Learning about the meaning of community from callers to a morning talk show in Denver, Colorado.
Following the mass murder in a Colorado movie theater last Thursday night, I had the “opportunity,” a word I choose carefully, to host 12 hours of talk radio over three consecutive mornings, from Saturday (when I had a co-host) through Monday, on Denver’s NewsRadio 850 KOA.
I went into the first show with some sense of dread. After all, what does one say — and what does one expect to hear from callers — about the death of a dozen innocents, a dozen members of our community who were people’s sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, fathers and mothers, friends and lovers?
And about the injuries, some of them critical, to fifty more, including 25-year old Ashley Moser who was shot three times, including a bullet to the neck which has left her paralyzed and who, more importantly, learned about 48 hours after the shooting that her six year old daughter, Veronica, had been killed in the theater. The main reason the pregnant Ashley Moser clings to her will to live is the miracle that her unborn child has survived Ashley’s having also been shot in the abdomen. [A sad update: On July 29th, it was reported that Ashley Moser suffered a miscarriage after surgery related to her gunshot wounds.]
For several reasons, I made a decision — and lived by it — not to mention the killer’s name on the air. I also refused to take calls about, or have discussions about, gun laws, the Second Amendment, Republicans or Democrats, Obama or Romney, or anything not primarily related to celebrating the lives of the victims, honoring heroes, and supporting our community in any way I could.
The thing was, I really doubted that there was any way I could.
It turned out I was wrong, though credit goes not to me — I acted as little more than a facilitator — but to the remarkable citizens of Aurora, Denver, and elsewhere in Colorado, who called in with personal stories, stories that I would have been either hesitant or unable to speak were I in their shoes.
It wasn’t obvious to me going into the conversation that it would move in the direction it did. In hindsight, perhaps it should have been because there is no teacher like experience. And particularly no teacher like the experience of a deeply traumatic past event, at least for those fortunate enough to be able to return to a semblance of a normal life.
One man called to tell the story of his mother, Rose Brown, who was lined up on the floor, face down, along with five other National Supermarket employees and shot in the back of the head by a group of men who decided to rob the store, and then shoot the witnesses. Only two of the men were caught and neither received the death penalty.
One man called to tell the story of finding his brother’s body — after his brother had been stabbed 104 times.
One man called to tell the story of his sister: Her crazed ex-husband murdered their less-than-one year old daughter in front of her, and then tortured and killed her.
And there were others who called in with their own painful, if somewhat less dramatic, stories of personal loss.
None of these people called in response to my asking for stories about loss, since I did not do that. Instead they called to tell the listening audience what they did to get through the anger, the heartbreak, the gaping wound of such losses. They called not for sympathy, but to help others.
And I think they truly did.
Indeed, they helped me.
As I mentioned on the air on Monday, that day would have been my younger brother’s 43rd birthday had Cliff not died in an accident shortly after I moved to Colorado in 2004. July 23rd is always a very difficult day for me, and while talking about it on the air even briefly was no easy task, I felt the power of community when a man called in to tell the story of his son, who was killed at the age of 21 when riding as a passenger with a friend who was driving drunk. That man’s son’s birthday was also July 23rd. Somehow, our shared day of loss made each of us feel ever so slightly better.