ask: Why are we here? What are we doing? What's this play called life really about? What's our mission, our goal?
My curiosity sparked, I began a four-decade search for the truth about life. But before I get to my observations, let me tell you about the experiences that formed them.