On Friday I was driving somewhere, Target maybe, and NPR was on as it usually is in the car. The program was Fresh Air, and Terry Gross was interviewing a man who turned out to be Dr. Dan Gottlieb. The man speaking was a quadriplegic and was discussing how his injuries had changed him. I heard a lot of wisdom in his words, wisdom that applies to so many situations in addition to his. Here are a few things he said that struck me most:
GROSS: I know that the car accident that left you paralyzed nearly killed you. So that forced you to change your life. Youve had a few close calls with death in the past few years. Did those close calls almost allow you to change your life, you know, allow you to make changes that you actually wanted to make and felt like you couldnt?
Dr. GOTTLIEB: Yes. Yes. What a great question. The vision I had – have – about my accident is that when my neck broke, my soul began to breathe. I became the person I always dreamt I could be and never would’ve been if I didnt break my neck. And with each time I faced death, I became more of who I am and less worried about what others might think of me.
That question struck me as wise, but also made me wonder that it takes something so severe to stop caring what other people think.
More along the same lines:
GROSS: I mean did you feel that there were certain pressures that you or other people had put on yourself to become somebody who you weren’t particularly?
Dr. GOTTLIEB: We’re all like that.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: Not me, ever.
Dr. GOTTLIEB: Most people I know spend their lives trying to be the person they think they should be and never get to discover who they are. And that’s the gift – one of the gifts – the fact that I can’t run away from my demons, literally. I have to sit with them. The person I wanted to be – I had always dreamed of being a visionary, of being a peacemaker, but I had to be a psychologist. I had to be a father. I had to be the kind of man I thought I was supposed to be. And when I broke my neck, that was gone. I had to be the kind of man I was.
And finally, thoughts on the moment of the accident that paralyzed him:
GROSS: I imagine that you dont remember the moment of impact.
Dr. GOTTLIEB: No.
GROSS: Is that a good thing, that you dont remember that?
Dr. GOTTLIEB: I think it is. The last thing I remember is a big black thing in the sky, and that’s the last thing I remember. I think, though, all of us, if we can use that metaphorically, all of us have been hit by a big black thing coming out of the sky.
You know, it’s a lump. It’s a doctor saying, I think it’s malignant. It’s a spouse saying, I dont want to be in this marriage anymore. I’m no different than anybody else in that regard.