It was the kind of evening where the slowfall of dusk gently illuminated faces in the crowd.
It was also the kind of evening where grace would be revealed.
One face in the room was most radiant of all. She stood quietly in the corner, inexplicably regal and amiable at once. She was tender in her openness, elegant in her stance, razor sharp in her focus. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. I struggled to look casual. I was in the presence of one of the greatest humanitarians alive, though few would rightfully recognize her in this way until after her death. Others were immediately taken by her fame, impressed by her Hollywood status.
I imagined she was slightly uncomfortable with the adoration her big screen persona commanded while intensely grateful for the voice it gave her.
We were gathered at an intimate reception in one of the hotel's grand reception rooms to honor Audrey Hepburn's valued work as a UNICEF ambassador. Her intense commitment to underprivileged children was galvanized by her own experience as a child during the German occupation. She and her family, who suffered severe malnutrition during the war, were assisted by the same organization that ultimately became known around the world as UNICEF. She was both humbled and empowered by her ambassadorship, and embraced its mission wholeheartedly.
She was slender and elegant as she stood nearly a head above the others. Her doleful brown eyes met mine. My heart skipped a beat. I was drawn across the room to her.
Her poise beckoned me- a silent invitation to grace.
I clumsily, and perhaps a bit too excitedly, navigated the crowd to be by her side.
My intention, in hindsight, should have been to not forget one second of our conversation. I did. I forgot every word, every syllable, every wondrous piece of advice bestowed upon me by this vision of grace and elegance. Her divine guidance was stealthily deposited in the crevices of my mind which was, by now, a virtual vault for compelling encounters. I distinctly recall a feeling of awe in her presence. She was kind, yet fierce. She was tiny and slim but her presence filled the room. She spoke softly, yet intensely. She was gentle, but determined.
“When you are listening to somebody, completely, attentively, then you are listening not only to the words, but also to the feeling of what is being conveyed, to the whole of it, not part of it."
Audrey Hepburn enriched me with her sheer presence and, thankfully, sent a reminder of our encounter to my husband who was, at the time, General Manager of the Ritz Carlton Sydney. We were just one week away from our wedding, and this note remains one of my fondest wedding 'gifts.' In bold, yet refined, cursive she wrote:
‘Thanks to you and your staff for your wonderful hospitality. Best wishes for your upcoming wedding, and blessings to you and your beautiful wife-to-be.’
Although I would have many more intimate encounters with celebrities, my interaction with this beautiful soul conveyed the significance of the Krishna lesson that our life lessons are often revealed by the collective power of the experience, not the words that define it.
Audrey Hepburn reminded me that elegance and grace can accompany fame, wealth and power in the most compelling way.
To this day, I remain grateful for the experience and the everlasting knowledge that another piece of my universal puzzle is gracefully nudged into place by this brush with Hollywood royalty. Audrey Hepburn was grace personified. I am forever changed.