66: We Talked Good

66: We Talked Good

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Positive

We Talked Good

When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.

~Viktor Frankl

It was the last day of Philadelphia’s Evening Bulletin. Once, nearly everybody read the Bulletin, according to a cartoon that ran for years in The New Yorker. On a grim day in February 1982, we milled around in the newsroom, saying goodbye to our fellow reporters and editors, telling each other we’d keep in touch, yet knowing it wouldn’t be the same.

For twenty-five years my identity had been tied to my career. I was Gunter David of the Newark Evening News, The Baltimore Sun, The New York Times, for which I covered Newark and vicinity on weekends, and finally the Bulletin.

I had seen this day coming as circulation figures dropped. People were no longer reading two papers a day. They read the morning papers and got the evening news on television.

A year earlier I had begun looking for another job. But no newspaper wanted to hire a fifty-one-year-old man. Now here I was, with nowhere to go, nothing to do. The morning after the paper folded I woke up on time to get to the newsroom. My wife, Dalia, was leaving for work. Our daughter, Ronni, was heading for the school bus. I stayed in bed for a week.

Thereafter I got a job as a reporter on a new weekly paper. My former contacts in City Hall no longer returned my calls. The new editor had not been on a newspaper before. I had difficulty concentrating on my work. A story that once would take me an hour or two to write now occupied me all day.

I soon realized I was suffering from depression. I sought help from a psychotherapist about whom I had written an article some months earlier. She specialized in helping people with difficulties at work.

Once her interviewer, I became her patient. Matilde Salganicoff helped me cope with the enormous changes in my life, deal with what I considered a humiliating comedown. I had covered the Yom Kippur War of 1973, interviewed David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, wrote stories that sent Newark’s chief magistrate to jail, testified before a U.S. Senate subcommittee, and was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.

With Matilde’s help I saw the positives in my life — my wonderful wife of thirty years, my children, our friends, our home, and the years of joy that had been mine as an award-winning newsman. “Most men live lives of quiet desperation,” Thoreau had written. I learned that despite what had happened to me, I was not one of them.

After several months in treatment, I had an epiphany while driving to my session. I burst into Matilde’s office and said, “I want to do what you do!”

“You’d have to go to graduate school,” she replied. “Then, if you get a job, you’ll have to start at the bottom.” Dalia and I talked it over. She agreed to support my decision. We would invest my severance pay from the Bulletin in my new career.

Matilde helped me get into Hahnemann University and Medical School in Philadelphia, where I was accepted even though I had never taken a psychology course. I enrolled in the family therapy program and would be awarded a master’s degree at the end of two years.

On the first day, I attended an orientation in the school auditorium packed with new students. They were young, with fresh, shining faces. I had just turned fifty-three, yet I was one of them.

In addition to attending classes I was assigned to a clinic to obtain practical experience. For the first few weeks I “sat in,” observing Steve, my supervisor, at work. Abused women. Violent men. Major depression. Suicide attempts. Schizophrenia. Manic depression. Day after day I asked myself if I could ever help these people. Had I taken on more than I could handle? Would I ever graduate and get my degree?

So it was until Steve assigned to me the case of a woman, Millie — not her real name — who had been in treatment with him for a couple of years. He felt she had progressed enough that it was safe to transfer her case to me.

The chart said she was thirty-nine years old, although she looked considerably older. “You’re new here,” she said solemnly.

“I am new in the field,” I replied. The words had slipped out of my mouth, even though Steve had told me to keep my background confidential.

Millie’s face lit up. “What did you used to do?” she asked.

I told her.

Over the following months she told me all about her life — her alcoholic father who beat her mother, her alcoholic boyfriend from who she had run away more than once, her suicide attempts. Sometimes she cried, and I would feel tears in my own eyes.

We worked on straightening out her life. But there were some setbacks. A few times Millie was a no show. No appearance, no phone call. Under clinic rules I was not permitted to contact her. I sat soberly in my office and waited, wondering if I had failed her.

After a while the absences declined. Eventually it was time for us to part. I was completing my year at the clinic. Millie was making great progress, had broken up with her boyfriend, and had gotten a job for the first time in years. She no longer needed to be in treatment.

At the end of the final session she handed me a small, knitted white dog atop a crocheted blue pillow. “I made it for you,” she said, smiling. “You and me, we talked good.”

After graduation, the head of the program, Dr. Ivan Boszormenyi-Nagy, took me into his private practice. A few months later I was hired by Johnson & Johnson for the corporation’s Employee Assistance program. I saw employees and their families, and at times, their supervisors. I served four different J&J companies in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. I also continued to work in Dr. Nagy’s practice.

At times, in my sleep, I dreamt about the newsroom. When I woke up, it would take me a moment or two to reorient myself. At a Bulletin reunion one of my former colleagues asked how I was doing. “It’s not easy, but I’m getting there,” I said.

The years went by. I was fortunate in being able to help many people. Among them was an employee about to be laid off because of his poor work performance in recent months. After a few sessions I referred him to a physician, who discovered he had a brain tumor.

Now it was time to retire. Toward the end of my tenure, this man, tumor-free and newly promoted, arrived at my doorstep with a goodbye present.

Two golden pens and a small, round clock were attached to a base on which the following words were carved, “Thank you for being there. Nick.”

They greet me daily when I rise.

~Gunter David

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