Excerpt from

Letters to Sam: A Grandfather's Lessons on

Love, Loss, and the Gifts of Life

"The Smell of Peace"

by Dr. Daniel Gottlieb

In 2006, Dr. Daniel Gottlieb, Philadelphia psychotherapist, columnist, radio personality, and author, published Letters to Sam: A Grandfather’s Lessons of Love, Loss, and the Gifts of Life. Dr. Gottlieb and Sterling Publishing have once again graciously granted Empty Nest permission to reprint a chapter from the book. In “The Smell of Peace,” Dan relates his thoughts on prejudice, fear, our shared history and our shared humanity, and how, perhaps, together we can strive for peace. Gottlieb (a quadriplegic due to a freak accident many years ago) wrote the book for his autistic grandson, not expecting to be alive to see him through his childhood, but his ruminations enchant readers of all ages.

Reprinted with permission of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc., from LETTERS TO SAM by Daniel Gottlieb. Copyright © 2006 by Daniel Gottlieb.

Dear Sam,

Prejudice and hatred have probably been around since we lived in caves. And I’m sure they will not disappear during your lifetime. But perhaps we’ll be better off if we learn more about where they come from. At least that is a beginning.

Often, prejudice begins with a feeling that we ourselves are insecure. In order to feel better, we are drawn to people who look, think, or act like we do. That generally works just fine—unless we're still feeling insecure. Then we might convince ourselves that we are superior to other groups. We might even come to believe that people in other groups are somehow less than human.

But on both sides of any stereotype, any conflict, or any war, we are all human. We want the same things, regardless of our external differences. All of us want peace, security inside and out, and the chance to give and receive love.


Recently I took a trip to Israel—a land that has been filled with ethnic and religious hatred for centuries. There are so many groups attacking different groups for different reasons, I can’t imagine how anyone could feel safe there. For years, I have been reading about the dangers, the suicide bombings, the retaliation. So I expected to see evidence of great fear. But while I was there, I learned something else about the way people were feeling. We traveled around the country on a tour bus in the intense summer heat. At the first stop, I only spent about thirty minutes outside the bus before I realized I needed to get some relief. While my tour mates were seeing the sights, I ducked into an air-conditioned cafeteria.

It was about eleven in the morning. As I was figuring out how to order coffee, I noticed our bus driver, in the cafeteria, having lunch by himself. I had met him only about an hour earlier, when he picked us up at the airport. He was a handsome man in his mid-forties with a dark, ruddy complexion, black hair, and deep brown eyes. The bus he was driving was an old model with a clumsy wheelchair lift; this driver had been very helpful about guiding me onto the lift and into the bus.

Now seated in the cafeteria, he was eating alone, staring absentmindedly as he picked at his food. He seemed pleased when I asked if I could sit with him.

I learned that his name was Marwan and he was a Christian Arab from Nazareth. He told me he lived by himself. He eked out a living by driving a bus and worried about taking care of his ailing mother. And he told me that since the death of Arafat, he had felt like he could “smell peace.”


Later that week, I was to hear that same phrase from the lips of an Israeli. Even if they could not yet see it or feel it, peace was something that people could smell.

What else were people feeling?

I had the opportunity to raise that question with an Israeli psychologist, Yovav Katz, host of a call-in radio show in Jerusalem that has been running more than twenty-five years. What did his callers want to talk about? Even as I asked, I was fairly certain of Yovav’s reply. Surely he would tell me that they wanted to talk about terrorism or the economy.

Instead, he replied, “Loneliness.”

Yovav observed that although there was much poverty in Israel, the percentage of very wealthy people had steadily increased in the past decade. In his view, those with wealth tended to be more self-absorbed, which inevitably leads to loneliness. I shared my own perspective—that people are lonely because there is something missing in their lives. People with wealth try to compensate by accumulating things, but it’s not a lack of things that makes people lonely. What was happening here?

I think I got my answer the next night.

The group from my tour bus had dinner at a beautiful restaurant overlooking the Sea of Galilee. Afterward, everyone else went on a boat ride. I stayed back and had coffee with Marwan, who was starting to trust me. He interrupted the silence by asking, “Have you ever been in love?”

I said that I had.

There was a long pause. Then Marwan told me a story of the woman he had loved for eleven years. One day, on her way to work, the woman he loved had been killed in a car accident. Ten years had passed, and still he mourned. He said he had never gone out with another woman because he never met “the right one.” What he meant was he had never found the woman he lost. His grief was palpable because he had loved and been loved so deeply.

A few days later, when I talked again with Marwan (who now called me “my brother”), I asked him what he thought his lover would say if she came back for just five minutes. He sat quietly for a long time as his eyes welled up with tears. “I don’t know,” he said finally. “Maybe she would say she misses me too. Maybe she would say she doesn’t want me to suffer any more because she loves me.” And maybe for the first time, he wept.

Marwan is not the only one who is mourning. I thought about all the people I have seen over the years who have suffered the loss of loved ones. I thought about all the tears that Jew and Arab alike have shed. I wondered how many of those tears had turned to hatred. What I learned in Israel was that, maybe, underneath all of the hatred and rage, was shared human pain. Centuries of grief for all the losses—and centuries of longing for simple peace, security inside and out, and the chance to love and be loved.


At President Clinton’s first inauguration, Maya Angelou read a poem that contained these lines: “History, despite its wrenching pain,/cannot be unlived, and if faced/with courage, need not be lived again.” With so many people living every day with the wrenching pain of history, Sam, I wish more of them could smell peace. Perhaps they could find a way to see it and feel it too.

Perhaps, in your life, you’ll find a way to help them.


Dr. Dan Gottlieb’s work last appeared in the winter 2009–10 issue of Empty Nest. His most recently published book, The Wisdom of Sam (Hay House, 2010), was reviewed in the summer 2010 issue.

home :: about :: features :: departments :: submissions :: archives :: subscribe :: contact

Empty Nest: A Magazine for Mature Families

© 2010 Spring Mount Communications

Green Web Hosting! This site hosted by DreamHost.