Witnesses To History

We are witnesses to history.

THAT is what we do in the news business. We witness it and we document it. In the past days, we’ve witnessed more than our share in an intertwined tragedy the likes of which I’ve never seen before in all my years in the news business.

The Thursday before last we all woke up to the news of a tragic mass shooting– Innocent people gunned down for no other reason than being in the wrong place. The names, the faces, the people, forever tied to the Borderline. We were only just beginning to learn their stories, to document what happened, to share with Southern California, to grieve, when our reporters on scene started talking about the smoke plumes overhead.

In the middle of non-stop coverage of the shooting tragedy, with so many questions left to be answered, something happened that I had never seen before. Reporters began having to divide their reports: showing the mass shooting scene over here and then spinning the camera around to show the ominous and growing smoke plumes over there.

And so in an instant began the intertwining of tragedies that would affect the Los Angeles area.

We are witnesses to history.

Soon, we were fully moving crews in the direction of the fires. And the fires would dominate our news for hours and hours more as people evacuated to flee the flames. The same community which dealt with the shootings now dealing with the fires. And they were spreading fast.

GUILT.

Guilt is what I felt that a mass shooting, such a horrifying event, where so many innocent people were killed was so quickly removed from the headlines because we had been thrust into another crisis. I had NEVER seen that. But sometimes the news comes over you like an ocean wave and this was one of those weeks.

We are witnesses to history.

And the story being written in the coming hours was one of devastation and destruction. Homes destroyed. Lives thrown into chaos. Lives lost. Flames. Rubble. More evacuations.

And Borderline. Those faces. Those victims. They deserved more attention.

By Friday morning, neighborhoods had been decimated. We didn’t even know it yet. People struggled to locate their loved ones. People were still trying to evacuate as flames raced towards the ocean. Paradise in flames.

The weekend brought a fresh look at the devastation and the new week brought other close calls. New flareups. New flames.

And still the faces of the Borderline victims. As we learned of fatalities in the fire, we prepared for funerals for the Borderline victims.

When families allow media to cover a funeral, it is our honor and duty to share that story with the viewers.

We are witnesses to history.

Maybe in just a little way it was redemption for us to be able to finally share more about the lives and stories of the victims of Borderline. One week after the shooting, as the fires had settled, and evacuees still waited to return, with Southern California freshly scarred, we shared the funeral of Sergeant Ron Helus, one of the heroes of the Borderline shooting.

Law enforcement from across the state in formation, in uniform, in mourning. The stories at the funeral, precious, and heartbreaking. That Helus had the first date with his future wife on the same date, so many years ago. That Helus proposed to his future wife, at the restaurant which would one day be the Borderline. As they sang Amazing Grace for a life well-lived, I gulped in the back of the control room.

We are witnesses to history.

The week closed with journalists I know gathering to prep food and meals to feed the firefighters and first responders and those affected by the fires.

The week closed with people writing thank you’s to all who have helped Southern California get through a week the likes of which we had never seen before. Tragedies intertwined. Tragedies not to be forgotten.

 

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A tragic history. Witnessed.

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The DNA Surprise

What’s in a NAME.
Well, I’ve known since I was a little kid that being a “Wilgoren” is an exclusive club. We’re all related. Anyone with that name. It’s unusual. Restaurants always used to get confused:

host: how many
dad: four
host: name?
dad: Wilgoren

ten minutes later

host: party of four for Goren, Will Goren

It happened so often that my parents would just say our last name was “Goren” when we went to restaurants or needed to give reservations.

I always assumed it was some sort of Ellis Island mixup.

Hypothetical:

immigration: name?
family: Will Goren
immigration: Wilgoren. Done.
Welcome to America.

So THAT is how I grew up- the Wilgoren family with a side of cousins also from the northeast that we knew about but didn’t talk to so frequently with because of a rift in the family so many years ago. But we all knew of each other. The Wilgorens.

My dad was Paul Wilgoren.
He was related to our cousin, also Paul Wilgoren. We lived just a few miles apart.

One was a teacher.
One was a youth baseball coach and more.

It made it VERY confusing when my dad died when I was just 14. Both sides of the family got condolences.

When my sister and I heard my father had died, my mother arranged for a meeting with the Rabbi at our temple the very next day. Jewish funerals happen very quickly. We THOUGHT this was the only reason for the meeting. But it turned out my mom had a secret. Actually my DAD had the secret.

As we sat there absorbing the fact that our father had suddenly died, absorbing the fact that we were suddenly without a dad, we needed to absorb another fact too: that we weren’t his ONLY family.

Well, or so they thought.

You see, the day after my father died, in a Rabbi’s office filled with tears and Kleenex, my mother confessed that my dad had been married and divorced BEFORE he ever married her. Before they ever had us. My dad didn’t have kids with his ex. But he had another set of in-laws, and friends, and of course his ex-wife, and apparently a backstory we never knew anything about. And my mother wanted to make sure we knew because she didn’t know just WHO would show up at the funeral that week. Would his ex-wife be there? Other family members? She said he always felt embarrassed about that failed marriage. And that’s why it was buried in the past- until it couldn’t be.

For kids in high school dealing with the loss of their dad, THIS was a mind bender.

We never did meet that other family (if they were at the funeral I didn’t know it). Over the years, just a few other mentions of that conversation, and at least once, a picture that surfaced of the former wife.

When my mom died twelve years ago, many stories from the past died with her. I’ve always wondered about the Wilgoren name and the mystery second family. What if. What if.

Which brings me to this year’s birthday. I mentioned to my sister I was always curious about our name and our background. I’d love to do one of those Ancestry tests. And so she got me one.
I read the booklet, spit in a tube, sent it off in the mail. The process is super easy.

And then my email pinged the other day saying my test results were in. Boom.
The test found I am 97% Eastern European. No surprise there. For a minute I was thinking “Ok that’s cool, but I may have wasted my sister’s money”.

Then another ping.
“View all DNA matches”

At the top of the list, someone without the last name Wilgoren. Or Goren.

Actually, his last name is Houston. And he’s from Tennessee.

And Ancestry says it isn’t just likely we’re related. They say it’s “extremely likely” we are not only related- but at least first cousins.

HOW. I know all my first cousins. We all know each other. All of us. Or do we.

Then this weekend, another ping.

It was J Houston from Tennessee saying Ancestry had gotten in touch with him also.. saying it was “extremely likely” we were first cousins.

So we’ve messaged each other:
J tells me he’s in his 50’s and from the Nashville area. He and his wife have two college-aged kids. Oh and one other thing: J is adopted. He doesn’t know where his birth parents are.

Is J a mystery Wilgoren?
Is he from the other side of the family?

Or do we need to go on Maury for another look at the DNA tests and their accuracy?

J was born in the 1960’s.

His adoptive parents, both have passed away.

And Ancestry says it is “extremely likely” that we are closely related.

A mystery indeed that J and I are just beginning the process of unraveling. He said I could share information in hopes that someone in the family might be able to fill in these missing pieces.

PS thanks to my sister for a great birthday gift and an unusual treasure hunt.

 

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When Parenting Gets Real: The Velveteen Rabbit moments

I’ve had a few of these moments in my life. The velveteen rabbit moments. Maybe you’ve had them yourself. They’re the moments where it seems so “real” for the very first time.. moments where I’ve always “heard” it would be this way but now I see it and experience it for the very first time.

And so it was this weekend- my next velveteen rabbit moment- the stage of parenting I’ve always heard about but seemingly never really experienced. Until now. And it came courtesy of our two kids who both reached big achievements this weekend.

Our older daughter who has been part of the drama club with small parts over the last couple of years took on the part of “Edna” in Hairspray. A leading role. She took the stage and rocked it- singing- dancing- delivering some of the funniest lines in the entire show. I sat there in the audience smiling ear to ear as I listened to her sing, a smile mixed with tears in my eyes. HOW and when did my little gal turn into the kid with one of the leading roles in the school musical. She earned a huge ovation at the end and flowers from mom, dad, and a proud little sister.

Meantime,
That little sister is in the third session of soccer this year- spring cup- a traveling team for soccer all stars. I’ll be honest. She didn’t look like she belonged at the beginning of the year. Other kids had been playing longer and they had more skills and more training. But she worked. And she worked. And she slowly became a defender, and then a star defender. And this weekend they took one game to get into the championship, and then they WON the championship. She got her medal as one of the coaches nicknamed her, “The Wall”.

Two girls. Two huge achievements. And somehow as I sat there between two musicals and two soccer games I realized something: the kids’ achievements had become my achievements. What I mean is, I used to measure my success by what I myself had accomplished. Then what me and my wife accomplished as a team. But now, more and more, I am measuring success by what I’m there to witness my KIDS accomplishing. Yes we had all those little milestones along the way- milestones every little kid has: first steps, first words. This is different. This is these humans coming into their own as people, blazing their own trail on the planet, showing their own talents, and growing as people. Growing.

Their success is our success as a family, as a couple, as me a dad. Sure I still work towards my own goals and achievements. But lately, I’m getting a bigger kick out of their own goals and achievements. The velveteen rabbit moment. This parenting thing just got even more real.

 

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Happy, I Love You

 

It came out of the day so blue,
like unscripted moments always do

a quote i’ll never ever forget,
so perfect and beautifully delicate

my little kid said on a call,
without a second thought at all

instead of goodbye or I’ll see you,
she said simply “happy, I love you”

we never knew where it started,
the phrase deliciously double hearted

a greeting, and joyful salutation,
full of love and youthful animation

and so it was, “happy” took flight,
a hello, a goodbye, perfect just right

she’d say it to whoever, whenever,
“Happy, I love you” the kid so clever

We’d say it in return, with a big wink,
Happy, I love you too! I’d always think

but little by little that little kid grew,
It happens I guess- they always do

stretching, reaching, discovering all
a confident kid, smart, strong and tall

And so it was,

the “Happy” greeting whispered away,
becoming simply “I love you” one day

it’s her birthday now, she’s turning 13.
A kid, to a tween, to a full fledged teen

where did the time go, I want to know.
it went so very fast, why not so slow.

on your big day, my wish is just this,
a future well lived, sealed with a kiss.

with a tear in my eye I say to you,
Happy birthday, “Happy, I love you”

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NOTHING Will Ever Get Me Used To This

In 1999 I was working at WHDH TV in Boston when we first heard reports of the shooting at Columbine High School. Everyone went into breaking news mode. That’s what news people do. It’s our job. Our reporter headed to the airport. We were in wall to wall coverage. I was running so fast through the newsplex with video to edit that I rolled my ankle. I couldn’t walk by the end of the day and I ended up on crutches. It was the day “school shooting” first entered into my news vocabulary.

Nearly 20 years later and it was just around noon today when we first heard reports of the shooting in Florida. Everyone went into breaking news mode. That’s what news people do. It’s our job. Only today there was no running for me. There was no rolled ankle. There was no need to. Because I’ve seen this story before. Time. And. Time. Again. Who was the shooter? What was the motive? Did we check social media for photos and video? How many people died? Has the President tweeted any reaction? We already had generic school shooting graphics made from the LAST school shooting we covered. Let that sink in. We ALREADY had special graphics ready to go for a school shooting because we cover them so frequently.

Here on the west coast we dipped in and out of coverage from our sister Fox station in Miami WSVN.. it’s also the sister station of WHDH where I had my first full time staff job in news. I know some of the same people on the air at WSVN today were with me that day in 1999 at WHDH.

All these years later.
How far we’ve all come.
Or maybe how far we still have to go.

My sister texted me in the middle of the afternoon saying our neighbor from Leo Road in Sharon, MA where we grew up, taught at that same school district in Florida. He’s safe and I’m grateful. I know the same can’t be said for all his students and coworkers.

I got on the freeway for the long LA ride home tonight. The never ending commute can provide some good thinking time. And today was no exception. Today, as has happened on occasion over the years, on too many occasions to be honest, after a long day of staring at the news, after a long day of telling stories which never should have needed to be told, after a long day of talking about the next school shooting, I started to tear up.

Nothing will ever get me used to this.

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Christmas Eve & The Power of “Believe”

We’ve had a little crisis of faith this holiday season.. our youngest daughter not sure she believes in Santa Claus anymore.

She didn’t want to write a letter to Santa this year, wasn’t sure what she’d say.

I guess it’s only natural, kids get a little older, they start to talk to their friends at school. But it doesn’t make it any easier.

And so it was this Christmas. The kids knew they had gifts we bought for them waiting by the fireplace. But what about Santa.

On Christmas Eve our little kid started asking if Santa was coming. And we explained she hadn’t written Santa a letter. Santa didn’t know what she’d want anyway. We reminded her she wasn’t sure she believed anymore.

She said with the agony of a little child conflicted about her beliefs on Christmas Eve and clinging to childhood just a little longer, “I believe. I DO believe. I BELIEVE.”

The kids went to bed and woke up the next day to see all the gifts we had already wrapped and they opened them with the delight of all kids on Christmas Day.

Our daughter looked around for anything extra, but that was it, just the gifts from mom and dad and nothing more. She didn’t say anything but you knew she was thinking it. It went unsaid.

We went along with our Christmas Day and went to see her Abuelita for Christmas dinner. And when we arrived home after a long day, I reminded the kids there was one thing they hadn’t opened.

Where? They’d opened all the gifts.
Well, not all of them.

We pointed towards the fireplace. The stockings hung with care. Two red stockings etched in cursive with the word “BELIEVE”.

And our younger kid dug in to find a stocking full of her favorite things, little miniatures, a light up yo-yo, and the little erasers she loves to collect. The little erasers she told us she would have asked Santa for, if she had ever written that letter. Those erasers. Our older one found a bunch of stuff she loves too… even a harmonica.

As to how they all got there?

There was only one answer that made sense. There was only one answer as to HOW all these things got into two stockings with the word “believe”.

Later in the evening, mom asked her if she still believed in Santa. She said with little kid assurance, “I never said I didn’t”. And she was a little kid for just a little while longer.

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The Moments Never To Be Missed

I got dressed for work and walked up to my daughter and said softly, “bunny I don’t think I’m gonna make it to the show today”.

And she gave me the look.. the “I already knew you were gonna disappoint me” look.  I told her mom was gonna record it for me and she’d be awesome and I’d watch it later.

And she gave me the look and just turned away. And I crumbled. I picked up my phone and messaged work right away asking if it was alright to be late today to see my kid’s holiday concert.

Without a second thought, the response back was “absolutely”… “those are the moments never to be missed”… And I went back and told my kid, “actually I’m gonna be at your show after all”

I realized in that moment it was ME putting the pressure on me..

worried all this time that work can’t get by without me that I’ve got to be there every second.. ME putting the pressure on ME… no one else.

I went to the show and my daughter took the stage and I waved at her across the room as she stood on the platform.. and she smiled back and I waved some more.

Her elementary school class sang and they were the sweetest holiday tunes ever.. and all the pressure that ME had put on ME washed away in a sea of music.

“The moments never to be missed”. The words hung with me as I waved goodbye to my daughter as she went back to class.

Today I was there and present and my work did just fine without me… and I was perfectly OK with it..

Work will always be there.. the elementary school holiday musical with my kid singing to me.. won’t be.

I just wanted to savor it… the moments never to be missed.

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