May 17, 2006
I happened to hear a broadcast on NPR a few weeks ago about a psychologist and family therapist Dr. Dan Gottlieb who wrote a new book, Letters to Sam, which is a collection of lessons on life he wrote to his grandson. Two decades ago, Gottlieb became a quadriplegic in an automobile accident. His grandson is autistic, and the letters have lessons about what it's like to be different.
The critical piece here is the attitude displayed by Dr. Gottlieb in the face of his accident and subsequent disability. Before the accident, he was a married man with children and an aspiring professional just getting off the ground in his work as a therapist. You would think that being in an auto accident that deprived him of being able to move around on his own would be absolutely devastating. Initially he acknowledges, it was. As a matter of fact, on the first night in the hospital when he was in bed, rigidly clamped in place by iron supports to keep his spine from being moved, he stared at the ceiling and contemplated suicide; he simply wanted to go to sleep and not wake up.
Then, an extraordinary happenstance occurred, a night nurse came into his room and inquired if he was a psychologist. He said yes. She then began to reveal to him that she was in a very depressed state and was contemplating suicide and could he offer her any help with her pain. He was able to talk to this woman and after a period of time, she felt considerably better and went on to live her life more optimistically. When she left the room he felt elated. In fact, even though he was in bed absolutely unable to move his limbs, he was still a valuable person and could contribute to the world.
This is exactly what he as done for decades now. In fact, he made a statement that many would find very difficult to comprehend. He said that while he naturally would have wished to retain his physical integrity, that at the same time when he realized he was quadriplegic it was as if he felt suddenly a great freedom in his mind and spirit. Yes, you heard it correctly! You see, he had felt imprisoned by so many social conventions before the accident and never felt he could break free to be the kind of human being he wanted to be. In a great twist of fate, the accident allowed him to give himself permission to drop all the baggage of beliefs and demands he had been putting on himself that stood in the way of his being the kind of person he wanted to be.
And what kind of person was that? Well, here is a guy who in addition to having a very busy practice as a therapist, has a weekly column in a Philadephia newspaper, has his own weekly radio show, and is known throughout the country for his enormous contribution to people in need, especially to young people. What an example of someone who loves life without reserve! It does the soul good to hear of such people and to use their powerful energy and engagement with life to lift our own spirits out of the dark and unhappy places that we can bring ourselves to. Gottlieb, who without being able to walk or reach out with his hands, has done more than most to move the minds and hearts of others in an exceptional way. Keep him in mind and let me know what you think.
Frank Mosca Ph.D. is a life coach and marriage counselor with a practice in Hampton Bays and Garden City. He also offers ongoing seminars using literature as the inspiration for personal growth and transformation in his "Putting Minds In Motion" workshops. Take a look at frankmosca.com.