“Let’s Become A Community Of Greeters” With Edy Nathan
“I live in NYC, and people walk around the city seeing but not seeing. Busy and yet, alone. I had this idea to create a special street greeting that could be done at a red light while waiting for it to turn green, in an elevator or even in a park. We are a community of greeters — putting a hand out, as if to shake a hand, asking permission for the handshake, looking at the person, smiling, saying “Hi. It’s good to see you today. Make it a great day.” And then moving on — I wonder what that could do for the sense of isolation so many folks feel. The more it’s done, the less afraid people would be when approached.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Edy Nathan. Grief, loss, trauma, gender and sexuality are her specialties as a practicing NYC psychotherapist. She says that these issues move in and out of one another and are often misdiagnosed. As a self-described “truth seeker,” she works to get past the blindness we all carry within. Edy has been a crisis therapist from the start. Working with the HIV/AIDS crisis at Beth Israel Hospital, she became a trainer of trainers for staff — teaching about self-care, how to cope with the dying patient and their families. Her work integrates Jungian and Gestalt perspectives, hypnosis, EMDR, family therapy and sometimes the use of mere intuition. Hungry for knowledge, she became a Certified Sex Therapist at the University of Michigan. For two seasons, she was the therapist on the A&E TV show, “Psychic Kids: Children of the Paranormal.” Kids who have been hurt either physically, psychologically or sexually, will often have a second sight, an ability to know things and perceive in ways that others don’t have access to. They map with an adeptness that survivors often have. The work of therapy is so much more than sitting in an office listening, it is the willingness to be a student, a teacher and a witness. After many years of writing, she’s proud to have created a book on universal grief, It’s Grief: The Dance of Self-Discovery Through Trauma and Loss. She hopes to help people understand that what they may be feeling is a grief reaction rather than depression or anxiety.
Thank you so much for joining us! What is your “backstory”?
I have this belief that when we are born we all have what I have named the little internal Buddha. It is an integral part of the self that carries a knowing, a trust of the world, a curiosity that is alive and excited, and a wisdom that either gets supported or diminished. When the Buddha is taken away, a deep grief replaces it. What also replaces it is a resilience and desire to find that Buddha again. Chasing the Buddha, engaging with the Buddha, and living with the Buddha again becomes an ideological goal when it seems that it has been diminished or muted. Though I have known grief and the sense of loss my entire life, I have also pushed myself to be the best, to have a voice when there is no one else to give it and to turn grief into a gift — which I have done over and over again.
As a survivor of sexual abuse, obesity, bullying, and the loss of my first love, I know what it feels like to be ignored, to be in silence, to chafe under extreme conditions that leave the spirit within the soul numb. Through the years, masters of healing have shown up through my brain’s ability to rewire itself, changing the cognition or thought frame around the grief or trauma, learning to refocus, care for the body, staying alert, sharing my story and having creative means to release the pain that tends to lodge in our hearts.
My heart is open now because through it all I have reunited with that internal Buddha, (you can call it whatever you like) yet, the imprint of grief remains. Healing is not about forgetting. It is about learning to carry it with grace. As the carrier of the memories, I choose to remember peacefully, I choose to appreciate the little things, like a smile from a stranger or a star in the sky, and I choose to see the infinite possibilities. What I have experienced does not define me, it enhances me.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
When I was down in the “pits” during 9/11 I was one of the only women therapists holed up in what had been the old American Express building. With great fanfare, clinicians were taken via police caravan to the site, unloaded onto the street, where throngs of people lined up on either side, greeting us with food, clothing, masks to cover our faces and cheers. I kept thinking how did I actually get here?
There were a series of coincidences leading up to this moment. Showing up at the Red Cross, they were disorganized, begging for help. I stepped in and soon found myself transported to a hospital, then to the Park Avenue Armory, which had its own set of issues. Mainly and sadly, there were no survivors while family members thirsted for information, yet knowing it was probable that their loved ones had not survived getting down from the 90th floor. I was once again in a position of organizing a room of volunteers as they tended phones to call hospitals on behalf of the family members who were waiting for news. The lines of people formed a double circle down the hall and into the bigger part of the armory, which was vast. What you saw were people of all ages: some crying, some in stark silence and some obviously dissociated from the scene, as if in a stupor.
One of the psychologists from the NYC police came into the room I was running, took me by the hand, said “come with me,” and before I knew it I was asked to go down to what had been the World Trade Center. I was in my own stupor as I really didn’t know what I was saying yes to. One thing I knew to be true: I could not be home. I had to be active, I had to help.
I will never forget being in the basement of the crushed building, steel girders through the glass windows prohibited certain passage between one corridor and the next, while being told to wait for instructions. There were three of us in the basement. We sat in a restaurant waiting…we were waiting for the men who had been clearing the site, who would emerge after 12–24 hours of solid work looking for survivors — and there were none. They were disoriented, they were hungry. They often could not remember where they had parked their cars.
I will never forget how everything was in perfect condition, as if a bomb had gone off and killed the people yet left everything in pristine condition. Wearing oversized clothing, because the volunteers were not thinking a 5’3 petite woman would be at the site, and a mask that was hard to manipulate while also breathing, the three of us waited and waited.
One by one, slowly, the men emerged from the pits. Dirty. Dusty. Scared. Tired, adrenalin rushing through their bodies as each one regretted being told to leave the scene to get rest. They had a duty, and they wanted, no, they needed to find survivors. There was still hope of this even after the 4th day.
One guy came out looking particularly distraught, and almost in tears, he said, “I don’t know where I left my car. I can’t remember.” Slowly, just asking him his name, where he lived, about his family, when he left the house, what kind of car he drives and when he got to the site….then, like a lightbulb goes off in the brain, and in tears he says, “I remember, I remember! I parked it in the tunnel. In the tunnel.”
After giving him food, water and clean clothes, he left to retrieve his car. I will never forget him. His face. His grief. His tenderness. His tears. He is in my heart and I often wonder what happened to him.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Having just finished the It’s Grief book is an exciting project. Grief is a universal theme that we all have faced at some point in our lives. It is everywhere. With the collective grief of our nation, within the sphere of the world, this is a global project ready to get people to understand grief, loss and trauma through a different lens.
I plan on creating Grief Dinners that allow people to collectively gather to discuss losses and positive initiatives that have changed the way grief is understood. It is time for the conversation about loss, trauma, sexuality and gender to come out of the closet. It begs to be normalized and be part of our collective conversation.
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
I like people who have struggled and survived — they have made it against the odds. So, it is all those people who chose to find new land, or run away from slave owners, or have made it on their own after facing bigotry, intolerance or obstacles that occur because of race, religion, gender, sexual identity or economic station in life.
It seems that people who have strived to overcome these obstacles have a sense of self filled with purpose and they don’t take their success for granted.
Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?
Inspiration comes in many forms. In my work, I love children’s stories, and much of the work of Shel Silverstein, like The Giving Tree. There’s a Monster at the End of This Book: with Grover remains one of my favorites. I will read this to clients because so often they look outside of the self for healing when they carry the power within to capture their own healing and emotional balance. Not unlike Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, she wore those red shoes the entire time, yet did not realize their power. The power of balancing the pain with the joys of life are in the hands of the client. The way they hold their stories, their painful memories and their desires are an aspect of the self. The book ends with Grover realizing that he is the monster at the end of the book. Little old Grover. When someone can face the self, healing begins. The “monster” they don’t want to look at or acknowledge can seem smaller when they recognize it as something to embrace rather than avoid.
How do you think your writing makes an impact in the world? What advice would you give to someone considering becoming an author like you?
1. If you have an idea, you believe in it and you want to write about it, then do it!
2. Be prepared for long nights, time away from friends and family, rewriting and writing again, thinking you have finally finished and you have more to go, being tired most of the time, pulling all-nighters, having a few editors, and still finding errors and imperfection.
3. Honor the process of writing. Take breaks to stretch and exercise, eat well, get sleep, program your time to write — like a date with the self. Plan for ways to distract yourself, stop writing at a juncture to make it easy to go back to, be kind to yourself. It might take longer than you think to have a finished product, and if so, it does not matter.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I have two-
1. I live in NYC, and people walk around the city seeing but not seeing. Busy and yet, alone. I had this idea to create a special street greeting that could be done at a red light while waiting for it to turn green, in an elevator or even in a park. We are a community of greeters — putting a hand out, as if to shake a hand, asking permission for the handshake, looking at the person, smiling, saying “Hi. It’s good to see you today. Make it a great day.” And then moving on — I wonder what that could do for the sense of isolation so many folks feel. The more it’s done, the less afraid people would be when approached.
2. Brian Weiss from Many Masters, Many Lives suggested that when people commit suicide they go to a place where animals give them unconditional love. I used to love to go to pet stores just to be with the energy of animals. I think we need to find ways for people and animals to come together as a calming balm. Like cafes that offer patrons the ability to hang with an animal, pet the animal and care for it for a period of time.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. It never feels finished. I realized that I could continue to rewrite for the next 10 years. I had to stop and say this is good as it is.
2. The book enters into your being and it’s hard to silence the internal conversation.
My dreaming life became as vivid as my waking life: Titles came to me through my dreams, whole chapters would appear in the order they should be, and conversations between the different aspects of me were in living color. The judge within me would argue with the cheerleader. The Wild Woman in me would plead for a night out, while my Regular Gal would hush her and push for more work.
3. Writing is only the first step. The interior, the book cover, (front and back) have to be considered, the headings, the sub-headings, the distinct types of fonts for each — who knew?!!! I surely didn’t. I am a gal who sees the big picture. The little details, like change of font, when and where, have less meaning to me. Well! Let me tell you, it all has meaning. Which was a life lesson. Sometimes what I think of as small has greater meaning than something that is large, and hits me with force. Sometimes it is the little lies, the little truths that matter more or matter just as much.
4. Be kind to yourself, especially if you are a first-time author and self-publishing. Get the right people behind you. A support team will be your best advocates. Appreciate them. They are working in ways that are unimaginable. A support team does not mean you didn’t do it yourself. It means that you get to do what you are good at. You can’t be good at everything. Let some of the experts do what they do best.
5. Stay on track. Stay focused. Write a few pages daily. Get an editor who likes what you wrote. Believe me, having one who does not understand your perspective will tear the manuscript to shreds, and leave you with nothing of you in the written word. On the other hand, you need an editor who is shrewd, concise and knows the nuances of good editing.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)
I would love to have lunch or breakfast with Oprah. She has inspired so many people, created success through sheer stubbornness and authority, yet, through it all, never lost her femininity, her humor, her smile and her generosity. She has given back and given back. She is a true seeker of knowledge, and seems to strive to make people alive when they are deadened inside. She has maintained a private life, avoiding many of the tabloids. She continues to remake herself, her style, and though she has struggled with her weight, she has talked about it and allowed all see the struggle. She has turned her past grief and trauma into gifts that have shaped and altered the way men, women and children see the world.