Today, my thoughts are with a man named Coby Mach. Most of you who live outside of the area of Lincoln, NE wouldn’t recognize the name. Coby was the host of Drive Time Lincoln, an afternoon talk show on AM 1400, KLIN radio. He was also the president of the Lincoln Independent Business Association for many years. Mr. Mach passed away this past Friday afternoon, a victim of an apparent suicide.
I didn’t know Mr. Mach personally. I never met him during my 14-year residency in Lincoln. I did speak to him several times when I would call into Drive Time Lincoln to voice my opinions on an issue, which was usually the inadequate state of public transit in the city. I found his attitude toward me and my views to be contemptuously dismissive. He ended one phone call with me by saying, “Ryan, the only thing that is a waste of time here, is this phone call.”
That served as the extent of my interactions with Mr. Mach. My only other vivid memory of him comes from a public hearing for Startran in June, 2007. The purpose of the hearing was to discuss sweeping changes to Startran bus routes that were being proposed. Mr. Mach was the first speaker at the hearing. He got up, delivered his remarks on behalf of LIBA, which took all of two minutes, then walked out of the hearing. The essence of his remarks were thus; those who rely on public transit should move into the core of the city so that they may still avail themselves of the service. I was dumbstruck by Mr. Mach’s cavalier attitude to an issue that impacts so many of us with disabilities in such a profound way. Even Dr. James Nyman, who recently passed away as well, and who was gifted with a razor-sharp intellect, voiced his bafflement to me at how someone so educated could be so oblivious to the effect of his own words on others.
In reading of Mr. Mach’s death, I discovered that he was afflicted with tinnitus, which is a disorder that affects one’s hearing. This disorder is very common among those who work in radio, due to the fact that they must wear headphones for long periods of time every day on the job. Mr. Mach’s passing is only about 48 hours old and there is still much we do not know about the circumstances surrounding it. If Mr. Mach did indeed take his own life, and if tinnitus was a major factor in his decision, then this is a tragedy beyond all measure. It is a tragedy that I find sadly ironic. When Mr. Mach chose to dismiss those with disabilities, he didn’t know that he was dismissing a club to which he would ultimately become a member. But then, every able-bodied human being eventually becomes a member of the PWD club, merely by getting older.
It may seem as if I am dancing upon Mr. Mach’s grave. I don’t mean to give that impression at all. I wonder if we in the disabled community ever reached out to Coby and others in the community to educate them on the richness of life that can still be experienced when one is disabled. He delivered his remarks in June of 2007. Three months later, I left Lincoln for a life in Denver, so I certainly didn’t try to initiate a dialogue with him. I doubt any of my brethren in the National Federation of the Blind of Nebraska did either. Sometimes, we are as guilty of an ‘us and them’ mentality as we accuse our opponents of being. It can cause us to entrench ourselves and harden our hearts toward others, forgetting that they are three-dimensional human beings with their own lives and burdens to carry. This short-sightedness is our failure and our cross to bear as well.
The cross Mr. Mach’s family must now bear is unfathomable to me. I follow several people on Facebook who have relatives and friends who have committed suicide. Facebook offers me merely a narrow gap into their pain. Mr. Mach has set the survivors of his final act upon a long, arduous journey. Some of them may never be able to complete it. I have no words for them, or for anyone enduring such pain, other than to say that my heart is sad for you. Mr. Mach was 53 years old when he died; just nine years older than I am. I cannot believe that a man who was so vibrant and alive did not have much more to contribute to his family and his community, no matter what his physical state may have been.
As for the broader body of society, I can only state that everyone has choices. When you are faced with a disability, you can either choose to adjust to it and carry on for the sake of yourself and your loved ones, or you can surrender to the darker angels of your nature and end your journey. I believe in life. On that basis, I hope you will choose the path of living.
This was a long read. I thank those of you who chose to finish it.