Dr. Eben Alexander, author of the New York Times’ No. 1 bestseller Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife, will give the keynote address at this year’s Wellness Festival, to be held in Sun Valley from May 23 – 27. But booking this red-hot author, seeker and physician, who describes in his book a near death experience and a blossoming of faith, was anything but straightforward.
As Sun Valley Wellness Festival board member Pirie Grossman describes it, the process of agreeing on the right keynote speaker for this year’s Festival was proving challenging. “During a board meeting months ago, there were lots of ideas going back and forth but nothing was catching,” Pirie explained. “I was traveling to the TEDx conference in Washington, D.C., shortly thereafter and then going on to New York, so I left with an open mind, promising to look see if anyone perfect came to my attention.
Right before departing, however, Pirie’s fellow board member Elisabeth Grabher reached out to someone everyone agreed would be perfect for the Festival: Oprah Winfrey. And, synchronicity being what it is, it was also an episode of Oprah’s show that first introduced Pirie to Dr. Eben Alexander. After she saw his interview on the program, she began to research his story. Alexander seemed like a huge draw for the Festival and Cheryl Welch Thomas, another board member, contacted his agent to see if he was available.
“We always believe you should throw things out into the universe and see what happens!” laughed Pirie.
In New York, shortly after a conversation with a friend about her desire to have Oprah speak at the Wellness Festival and her keen interest in Dr. Alexander, Pirie returned to her hotel. While waiting at the elevator, the doors opened and a security guard glanced around, talking into his sleeve. “He stepped aside and there behind him stood Oprah Winfrey, no more than two feet from me,” Pirie laughed. “She looked right at me and didn’t try to hurry away. She was warm and approachable – she was Oprah!”
The following conversation ensued.
Oprah: (pause, smile) You have something to say to me.
Pirie: I’m from Sun Valley…
Oprah: Oh! I love Sun Valley.
Pirie: I’m a board member at the Wellness Festival…
Oprah: I’ve heard about the Wellness Festival.
Pirie: I just sent you a letter asking if you would come speak!
(Pirie quickly reminds Oprah of the date of the event)
Oprah: I’m going to be in Africa then, but do you know who you should get?
Oprah: Dr. Eben Alexander.
Pirie: (gasp!) It is so funny you said that! You were the first letter we sent, he was the second. I saw him on your show. He is amazing.
Oprah: He is amazing. Be sure to let him know I suggested him.
“And away she went,” Pirie explained. “All I could think was when things are supposed to happen, they happen. Isn’t the universe interesting?”
Immediately, Pirie phoned her fellow board members in Sun Valley with news of the interaction. Cheryl, who had previously received a polite ‘thank you, but no thank you, Dr. Alexander is booked for the foreseeable future’ response from his agent, heard the news and sent a follow-up email. This note detailed Pirie’s encounter with Oprah and boiled down to, ‘this is meant to be, you have to come.’ Two hours later his agent called Cheryl back and said yes.
Ever since, Eben and Pirie have corresponded by email. “We joke, ‘how about that Oprah story?’” Pirie laughed. “He told me when he read that second email he was laughing and crying at the same time. We just couldn’t get over, and still can’t, the chain of events that introduced him to us and allowed us to bring him to Sun Valley.”
Dr. Alexander will speak at the Limelight Room at the Sun Valley Inn on Friday, May 24, at 6 p.m. He is one of many prominent inspiring speakers scheduled for this year’s Wellness Festival. Please click HERE for tickets and full Wellness Festival information, including speakers, movement, the Hands on Hall and workshops and activities for both adults and children.
The Sun Valley Resort offers terrific lodging choices to allow participants to stay in the center of the action for the weekend. Be sure to call Resort Reservations at 800-786-8259 and ask for the special Sun Valley Wellness Festival rate. This is a wonderful way to enjoy the full Festival experience. And you just never know who you might meet and where it might lead, do you?