Experiences of awe—have you had one?
PSYCHIATRIC VIEWS ON THE DAILY NEWS
In this series of columns on awe, I have asked for any examples from our readers. Here are the first 3 that came in, with permission to print them and use their name when shown.
“Our 12-year-old grandson, Patrick, is 6 feet tall, skinny as a pencil, and notices everything. Walking on a narrow foot path at our cabin in central Wisconsin this summer, he saw this creature and was fascinated. The fawn did not move but watched everything. Our grandson came and told us and his parents about it, and we all went out to watch the fawn. Patrick left some crackers and cheese for the fawn. A day later a doe visited, slowly and carefully stepping among the trees. The fawn kept sitting there another day. On the third day, the doe led the fawn off into the woods. It is not clear yet whether Patrick will go into the study of mammals, but he is using his large sense of awe to understand the world.”
- William Houghton, psychiatrist
“I could have read more and more of your awe-inspiring thoughts on this. The awe I experienced, felt, considered, over these past days in synagogue fortified my sense of moral and ethical responsibility that arises from the awareness of God’s presence and judgment in my life. I was encouraged to contemplate new paths, and strengthen older ones, to lead a more righteous life. I move into the embrace of the Succah with a deeper spiritual and emotional experience, and a greater sense of humility, reverence, and a strong connection to Hashem.”
- Michael Mantell, psychologist
“I am sometimes not sure of the line between deep gratitude and awe. Many years ago, I was driving on a country road at around 4 PM The sun must have caused enough glare because at a remote intersection before I knew it, a truck came and knocked my car several yards into a ditch. As my head hit the passenger window, I knew this was a significant injury. The police came, and an ambulance too, and I was actually written up as a fatality in the local paper. I did not see any emotion on the officer’s face. But the officer had changed his mind. He called a helicopter for me, and I was transported not to the nearest hospital, but a level 4 trauma center. I was bleeding profusely. The paramedics on board the helicopter did not want my organs to shut down, and not knowing my blood type, they kept me alive with saline. These 2 decisions saved my life. The officer called my parents, and when I was in the ER, because he’s a physician, they let him be part of their team. I have a sense of awe when I think about it, and profound gratitude.
I wrote to the emergency room doctor who took care of me not long ago. I told him that this letter is several years too late, but there are just some experiences that cause so much gratitude and so much emotion that they are bigger than words. Then I told him:
‘At ever one of these junctures, I do not celebrate as others might. I think about my accident and feel so grateful to you and your colleagues. If I rub my right temple, I think of the person who stitched me up because I can feel where the stitches are. I think of the kindness of the nurses who looked after me. I regretted not saying ‘thank you’ sooner. There is gratitude so large that it is bigger than words, that is what I have learned. I am sorry that it took so long.’”
Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry, and is now in retirement and refirement as a private pro bono community psychiatrist. A prolific writer and speaker, he has done a weekday column titled “Psychiatric Views on the Daily News” and a weekly video, “Psychiatry & Society,” since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged. He was chosen to receive the 2024 Abraham Halpern Humanitarian Award from the American Association for Social Psychiatry. Previously, he received the Administrative Award in 2016 from the American Psychiatric Association, the one-time designation of being a Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Speaker of the Assembly of the APA in 2002, and the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill in 1991. He is an advocate and activist for mental health issues related to climate instability, physician burnout, and xenophobia. He is now editing the final book in a 4-volume series on religions and psychiatry for Springer: Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, Christianity, and now The Eastern Religions, and Spirituality. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times.