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Letters to Sam: A Grandfather's Lessons On Love, Loss, and the Gifts of Life    by Daniel Gottlieb order for
Letters to Sam
by Daniel Gottlieb
Order:  USA  Can
Sterling, 2006 (2006)

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* *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Daniel Gottlieb is a practicing psychologist and family therapist, who has been in a wheelchair for thirty-five years - since a loose, hundred pound wheel fell from a tractor trailer truck onto the roof of his automobile. His dedication immediately opens the doors of the reader's heart and soul: 'To my precious grandson Sam and all the 'Sams' in the world. May their vulnerability open our hearts so that that they can find care and we can find compassion.' Through thirty-two letters, Pop addresses facing life's challenges - from personal experience, wisdom, and what he has learned through traumatic times.

Grandson Sam was born in 2000. At fourteen months, Sam was diagnosed with a severe form of autism. Gottlieb's intimate and compassionate letters were written with the hopes that Sam would 'get to know his grandfather', in the realization that he also got to know Sam through these letters. The author tells us that his observations and perspectives from a wheelchair 'have taught me a great deal about courage, longing, and what it means to be human ... Books taught me a bit about psychology. but paralysis taught me to sit still and keep my ears and heart open so I could listen'.

Pop has much to tell his grandson about the challenges of being different, and his own times in a 'dark tunnel'. Gottlieb reminisces about the break-up of his marriage, the deaths of his ex-wife, sister, and parents, as well as raising two daughters, Ali and Debbie (Debbie is Sam's mother). In each 'Dear Sam' letter - from 'Your Birth' to 'Your Birthday Gift To Me' - and in his Afterword, Gottlieb shares thoughts about parents' and children's responsibilities - 'to love you, protect you as best they can, try to understand you, and enjoy your laughter ... As the waters of life wash over us, we lose our sharp corners ... taking on surprising, satisfying new shapes ... So Sam your job is simply this: trust your instincts, remember your secret pact, and reclaim the wisdom you have always had.'

Pop teaches that vulnerability brings out kindness in people, and tells Sam 'So it's quite true that you have to deal with autism. But autism is not who you are ... I am not a quadriplegic. I have quadriplegia. You are not autistic. You have autism ... Sam, I would love to know the nature of your mind. I would love to feel the world inside your skin, to see what it looks like through your eyes.' Gottlieb's Letters To Sam touch readers and his perspectives make a universal connection. His sharing is deep, as when he says 'Like Abraham, you must go forward in faith, and you must always be attentive to the quiet voice of your heart.'

I found the author's inclusion of the poem Guest House by Rumi especially effective - 'This being human is a guest house / Every morning a new arrival. / A joy, a depression, a meanness, / some momentary awareness comes / as an unexpected visitor. / Welcome and entertain them all! ... Be grateful for whoever comes, / because each has been sent/as a guide from beyond.' Note that royalties from the sale of Letters To Sam are donated to Cure Autism Now.

Listen to a podcast interview with Daniel Gottlieb at

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