To all my “Voices” friends and family,
The following is a letter I sent to the entire staff at WHYY:
I decided not to renew my contract in July. Even though I am only doing six specials a year, it’s the right time for me.
After 32 years, I’d like to just say briefly how this show has changed my life and taught me lessons that have enabled me to help so many people.
When I first started doing the show, I had only been paralyzed for five years and was in the depths of a depression. In 1985, people turned away from the disabled because stigma was pervasive.
I already such great shame and insecurity that I feared that if anyone in the audience knew I was a quadriplegic, they would turn off the radio!
Several months later when Marty (she had hired me and was my first producer) and I were preparing a show, I read one paragraph, then several, but the material still wasn’t going into my head. This had happened throughout my school career so it was familiar. This time I asked Marty to read it to me. And when she did, I understood it right away. I was 40 years old and just realized that I had a learning disability which explained all of my shameful school failures.
Because of that discovery, we did a show on learning disabilities and it was there that I told the audience I was a school failure because of a learning disability. I felt revealing this was quite risky because I had never allowed myself to be vulnerable in public before. The response was overwhelmingly positive as people thanked me for making it safer for them to acknowledge their own vulnerabilities.
The following year, I had rhythm-and-blues icon Teddy Pendergrass on the show. He had become a quadriplegic one year earlier. It was at that show that I told the audience I was a quadriplegic. I told them of some of my difficulties including occasional accidents and what it was like to be dependent.
And the results were the same. I could almost feel the audience support, gratitude and compassion. For the first time since my accident, I felt safe to go out in the community by myself because I just trusted someone would be there for me if I needed help.
Over the years, I have talked about intermittent my depression, my fears and insecurities, and my happiness and gratitude. And the more I opened up, the more gratitude support and affection I felt from and for my audience.
Since that time, I have been teaching about the relationship between vulnerability and love. That we can’t experience love if we pretend to be stronger than we really are. You will see these themes in every one of my books because my wish is to make it easier for people to love and be loved.
More than anything, I will miss my audience that has felt like an extended family to me.
Oops, I lied. More than anything I will miss seeing all of you on a regular basis. You are my friends. You always will be.
With deepest love and gratitude,