Terrible, Thanks for Asking

The Gift - Transcript

This is a transcript of a “Terrible, Thanks for Asking” episode entitled, “The Gift.” The text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future for accuracy.

Listen to the episode here.


Dr. Eger: Just remember: The more you suffered, the stronger you become. You're a good survivor, you know? You carry good blood. So your ancestors never gave up. We carry good blood and we always find the light, no matter how dark it is. 

I’m Nora McInerny, and this is “Terrible, Thanks for Asking.”

That was Edith Eger, who was born in Hungary in 1927. Edith was born into a family that was just supremely talented. Her sister Magda played piano. Her sister Clara was a violin prodigy. And Edith did ballet.

Dr. Eger: I had a very wonderful ballet master, and my mother took me to ballet school then. He said to me that God made us in such a wonderful way, that all ecstasy has to come from inside out. I didn't know ecstasy, or anything what he was talking about. 

Of course she didn’t! She was a teenager, and her teacher was talking to her about ecstasy coming from inside out? Edith wouldn’t know until 1944, when the Nazis invaded Hungary. Clara was hidden by a violin teacher but Edith, Magda and their parents were sent to Auschwitz. The first night, their parents were sent to the gas chambers. And Dr. Mengele — known as the Angel of Death — scoured the barracks looking for talented prisoners who could entertain him. And Edith, the dancer, was picked… and forced to dance for the man who had just killed her parents. She was 16 years old.

Dr. Eger: The first night of when I was pushed before Dr. Mengele to dance, that's when I remembered my ballet master. And it was an opening of a discovery for me to look at life from inside out. And today, I know the more you depend on someone else to make you happy, when you're too externally dependent, that is going to bring you depression, that I hope you'll love yourself. And so that was the first night when I began to really realize that nothing is coming from the outside. But when Dr. Mengele gave me a piece of bread and instead of gobbling it up, I shared it with the girls, and then that really saved my life… when I was in a death march when the girls carried me so I wouldn't die. Auschwitz was an opportunity. I call everything an opportunity in life for us to discover, not recover, but to discover the strength that we are born with, the joy and the love and the passion and purpose in life. 

In 1945, as her camp was being liberated, an American soldier saw Edith’s hand moving… just slightly… under a pile of dead bodies. From there, Edith went to Czechoslovakia, where she met her husband, Bela.

Dr. Eger: Yes, you know, people asked me, did you love Bela and I said, “Love?” I was very skinny. I was very, very hungry. And most of all I was very lonely. And I met this guy who was hiding in the Czechoslovakian mountains, and was thinking that maybe I like to get to know him. And he ended up getting me Hungarian salami, so I tell people, “What do you mean, love?”

They got married, they had a daughter, they moved to the United States, where Edith got a job at a factory cutting the extra strings off little boys’ underpants for 6 cents a dozen. She tries to keep to herself, to hide her experience so people don’t define her by it. She tried not to talk, so people won’t hear her accent. And when she gets to the U.S., she saw some things are different and some things were not.

Dr. Eger: There's one thing I can tell you: Never assume. In Hungary, if you had red hair, you were Jewish. We called them the red Jews, okay? It was a very complimentary idea. So next to me was working in a factory, a girl with red hair. And I assumed. And she shook me, my whole body, and said, “I'm not a goddamn Jew, I'm Irish!” and so I learned not to assume. 

And the other thing was really difficult for me after Nazi Germany and communist Russia: When I went to the bathroom, one of them said “colored,” in 1949. And so, you know, people are telling me a lot of the times, “I believe, I believe, I believe,” and I'm saying that, you know, “I'm really not that interested in what you believe. I want to know what kind of life you lead, because love is not what you feel. It’s what you do.”

So I joined the NAACP. I marched with Martin Luther King, you know? And today, as you know, I'm very, very, very committed to do everything in my power to see to it that will never happen again. But I have experienced when good people do very bad things.

Edith and Bela have two more children -- a boy and a girl -- and the family moves to El Paso, Texas, where Edith goes to school to pursue a degree in psychology. It’s in college, in a psychology class, that someone hands her a copy of Man’s Search for Meaning by another Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl. 

Man’s Search for Meaning is one of those life-changing books you’re assigned in high school or college. At least, for me it was. It’s a book I’ve read during every Big Turning Point in my life, and it always gives me something new. 

Frankl famously wrote, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” 

I first read those words as a depressed anorexic bulimic college girl. But Edith reads them as a mother and a Holocaust survivor. And her first reaction to getting this book, being handed it, being told you should read this is, “Why would I want to read this? I LIVED IT!” But his words resonate.

Dr. Eger: That was really a wonderful opportunity for me to acknowledge that I ran away from my past, I came to America penniless, I didn't speak a word of English, and I just wanted to be like you. I wanted to speak English without an accent. And when I read that book, I realized that I have been like an imposter running away from my past. And I actually discovered that when I began to work with Vietnam veterans and then realized that I couldn't take them further than I have gone myself. When I read Viktor Frankl’s book, I was equipped with a verbal capacity. Because I didn't want to tell you where I was, because I didn't want you to feel sorry for me. So today... [inaudible] the opposite of depression is expression. You know? What comes out of your body doesn't make you ill. What stays in there does. So you're very good at asking people, don't ask how are you? Because people would say, fine, fine, fine, fine, fine, even if they're suicidal. And I did that with my patient. And then I realized that's a stupid question. The next time I saw them, I said, gee, it’s good to see you. I missed you.

Edith realizes that her own healing is critical to her ability to heal others. But there’s more she has to do. And that includes leaving Bela. 

Dr. Eger: Now, I married my husband. I either became his mother or his child. And then, I decided that if I don't get a divorce, I'm going to die. 

They’re divorced for two years before she realizes that her unhappiness had nothing to do with Bela and everything to do with her own trauma and pain.

Dr. Eger: So I divorced my husband. Today, I can tell you it had nothing to do with him at all. But I divorced my husband, and people asked me, “Look at you, you went back to him?” I said, “No, I married him as a child. The second time I was a woman to a man.” So I ask women especially, become financially and emotionally independent before you even think of marriage. 

Nora: What happened in the time that you spent apart that allowed you and Bela to come back together as a woman and a man? What happened for each of you?

Dr. Eger: The thing is, statistically speaking, in America, there are six women per man. And I was alone. I was alone. And I was alone even New Year's Eve, and people thought, "You're so pretty! You know, you dance so good." I didn't. I didn't. I really didn't. And the people that I did go out with, I realized that it wasn't my husband at all. Because I like kindness in a man. I like integrity in a man, and he had that. It was just me thinking that there is more, that there's more. Sometimes we don't know what more, just want more. And I'm very happy for you, that you're able to acknowledge that the biggest gift that you can give to your husband who died, that you live a full life, that you carry that love and capable of giving love. And today you care more about giving love than getting love. And you have your calling now. You say this is not your work. This is not my work. This is our calling, that we survived for a reason, that we can be good role models to children, especially because children don't do what we say, they do what they see. And the best thing for a child is a happy marriage. So are you going to have more children? 

Nora: No, I got cut off. We have four. So... my husband said that's enough. And also the range is we have a 19-year-old and we have a 4-year-old. We have a college student, we have a preschooler, and we're already going to be parenting a child into our 50s. And I think that's enough. When the kids are older, I want to maybe foster some teenagers out of the foster care system, and do that. But as far as having more children, I've been told we have enough. And even though our kids want, they want like, 100 siblings. And also at some point they feel like there's just not enough Mom for everybody.

Dr. Eger: No, I think, ah, it's better to be a realist than an idealist, because when an idealist doesn't get exactly what they're looking for, they become very cynical, very sarcastic. Their humor has a little knife in it. I think it's very important for you to listen to your husband, that good enough is good enough.

We’re going to take a quick break.


We’re back with Dr. Edith Eger, who just told us the story of divorcing and remarrying her husband, Bela. Which is really a story about grief, and how we all process it differently. After she remarries Bela, Edith’s work with veterans, and with people with PTSD, continues. 

Dr. Eger: I was 40, my supervisor told me to go get a doctorate, but then I said, “That's impossible, I would be 50.” And he said, “You'll be 50 anyway. So don't worry about the chronological age, please. It's your attitude. It's the way you see yourself.” And I keep getting younger and younger and younger and more alive. And I'm so grateful to God that not only survived, but able to guide others from victimization to empowerment, from darkness to light. 

You’re going to be 50 anyway. I just love that so much. Edith is now 93. She got that doctorate. She became a clinician and a speaker and an author of two books: The Gift and The Choice. And when we speak, she is sitting in her sunny living room, with cream carpeting, staring into my eyes on a computer screen, ready to take all of us from darkness to light. Ready to share what is essentially an entire episode of just… wisdom. Sparkling, beautiful wisdom. 

Nora: How do you maintain even a level of compassion for people after what you've experienced? Because you mentioned in your book, you’d look at at these at these Nazi soldiers and think, “God, I feel bad for you.”

Dr. Eger: I think it's really important to acknowledge that, first of all, we're human beings, and as such, we're going to make mistakes. One of the things I do ask sometimes: Are you a perfectionist? And they tell me they are. And I can guarantee you, if you are a perfectionist, you're going to procrastinate. 

And so I tell really bad children in school, don't allow anyone to define who you are. And you're beautiful because God only made one of you. Maybe many people can do what you can do, but not the way you can do it. You're unique. You're one of a kind. So it is good not to ask questions and not to give advice. If you are in that relationship, don’t ask, “How are you?” And don't say, “Why don't you?” Because that's what parents do. Why don't you cut your hair? Why don't you do that? And many times, questions come across as interrogation. How are you? How do you think I am!? 

Nora: I truly think that your book is a beautiful parenting book, both for people who are currently raising children and people who need to do a little bit of re-parenting for themselves. How do you survive things and not get them all over your children?

Dr. Eger: I think one of the things I always ask people: If you want to say anything, ask yourself, is it necessary? Is it very kind? Because if it's not kind, you're going to say something like, you know, “You're a beautiful girl, but…” Look at your pimples, and let's look at how fat you are. And you know, the "yes, but" will cancel everything you said before the but. So I like to people to say "yes and.” So when my sister and I were in Auschwitz, Magda was with me, Clara was saved by her Christian professor. I never really want to really delete that there were many, many thousands, millions of people who were saving Jewish lives as well. But Magda and I were in Auschwitz, we were completely shaved. And Magda, who was alive, and she's the pretty one in my family. She still calls me and tells me, “I'm gorgeous.” So anyway, we were completely shaven, there in our nakedness, Magda asked me a question, “How do I look?” Now I like to bring the there and then to the here and now. So instead of telling Magda how she looked with the bald head, you have a choice now as well. What are you going to pay attention to and concentrate on? What you lost or what is still there? So instead of telling how she look... and unfortunately, I wrote it in a book that she looked like a naked dog and I never should've said that, because my sister wanted to kill me. Anyway. Instead of telling her how she really looked, I said, “Magda, you have beautiful eyes, and I didn't see it when you had your hair all over the place.” So it's good to acknowledge that criticism will never, ever bring someone to really say, "Thank you so much for telling me I'm really fat, and I have a lot of pimples, and I should do something." No, no, no. So more "yes, but." "Yes, and," "yes and," "yes and." Furthermore, I like to walk. And one of my idioms is, “Are you revolving or are you evolving?” And that's why I like butterflies because I like the idea of metamorphosis. And then you shed the chrysalis. What am I holding on to? And my definition of love is the ability to let go. Not revenge. 

So with that, I like to tell you that it’s really important that we don't grieve over what happened but what didn't happen. When I had my little granddaughter with me and ask me to buy her a dress so she can go to her dance. And I'm a big sucker. I bought her a beautiful designer dress, and I came home and all of a sudden I see myself crying. And I didn't know, what am I crying about? I just bought Lindsay a beautiful dress. And to tell you the truth, I didn't cry because I bought Lindsay a beautiful dress, so she can go to her dance. I cried because I never went to a dance. So you see, we grieve over not what happened, but what didn't happen. 

Nora: One of the points you made is that there's not like, a wrong way and a right way to grieve something or to process something. There was Bela's way. And there was your way. 

Dr. Eger: Exactly, exactly. I think it's very important, that's the work I do, to revisit the places where you begin to relive that experience, but don't get stuck in that. You go through the valley of the shadow of death, but you don't come there or set up house there. So, you have your memories. You cherish those memories, and you cherish what I cherish too. Our cherished wound. We have a special place in our heart. You don't try to run away from it. You don't try to forget it or overcome it. You come to terms with it. There's a difference.

Nora: And that takes time. When you were saying that you were trying to work with veterans and you hadn't healed enough within yourself... 

Dr. Eger: Grief is about going through the stages of grief. I studied with Elizabeth Kubler-Ross the shock, the denial, and anger. Some people get stuck in the anger. See, when you, when you have anger, chances are you have a lot of other emotions underneath the anger and the biggest one is fear. Anger is not the primary emotion. And you may want to ask yourself, what am I afraid of? So I can put it on the blackboard, anger underneath fear, and under there is loss. And the biggest fear of a child is the fear of abandonment. And I tell you, women who approach midlife, 40s, 50s, there is one thing they're really afraid of: to being with themselves. And if you're not happy alone, you won't be happy with anybody else. If someone says, “I need you,” run. Needs are things without which we cannot survive. I need to breathe. After four minutes, I'm done. OK, that's very important. The grieving feeling and healing, you cannot heal what you don't feel. Crying is good. What comes out to your body doesn't make you ill. What stays in there does. So share your secrets. 

Nora: In the U.S., we're very grief averse culture. Like you mentioned that, you know, if you tell people what you went through, that all they will give you is pity. And pity is useless.

Dr. Eger: But what is important is that if you get married, I tell you everything and you tell me everything, then we're going to have a good marriage. It's not true at all. I don't belong to you. I belong to me. You know? Don't ask me, “Who did you sleep with before you married me?” No. No. A question many times is really you think you were on the witness stand, you know, just be Jewish, answer the question with a question. How are you? Well, how do you think I am? OK. And don't ask why questions, because why is a past-oriented word and a problem-oriented word.

I like people to get rid of two things. One is in the past, guilt, and one is in a future, worry. We never worry about good things happening. Worry is the most neurotic emotion. “I worry about you.” That's not good. That means you are stupid. I'm smart, and I know what's good for you. It's really not… just say “sounds like” and then put in a feeling word. And men like to understand things. That's why we call men thick-headed. They want to understand everything. We women feel their feelings. Sounds like you said about that. Glad about that. So I usually take a man from here to the heart. Because when men cry, it's not manly in America, in Anglo-Saxon culture. The biggest word in Anglo-Saxon culture: control yourself. You're so controlled, you're splitting at the seams, and somebody tells you, “It's OK, you're strong, you can handle it.” We're human, and it takes courage to be average. 

Nora: Tell me more about that. I love that phrase.

Dr. Eger: Yeah, really. We can be very, very unkind to ourselves. Yeah, my precious right-hand person is here, Katie girl. And Katie girl was born in Germany. And, you know, in the schools were I went to was based on that German philosophy. When the teacher comes in, everybody gets up in unison, and you know what, we had to practice it one, two, three, four, then one, two three, four. No wonder Hitler could do what he did. Blind adherence to authority. And I think there is a Hitler in every one of us, and we have dictators, so question authority, rather than blindly adhere to authority. I sometimes refer to one teacher that when I heard him say that there was no Holocaust. So when someone is telling you such a statement, don't deny their truth. Just say, “Thank you for your opinion.” See, it's really important. And someone throws out the rope, don't pick it up. It takes two to fight. It takes one to stop it. And hopefully people can express their opinion. I think the answer is to that man, is to go to a German consulate. Because they will tell you that. The German people did fess up. The largest Jewish population today in Europe is in Germany. I think not to really throw out things that really is not questioned. Question authority, rather than blindly adhering to authority, and that's what Plato said, you have to think of a lie and it has to be a big one. And then repeat it, repeat it, until people believe it. So our biggest enemy is ignorance. 

Nora: Tell me about hope. 

Dr. Eger: Oh, well, that's my favorite wonderful four-letter beautiful word. How do you find hope in hopelessness? I usually talk about Hans Selye, who got the Nobel Prize in a stress study, and he said anything stressful that come to us, we either fight or flee. But in Auschwitz, it didn't work, because if you touch the guards, you were shot right away. If you tried to flee and touch the barbed wires, you were electrocuted. So you have to learn how to cope and find hope in that hopelessness. And I remember that, with God's help, I was able to turn hatred into pity. I felt very sorry for the guards, that they were brainwashed, that they told me I'm cancer to society, and the only way I ever get out of here is as a corpse. And what is happening now that happened then, we never knew what's going to happen next. Four o'clock in the morning, we stood in a pair, they were counting heads. We don't know whether we're going to end up in a gas chamber. When we took a shower, we didn't know whether gas or water is going to come out. So I think this is where we are now. It's a difficult place, to be in a limbo. We don't know what's going to happen tomorrow. There is no guarantee in life. Look at your birth certificate. There is no certainty. There is hope. There is probability. If I turn hatred into pity, then I will give myself a gift. Because while I'm angry, I'm hurting me.

If you're not happy with yourself, you will never be happy with anybody else. And so everything comes from a nice Jewish boy called Jesus. He was a nice Jewish boy and turned out to be a prophet who told us, “love thy neighbor as thyself.”

Nora: That's hard to do if you don't love yourself. 

Dr. Eger: It is, you know. It's OK to get up in the morning and say, “I love me.” It's OK to give you yourself an atta girl, atta girl, atta girl. So carry me on your shoulder. Carry me on your shoulder, and you'll never give up. Never give up. It's temporary. This is temporary, and we can survive it. Everything is temporary.

Nora: One of my friends just had her engagement broken off, her fiance I just left said this is not for me. And I sent her part of your book today. I highlighted it and sent it to her and said, “This made me think of you.” It was the part... I'll tell you exactly what I said to her. It's the part where you say, "Rejection is a word we make up to express the feeling we have when we don't get what we want. Who said everyone should love us?”

Dr. Eger: Exactly. So send him some white light and pray for him. If it's OK, because maybe you're being protected. Later on, it's much harder, and no one rejects you but you. You just wanted something and you didn't get it. So give up the drama. No one can reject me but me. 

Nobody can reject me but me. It takes COURAGE to be average. I wrote those things down. I think you should, too.

We’ll be right back.

We’re back.

Nora: Tell me about the importance of rage. Because I highlighted that whole part, too. 

Dr. Eger: Yes, yes. When you are in a car, scream, cry and then laugh like a hyena, and you're going to feel better. What comes out of your body, you've got to have rage. There is no forgiveness without rage. You can quote me on that. You've got to shake your fist. I think God allows us to be angry, but how long you're going to hold on to it? Because if I'm still angry, I'm still a prisoner. I’m a hostage of the past. I refuse that. I want to have joy and passion. I don't know if I can carry on. Can I talk about orgasms? 

Nora: Oh, yeah, go for it.

Dr. Eger: Orgasm prevents Alzheimer's. Have as many as you can, because sex is between your ears, you know? So what happens sometimes that married women, after a while, they don't want to go to bed with him. Because, you know, sex requires distance, and we put people in one bed, and that's another lecture. But what is important that what women do sometimes that they don't want to do it, and they don't want to do it, but then they do, because they think they should. They should. And then they resent the fact that they did something but they didn't want to do so, they can fluctuate from guilt to resentment. Not good. Not good. 

Nora: You talked about resentment. You also talked about the difference between rage and anger and rage as this expression of anger, and if you don't, it just spills out and hurts someone else.

Dr. Eger: Yes. You see some people look at people in two ways. There is the victim, who is weak, and there is the victimizer, who is strong. So part of the psyche will identify with the aggressor, and we call it the Stockholm syndrome. See? So it's very, very important. It's okay to be angry. Don't allow it to lead to resentment. 

Nora: How do you know if you've crossed that line?

Dr. Eger: Your gut is going to talk to you. Your gut is connected with your brain. Sometimes I tell people just to be like a little person, and go into your body, and say hello to all your organs. Say hi to the lung and heart, and hi to the liver and so on. Even in Auschwitz, it was important for us to care and it's important for us to use the word congruency. So check out what your head is telling you, and check out what your body is telling you. It's it's it's very important if you go out with a guy, I tell women, ask yourself two questions: Am I empowered with him or depleted? Am I stronger with him than without him?And you know the answer. So it’s good to talk to yourself because the way you talk to yourself changes your whole body chemistry. So be very careful when I get up in the morning, and you talk to yourself and say how you are going to create an environment in the home, that you not ask, “How are you?” and the social noises. But to say, “Gee, it’s good to see you. I missed you,” rather than questions, “Are you hungry?” And he just had a big lunch, and so he'll tell you, and then he doesn't eat the way you want him to eat, because you created his favorite food, and he's just kind of meh... “What's the matter? You don't like it?” No, I didn't tell you that I had a banquet for lunch. 

Nora: Tell me about self-love, because it came up so much in your book. Just the need to love yourself and the expression of that love. And why do people immediately think that's narcissism? I feel like people don't understand the word narcissism. And people are like, “If you like yourself, you're a narcissist!”

Dr. Eger: That's right. You know, I was invited to dinner and they just came back from Germany actually. And the mother introduced me to the children: this my shy one, this is my giggly one, this is my son, the doctor and so on. And I sat down to dinner. I was painfully shy. I was cross-eyed. My sisters blindfolded me when they took me for a walk. So anyway, I looked at the girl next to me, the shy one, and I said, “You have such beautiful profile.” And the mother kicked me under the table and said, “Don't tell her that, she's going to be conceited.” You see? So now I know in this family, they don't tell you what is good. You go play next door, and the mother said, “Just tell me when he goes into trouble,” and we concentrate on the yes, but, yes but. And by the way, they had this little boy there. And my whole dinner party was for me to observe the families and then tell my supervisor, so I can do family therapy. So I observed that little boy and Mother was washing dishes, and the little boy wanted to be picked up. And Mother said she's very busy because Dr. Eger, and the little boy noticed that they had these little German dolls in the living room. All right? So about the third time, the little boy thinks and looks in the living room, and about to go and touch one of those dolls, and Mother ran in, picked up their little boy, and said, "Didn't I tell you not to not to touch that?" So you see, children learn how to get attention, and bad attention is better than no attention. Bad breath is better than no breath. And by the way, if you read the literature on narcissism, narcissistic people don't like themselves.

Let's begin there. Self-love, yes. And when Jesus said, “turn the other cheek,” I think that's very important. That doesn't mean that you go back and do the same thing over and over again. That's what Einstein said. That's the definition of insanity. But I think what we say here, as a survivor, look at the same thing from a different perspective. If you look at Auschwitz as an opportunity. You actually realize that the more you feel that feeling and not to run from that feeling and acknowledge that surviving has to do with going through the rage, but then you decide how long you're going to hold on to that, because while you're raging, actually after a while, you can get addicted to anger. And I know people who are chronically angry, and nothing blocks intimacy more than low-level chronic anger. So I teach men not to sexualize, emotionally. 

Sometimes I work very hard. For the past 40 years with the military. And the lower the rank, the more a man comes home and he's angry all the time. He's mad as hell. Not realizing that there is another way. So I think that's why it's very good to ask yourself, “Is this the best I can do?” Because anything you practice, you become better at it. So I hope people get rid of guilt and say, “If I knew then, I could have done things differently.” My parents had tickets to go to America and they didn't. Every behavior has a consequence, not punishment. Very important, you know, to think about your thinking and have a goal, and then see what you are focusing on, because whatever you focus on, you're going to reinforce that behavior. 

So you're facing a decision. What are you holding on to and what are you willing to let go of? And that's my definition of love: the ability to let go. And say one beautiful English word, "next." Keep going, keep walking. Not revolving, but evolving. But it is very good to just be simple. What am I doing now? Is it working? You know, just… don't have to complicate things. Don't make the simple into the complicated. 

Nora: Oh, we love complicated things though. We love to pretend like there's going to be this huge system that will change everything.

Dr. Eger: When I'm hungry, I eat. When I'm thirsty, I drink. That's life. That's the miracle of life. So, yeah, it is simple. 

Nora: In your book, I loved knowing you got your doctorate when you were 50. I love that. Especially in the U.S. We tend to think, wow, the expiration date for a woman is about 35. So. 

Dr. Eger: Yes, you know, I'm 93 young. But I'm not young and foolish. I think. But I ask myself, you know, am I going to have five minutes of pleasure and then who knows? It may not be good for my lungs, because I have a lung issue. I think it's very important to be a good mommy to you. So you got to kind of be a kind, good-loving mom to you. We carry things from generation to generation. But you know, you can stop it. Just because your parents are drinking doesn’t mean you have to. You can stop it from going to generation to generation. So don’t blame, because while you blame, you’re still a child. I don’t care how old you are.

Nora: What has aging taught you?

Dr. Eger: Patience. Hope. And most of all, unconditional love. Yes/and person, I am. Not a yes/but person. And I think that we are as young as we feel. I can still do the high kick. I just did it yesterday and day before. And it's not as good as it used to be, so accept the fact that it's OK. It's OK to be average. I think we have goodness and kindness within us, and whatever you practice, you're going to become better at it. So practice, hopefully, self-love, which is self care, which is not narcissistic. The only one you're going to have for a lifetime is you. All other relationships will end. So there are two questions, and I'm sure you have that already. That one is when did your childhood end? I think it's very important that some of us didn't have any childhood, that we had to become little adults to take care of sick parents, to be really taking good inventory. When did your childhood end? And the second question, you know, would you like to be married to you? And I think you are probably able to sort things out. And when you’re there with your loving husband, you’re 100 percent there. Not to divide yourself. But to be 100 percent. It's really good to differentiate the being from the doing. Your being is good. God doesn't make junk. Your doing, we're talking about your behavior. In America we say, “ failed at such and such.” But that doesn't make you a failure. You see the difference. It's a big, big difference. I am a human being. 

Nora: I just wrote that down.

Dr. Eger: I'm not better than or less than. I'm not Supermensch or Untermensch, as they say in German. 

Nora: And I really wish I could talk to you for one hundred years, honestly. I can't get enough of you. You're so wonderful. (Dr. Eger: I love you so much.) You're so wonderful. I honestly, I know you have another interview, but you're just so wonderful. Thank you. Thank you. You are. You are the gift. So I appreciate you. 

Dr. Eger: You're a wonderful, brilliant interviewer. Keep on, keep on. You're a woman of strength.

Nora: Thank you. Bye!

Thank you, Dr. Eger. Because I am a lifelong learner, here are my notes and takeaways from this interview. I’ll put them on Instagram too.

It is okay to be angry, but don’t let it fester into resentment.

You’re still young, even at 93. Think about Dr. Eger getting her doctorate at age 50 and her advisor saying, “You’re going to be 50 anyway.” And just internalize that. Internalize that and then go do a thing you want to do. You’re going to be 50 whether or not you do that thing. 

Also, it takes COURAGE to be average. Tattoo that on my face. Courage to be average.

There is no forgiveness without rage. 

At one point, when she was looking in my eyes, she called grief “our cherished wound.” “You don’t try to run away from it. You don’t try to forget it or overcome it. You come to terms with it. There’s a difference.”

This entire conversation was recorded on Zoom, and we’ll eventually have that available, because seeing into Dr. Eger’s eyes as she speaks was really beautiful, and I want that for all of you.

This has been “Terrible, Thanks for Asking.” I’m Nora McInerny. Our production team is Marcel, Jeyco… Jeyco? Jeyca Maldonado-Medina. Hannah Meacock Ross. Jordan Turgeon. And Phyllis Fletcher, who is leaving us. [fake crying] WHY, PHYLLIS? Why? 

Just kidding. Congratulations, Phyllis, on your new job. We love you forever. We are so grateful that we got to work with you. You’re so fantastic. And we will miss you. Our listeners will miss you. You will be missed. You’ll be missed. They’ll know. They’ll know you’re gone. What else? Oh! Our theme music is by Geoffrey Lamar Wilson. We’re a production of American Public Media — APM, colloquially. No one at APM is like “American Public Media.” That’s just too many syllables. Too many letters. 

This episode was recorded in my closet. If I’m very quiet I wonder if you can hear the birds outside. We’ve got a lot of good bird noises. 

I really loved this conversation with Dr. Eger. It was very… I don’t know? Someone offers you a conversation with someone like Dr. Eger, you just say yes. You’re just like yes! Yes yes yes. We’ll do that. We’ll do that. And uh… yeah, I don’t know. What a cool life. Cool life. Okay! All right, bye guys.