A few weeks ago, I lost another longtime friend. He was the second of three that ‘left the building’ over the period of a month. I discovered that Murray Needleman had died when I received a text from a mutual friend, Yvonne Kaye. Not that there is any good way to find out, but seeing the stark message in black and white was shocking, particularly since I was already feeling raw over my sister-friend Ondreah’s passing. Murray was a psychologist whose work I was introduced to when he (like our friend) hosted a weekly radio show on what was then a Philadelphia based station called WWDB. Both shows were what I would call psycho-spiritual and touched on healing and relationships and the workings of the mind; essentially, what makes people tick. His solid Philly accent…you would know it if you heard it, was comforting, his style playful and his insights spot on. At the time, my husband and I were the publishers of a magazine called Visions which focused on wellness, spirituality, the environment, and peace and social justice. We contacted Murray and asked to interview him. I need to see if I have a copy of that issue since we stopped publishing in 1998, a few months before my husband died. I will gaze at the smiling face of someone who was described as a “Jewish Buddha”. He wore Birkenstocks all year round and a guayabera (shirts that men typically wear in Cuba) regardless of the season. His bald pate shone through a ring of curls.
I had the joy of interviewing him a few years ago on my radio show called It’s All About Relationships. As I sat at my dining room table in PA, with my producer in Canada and Murray 30 minutes away, it felt as if I was right there next to him. I was mesmerized by his masterful storytelling and the way he wove ideas together. To say he was a brilliant therapist is an understatement. A year or so after Michael died, I found myself sitting across from Murray in his office that was decorated with all manner of colorfully creative items. Yoda (my favorite little green sage) stood among them, as well as a sign that referenced humor, paradox, and change. One of the most delightful things was an ear on a spring that had a sign on it, reading “I only have ears for you.” That was quite the reflection of Murray’s counseling style, so present was he when we spoke. I had brought to the session a fear of having a new partner die too. He leaned over and said, “I want you to repeat this sentence…come to me, I won’t kill you.” Gulp…did he ever nail it? My track record since then is stellar. No one I have been with over the last 20 years has died, as far as I know.
The second area we touched on was my persistent need to change, adapt and evolve since I never felt quite good enough. He asked if I could accept myself “as is”. My response was that I guessed I had to. “No, no,” he repeated, “Are you willing to accept yourself as is?” At that point, I sighed and surrendered. When I got home, I typed those two words in capital letters and brought the paper into work with me. At the time I was a social worker in a psychiatric hospital. When my clients saw it tacked to the wall in my office, they asked what it meant. I explained it to them and asked them the same question Murray had asked me. When I left that job, I packed the paper in with my other stuff and when it came time to unpack in my new office in a community mental health center, the paper was crumpled. I was about to print out another one but then smiled as I reminded myself, ‘as is’. And so it was.
A few days ago, I cleaned out the voicemail on my phone and I teared up when I heard that familiar voice echo back from this past Spring as he wished me (in the first message) exciting adventures in Ireland which was my dream of a lifetime trip back in May and then the second message about getting together with Yvonne. We were never able to make scheduling work and oh how I wish we had, so I could have hugged him one more time. Murray was as cuddly as they come.
He called me “Dear Heart,” and he did have one of those himself. I always felt seen, known and heard in his presence.
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Photo courtesy of the author.