Letter From New York September 3, 2010

Or, as it seems to me…

On Wednesday afternoon, I was sitting at my desk, plunging through the mountainous amounts of email that had collected while I had taken a few days off. I was attempting to decipher from a long string of messages whether or not we were about to send a team to Nigeria. Then a new email popped in from a colleague: Have you seen this?

It was a link to a breaking story posted by the Washington Post. A gunman had gone into Discovery Communications, potentially with explosives strapped to his chest, and had taken hostages. I immediately felt shocked. Once upon a time, I worked for Discovery and still have many, many friends there both from when I worked there and ones made in years when I was producing some programs for various of their networks. I am on the Board of CINE and my friend Rita Mullin, the current President, works for TLC, a Discovery Network. I know someone on every floor in that building, I would guess.

What I did next surprised me. I immediately left the Washington Post site and went to Twitter, put Discovery in the search bar and started scanning the posts, and long before it was announced on any news organization I had found out the gunman’s name was James Lee, that he had posted a rambling, bizarre, disturbing manifesto online about his grievances with Discovery and their programming. He, for example, wanted no more celebration of births on Discovery Health [soon to be the Oprah Winfrey Network] because children were, I think he said, vermin that consumed the earth. I found a picture of him entering the building, taken by a Discovery employee who sent it to another employee, who then tweeted it.

I found links to the video feed from the helicopter flying over the building. There were poignant messages from friends of people in the building wishing them well and saying prayers for them. I looked for tweets from people I knew but found none. I knew from Twitter that people had gotten out of the building safely before it was on the general news sites. Heck, I knew a lot about what was going on before I got my first email alert from CNN.

I learned, rather quickly, that the hostages were taken in the lobby area. That particularly engaged me and I became incredibly concerned. There is a wonderful woman named Rosa who mans the front desk in the lobby of Discovery. She is a magnificent human being who is the perfect first person for a visitor to meet. She is warm, she is respectful, she is organized and she is engaging. I have visited there for years and when I arrive she jumps up and comes out from behind her desk and gives me the biggest mama hug I get in my life these days.

The thought she might be a hostage caused me great distress. When I heard the hostages had been taken in the lobby, I thought of Rosa. A well of tears came to my eyes and I sat at my desk and prayed, prayed for all of them but particularly prayed for my Rosa, the woman who always makes me feel more than special when I arrive at Discovery. She doesn’t hug everyone who comes there. I have followed dignitaries into the Discovery lobby. I got hugged; they didn’t. I have been with important people who found themselves thinking I must be important because of the way Rosa greeted me.

To think she was a hostage tormented me. I rested when I found out that the hostages were all men, enormously relieved Rosa was not one of them. I breathed more freely when I found out, through Twitter, that the building had been successfully evacuated, that the children in the Day Care Center were safe at McDonald’s. I was grateful when it ended. Though it ended with the death of James Lee, a tormented soul who wanted to save the planet, a good thing, but who chose a desperately sick way of doing it.

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