THE BLOG
12/20/2013 12:00 pm ET Updated Feb 17, 2014

Broken Lives and Open Hearts

This week will mark the 34th anniversary of the accident that resulted in my quadriplegia, and I have been reflecting about how life happens and then unfolds.

It was a clear crisp December morning when I kissed my wife and precious little girls goodbye and walked across the frozen grass to climb into my burgundy Dodge dart (okay, everybody makes mistakes!).

Little did I know those would be the last steps I would ever take. Little did I know that would be the last time I would pick my daughters up over my head and watch them giggle. Little did I know it would be the last time I would stand up and gaze into my wife's eyes when I hugged her.

It was a day many things died. And they died the moment of truck tire bounced across the Pennsylvania Turnpike and crushed my car. Several months later as I sat in the occupational therapy department at Magee rehab in Philadelphia, I glanced up at the pale green cinderblock wall with paint stains on it and muttered to no one in particular: "who would've thought that I would come to a place like this to die?" My poor OT became very distressed and quickly reassured me that I didn't come here to die, I came here to learn to live.

But I knew that we were both right. As a psychologist I know that after trauma there is always a death, whether it's a death of body function, and death of one's vision for the future or death of hope. Whatever it is, we must say goodbye to something before we can say hello to something else.

And so I mourned for several years. That mourning turned into a clinical depression that required psychotherapy and medication. It turned into multiple hospitalizations for various skin breakdowns, bladder problems and other infections. And it turned into disappointment after disappointment after disappointment.

But while this was going on, I resumed my private practice, began writing books and hosting what would become a very popular radio show. I was loving many friends and had a few romantic relationships. And as I age I find that I am more loving and more grateful than ever before.

I guess this particular anniversary has more meaning to me then I was aware of because I have been having a repetitive dream about my workplace right before the accident. So I woke up and reflected on these 34 years and what's happened to me, with me and from me.

How does it happen that this moment I am happy and grateful and loving and in love and loved? I certainly don't understand how this stuff works, but I believe something universal that happens to all of us:

Broken lives and open hearts
Daniel Gottlieb

When life suddenly comes at you bareknuckled and bloodthirsty.

And you find yourself lying naked and bloody in an unfamiliar land.

And you feel the world is watching you broken and vulnerable.

So you hide your face, too scared to cry because if you do you might never stop.

And everything you thought was true is now gone.

So without a roadmap, you get up. Frightened and fragile, you take your first tentative step into the unknown.

You go to doctors who heal your body, but the scars are permanent.

And you see other doctors to heal your broken heart, but those scars are permanent also.

After the shock and anger and self-pity and resentment;

When you are too exhausted to fight against the truth of your life,
You finally sigh and cry oceans of tears. You cry for all you've lost, you cry for this good person who suffers. And you cry for all who suffer.

And then you open your eyes to this new unfamiliar life. And you say "okay, what now?"

And so it begins. It's different from before. You find yourself not as strong physically, not even strong enough to hide your own vulnerability.

And then you notice.

The air itself smells sweeter and the sun is brighter.

And your love is less tentative and more generous.

And you begin loving more people and then all living things.

And then you notice that loving it seems easier than ever before.

And close your eyes and with kindness and compassion you hold your life and then you realize all of this love comes through the scar tissue in your broken heart.