I LOVE THE LADY IN THE RED DRESS, by Art Smukler, author & psychiatrist

A patient told me a haunting story.

Forty years ago, a young man from New York had occasion to order a piece of machinery for his boss from a company in Virginia. The young woman he spoke to was engaging and very helpful. One thing led to another and they started chatting on the phone as the piece of machinery was being built.

When the job was done and ready for shipment, the young man prevailed on his boss to allow him to go in person to make sure that the machinery was up to the expected standards. When he told the young woman the plan, she was delighted and offered to meet him at the train station. She would then personally escort him to the plant.

“How will I know you?” The young man asked.

“I’ll be wearing a red dress.”

When the train arrived, just as promised, a pretty, dark-haired woman wearing a red dress was waiting for the young man. As he descended from the train, she smiled and waved from her wheelchair. The young man, who had no idea that she had suffered from polio and had been wheelchair-bound from the time she was a child, fell instantly and irrevocably in love.

They married, raised a family, and had a wonderful relationship.

My patient, who just recently met the now 62-year-old lady with the red dress and her husband for the first time, said with a sigh, “They were in love.” He sighed again. “Most of us married people love our spouses, but this was different. They were obviously still as madly in love as when they first met on that railroad station forty years ago.”

So why do I, a person who has never seen or met this lady-in-red, also love her?

I love her positive attitude and her ability to accept what she couldn’t change and still make the most of her opportunity to have a good life. It is what I want for myself, my wife and children, my friends and my patients. The woman-in-the-red-dress never defined herself as a woman in a wheelchair with polio, but only as an attractive, intelligent, exciting person who never bothered mentioning the fact that she was impaired because in so many ways she wasn’t.

The story is for me what love stories are all about. Love, mystery, spirituality and the magic of the human condition. It is what I believe in, what I write about, and what I dream about.

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DO YOU CHASE YOUR PAST? by Art Smukler, author & psychiatrist

Last night, we attended a high school drama cafe night — students singing, playing guitars, folk music, rock and roll, jazz etc. What blew me away was the combination of energy, sincerity, off the charts costumes (their normal outfits), and the absolute desire to do their best in front of hundreds of people.

I loved it. Being in touch with the teenage present, catapulted me back to my past and the dreams I had back then.

It takes courage to change and grow. We did it once when we were kids and there’s no reason we can’t just pick up where we left off decades ago and continue the process.

Chasing Backwards into our past doesn’t have to be a trip to the psychoanalyst. It can simply be taking the risk of opening our senses. Hearing the music of our youth, smelling and tasting the foods that we grew up with, seeing pictures of ourselves, our families, and friends back in high school, and having the courage to feel it.

Because we’re part of “the establishment” doesn’t mean that we have to be rigid and unable to learn and grow. We did it once back-in-the-day, and it’s exciting to do it again.

What’s it like for you to chase your past?

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