​My recent awe- some Swiss adventure

Posted by Dr. Dan Gottlieb in Life After Paralysis on October 17, 2017 # Travel

I’ve been fortunate enough to travel much of the world. I’ve seen Alaska, Taiwan, Barcelona and Israel to name a few. But as I age and my body gets weaker, I’ve worried that I might not have the energy to do another big trip. But when my significant other said that she always dreamed of seeing Switzerland, I thought I would give it a try. And then a few minutes later, I remembered an old parable my rabbi told me about 15 years ago. He said that when we die we meet God and he asks us to give an accounting of all of life’s pleasures we did not partake in. And he went on to give an example: “it’s as though God says I built you these Alps, why didn’t you go see them?” Okay, I’m not a believer, but I figure it can’t hurt cover my butt just in case! So off we went to Switzerland in early September.

Getting over there is the easy part. Finding hotels, tourist sites and a vehicle is much more complicated. When I visited Barcelona, I found a company that books trips for people with disabilities (Disabled Accessible Travel). The owner and tour guide had MS, which made him both knowledgeable and understanding. So, when we decided to go to Switzerland, I called him to see if he could help.

He found us and extraordinary tour guide. This man was a health scientist whose life was devoted to making his country more accessible for all. In addition, early in his career he managed a facility for disabled adults.

Our adventure began in Geneva where we spent time driving around Lake Geneva. And for the next seven days, he took us through various small quaint towns like Bern and Zermatt and through glorious countryside’s. Some of the great memories of this trip took place driving for up to two hours going from one place to the other. The views were breathtaking and at one point I turned to Joan and said, “I feel like I am living inside a screensaver!”

Then we saw the Matterhorn.

At nearly 15,000 feet, it’s one of the highest peaks in the world. It’s also the most photographed mountain in the world. When we got off the various trains that took us up as high as 10,000 feet, we had a crystal-clear view (very unusual as they tend to get a lot of clouds). Joan and I walked up to the railing and looked at each other and cried. We looked at the mountain again and just held each other.

But why did we cry? We cried from gratitude because we had the great good fortune to bear witness to this magnificent piece of nature. But we also cried from the experience of awe. It’s that feeling we get when we see something that makes us open our mouth and eyes just a little wider.

Awe is more than just wonder; its about knowing how small we are in the broad scheme of things. And there is something about experiencing our smallness that helps us feel peaceful and secure knowing that the world is functioning out there and for that moment, we stop living inside of our heads! The Persian poet Rilke said: “I am too small in this world and not small enough to make every moment holy”. Awe makes every moment holy. It can help us feel more generous of spirit and compassion towards our fellow humans and our planet.

But the trip also had some disappointments. I had wanted to take yodeling lessons. Not for any good reason, but I just wanted to be the world’s first 71-year-old quadriplegic yodeler. But we just didn’t have time.

We also never had fondue Swiss are famous for when we were over there. You know, the act of sticking pieces of bread into boiling cheese. To be honest, I felt the same kind of regret about missing fondue as I do when I realized I missed my dentist appointment!

Seriously, I wish for all of us that we have lives filled with awe.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.