Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The First Wake Up Call

Well, this is proof that you can turn the journalist into a massage therapist, but you can't keep her from sharing her musings and observations of the world! It's not radio, but hey--I'll take it.

And so welcome to my first blog! And what better topic to start with than the call to everyone to wake up! And I don't mean like an alarm clock in the morning.

When I reflect back on my life as a journalist in public radio, I know that being awake had a specific, urgent meaning. It was that state of constantly being on the look out for what was coming next. What did the Governor say? What amendment just got slapped onto that bill? Which justice ruled which way on that case?

My every word would be scrutinized...first by me....sometimes then by an editor....then by the general public....and more carefully by politicians and activists who would pick apart my stories to try and uncover "my agenda". For detractors, the fact that I wrote and delivered what I thought was true made me a member of the "liberal media". And while it is true that many reporters who listen and then formulate the "story of the day" for the public on radio, TV or print are "liberal", their managers and other higher-ups are often....not. So I dismiss the idea of a "liberal media" in the United States because the information of your liberally-minded reporters is often getting watered down by someone higher up in the news information food chain.

What made me "liberal" often amused me: I was a "liberal" because I would call into question what was being presented as facts, whole truths, or stone tablets...and might dare to suggest that it wasn't necessarily so. "Conservatives" were the ones who liked to use the term "liberal" and they'd slap it on me as a verbal way of slapping me across the face (if they only knew my upbringing in a Republican family!). And its not like I never called the views and opinions of those on the left into question. But if I questioned the "real" liberals, then the label was that I was either "stupid" or a "sell-out". In news, telling the truth, or at least trying to tell the truth means you have no real friends.

But even in this state of being the "awake" reporter, I really wasn't.

I finally got my wake up call when I witnessed an execution at Florida State Prison. Up until that day in October, 1996, I had no strong feelings about the death penalty one way or the other. I believed that I could see both sides clearly. I thought this assignment, to watch the state put inmate John Earl Bush to death in Florida's electric chair, would be just the same as witnessing any other news event. It never dawned on me that information such as how many of the two dozen shrimp Bush ate for dinner that night would later seem like such ghoulish mundane crap, or that the ritual of death with its assigned players of warden on the phone to the Governor, prison guards strapping the inmate into the chair, the offer to Bush of last words into a microphone, the draping of a black leather mask over his face, and the nod to the executioner to send the 2,000 volts of electricity into Bush's body, would all lead me to a new awakening. "Awake", in this case, meant a questioning of my humanity, and a struggle to understand how I could watch this ritualized death and not realize I had actually watched someone die and die in what was a violent fashion until I had left the scene in Starke and was driving back to Tallahassee. The flood gates opened, and I cried.

Was this really justice? Or was this an act of revenge? Was this particular black man the one who really killed the victim (because he didn't act alone in the crime), or did one of his "buddies" send him to the chair by copping a plea first? Why do we use an electric chair to kill criminals? What does that make us, the taxpayers who fund this system? What does it say about us as people that we condone "an eye for an eye" as a just punishment?

And while those questions boomeranged around in my brain, my heart had a more urgent matter: what was I doing and what was I becoming as a result of the doing? The more I looked at myself, the more I grieved. I had told myself I was doing this work on behalf of the listening public. I provided a reasoned reflection of the day of the current events. But at what personal cost to my soul in the process?

This internal war raged on for six years, resulting in depression and an acute sense of feeling cut-off from the world. And while I never developed an addiction to alcohol, I certainly was happy to drink if it would numb the pain. Advil was also helpful.

There was nothing specifically that caused the wake up call to come when it did. I just know that it came to me while receiving massage. During these hour-long sessions, I could experience a high like nothing a drug had ever produced for me. I saw a vivid kleidoscope of colors, and landscapes that took my breath deeper into my body and brought me to an inner peace that felt holy. I was receiving touch. I was waking up, coming alive, and realizing that I didn't have to remain in the rut that I was in. And I came around to understanding that I, too, had it in me to offer the same touch of unconditioned good to another human being.

I saved my money. I quit my job on the air. And I went to massage school.

And today, I am awake and alive. And I'm happy.

Wake up and live
Show the stuff yer made of
Just follow through
What are you afraid of?
You'll try it, won't ya?
Why don't you wake up and live?!

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