I have mentioned elsewhere on these pages that I have been doing a radio show called "Voices in the family" on WHYY.org/voices. I've been doing the show for 30 years. And a few weeks ago I announced that I was stopping my weekly shows and instead doing a few specials a year.
This was the most difficult decision of my life. It's not giving up a job, it's not losing my identity as a "radio host," it's about losing a very intimate and loving relationship. And, believe it or not, that loving relationship is with our entire listening audience. And it's mutual!
So how did this happen? Easy. It's about vulnerability.
When I first started doing the show in 1985, it was just five years after my accident and I was in the depths of a clinical depression. Not only that, my marriage was unraveling and ended a few years later.
Back then, there were very few people in wheelchairs out in public, let alone quadriplegics. It was before curb cuts and accessible restaurants and so on. Because of that, I assumed that if my radio audience knew I was a quadriplegic, they would turn off the radio. After all, I didn't believe I had much value back then, so why should they?
A couple of months later we had a show on learning disabilities. I had significant learning disabilities and had many experiences of failure in school. So I felt great shame about my failures. While the show was on, I felt that if I didn't say anything about my experience, I would in an effect be lying. So I opened up to the audience and told them my story.
The response was extraordinary. They didn't turn their radios off, but they opened their hearts. They told me their stories and thanked me for sharing my. That's when I began to feel a sense of intimacy with my audience.
The following year we did a show on disabilities and my guest was the late rhythm and blues star Teddy Pendergrass. That's when I told my audience about my story. A story of trauma and suffering and the story of love and gratitude.
My audience expressed such loving kindness towards me and I felt that towards them.
You see, I learned that without vulnerability, there is no intimacy. How can we truly be intimate with another person if we are living behind our mask? When our hearts are closed, we cannot feel the loving touch of another person.
So when I say goodbye on Monday November 23, it's not about radio or titles, it's about wheeling away from a mutually loving embrace.
When I told my boss and my bosses boss of my decision a few months ago, they both cried. Believe me, they didn't cry because they would be losing a good weekly radio show! They cried because of love, intimacy and loss.
Titles and jobs come and go. But intimacy and love have this staying power. And if we are fortunate, they will stay for the rest of our lives whether those we love our visible or not.