We all matter. (Thank you Ashley Judd, My Person & the Paley Center.)

When I am getting to know people, one of the first things you’ll find out about me is the fact that my grandparents were my whole world.  I had a pretty rough childhood and so whenever I had the opportunity, I spent my time with them.  They raised me to become the person I am more than anyone else did.  This made their influence on me so unbelievably huge — I was given my faith in the Lord, taught to love and share, and live through music, art and creativity.  We shared everything down to the little things – favorite actors was one of those things.

Ashley Judd was my Grandma’s favorite modern day actress.  My Papa liked her too, but he mostly thought she was pretty.  Such a typical guy.  Anyway, she quickly became my favorite as well, and was the first actress whose career I started to follow.  I don’t know what it was about her – but she is just talented and seemed like a strong woman and great person.  Boy, did I have no idea then what a great person she really is.  And I REALLY had no idea I’d ever get to witness it.

A few months ago, my best friend told me Ashley would be on a new show called Missing on ABC.  This was her description:  “It’s like Double Jeopardy, but better!”  You don’t understand – that is probably in my top three of Ashley’s movies.  It’s the one I watched with Grandma all the time. and still, to this day, watch every single time it’s on the television.  I am a sucker for a mother’s love for her child because of the lack of what I had.  At their cores, this is what both Double Jeopardy and Missing are all about.

I love Missing.  It is by far my favorite midseason show.  Becca Winstone flexes her badassery at every opportunity and her love for her son Michael is what drives her.  She has become one of my fictional lady heroes.  Also, they shoot this show on location in a different city in Europe every episode.  It gives my heart a little piece of places I may not ever physically be able to visit that I’ve always wanted to, and it’s absolutely beautiful.  The wonders of not having a green screen really makes the whole show.  If you’re not watching it – please do.  I’m going to need these people to stick around on my television.  Thursday nights at 8pm on ABC.

Last week I got an email from the Paley Center in Los Angeles which informed me they’d be doing a Missing screening and panel to kick off their spring season this past Tuesday.  Before the email alert even finished loading on my computer, I texted Janice and asked her if she’d like to go.  She responded in caps lock and exclamation points (which NEVER happens) so we made a plan and made it happen.

The day before the panel, Ashley wrote her essay, The Conversation, which has now gone viral as it should.  I  was beyond moved by the way she fought back with the media over her “puffy face” and stood up for all women and the way they are objectified in the media.  I have so many thoughts over this that I’m already writing a separate post that will be up eventually.  Otherwise we will be here forever.  All I wanted after reading that and knowing I’d be seeing her the next day was to be able to thank her for all that she does.  Read it if you haven’t.

The day of the panel started off a bit rough for me.  I had a lot of anger and rage boiling inside of me over situations out of my control.  As soon as I was with Janice though, I felt better.  And for the rest of the day, I could feel my grandparents all around me.  (I lost them both 8 and 9 years ago – it tore my world apart.)  I knew that something special was going to happen.  i just knew.

It’s always so much fun going to panels at the Paley Center.  I enjoy them so much more than going to PaleyFest because it’s a more intimate setting.  I enjoy connecting with the people around me through our mutual love for a show.  There’s nothing like getting to watch a television show with an audience.  During Missing we ware commenting, gasping and yelling at the screen just like we would have at home.  It was intense and wonderful.  And every time we did, the cast and creative team (who were sitting directly in front of us) would turn and laugh at us.  It brought me great joy that they enjoyed how much we appreciate their incredible work.  They are all fantastic and seem like a fun group of people to work with.  This was definitely near the top of the list as far as the best panels I’ve been to.  Thank you, Paley Center.  Thank you.

Now, let me tell you about Ashley Judd.

Janice was sitting behind me, and it made me a little sad so we were holding hands over my shoulder the whole time and she was playing with my hair and stuff.  I had been in a place the night before where I just needed physical contact with someone who loves me, so I was completely content and just absorbing everything around me and what these people had to say.  Well, Ashley kept watching us and smiling.  Every time she did that, it would just squeeze my heart even tighter.  When it was time for the audience questions, Janice got up and asked a question – and then spoke to Ashley about her essay.  To which I applauded and she really appreciated that.  Janice didn’t notice, but she winked at us and most of the rest of the panel turned to the subject of The Conversation.  There we were in those moments — me, my best friend, my grandparents in spirit and a completely eloquent woman I connected so strongly to them.  I don’t know how I wasn’t in tears.

It’s a rare occasion that I get to see the cast and creative team after the panels because people rush the stage and getting my wheelchair through that is a nightmare.  This time, because Janice is the best person in the whole world, we made it work with a little help.  While we waited, I just took in the atmosphere.  Ashley sat in her chair on the stage and let everyone come to her.  She signed things, took pictures and had actual conversations with everyone.  It was lovely to see her just connect with people, making them feel how much they matter.  Because we all matter, and she knows that.

Then it was our turn and I was just… so comfortable.  The first thing she said to us was the fact that she was watching us and could tell how connected and close we were and how protective the love in our relationship is and how beautiful that is.  I’m pretty sure neither one of us knew how to respond.  I was almost in tears. She got down on the floor to be level with me and took a picture with us and we talked a little bit more.  Through all of this my mind was swirling at about a hundred miles per hour.  This woman, a complete stranger, nailed my relationship with my best friend in seconds.  In words I’ve never really been able to find.  She saw us.  She saw us as the people we are.  Nothing is more precious to me than people who take the time to see the other people around them.  People don’t do that often enough anymore.  And you know, I’ve met and I know a lot of actors – I have never seen someone be so aware and in tune with their surroundings and then in the next moment straight up show you their raw humanity like that.   For the rest of my life, I will never forget that.  My heart was strengthened then and I’m going to hold onto it and grow as a more honest human being.

So this is it – my big sentimental thank you to Ashley Judd, to my best friend/big sister/person for being the greatest person I know, to the Paley Center for providing a situation for these moments to occur, to my grandparents for watching over me in Heaven and in everything i do without them now – I know you were here.  I love you all.

My contribution to The Conversation will be up after I recover from this whole mess of feelings.  I have so much I need to say.  Stay tuned.


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