What makes a hero?
According to Philosopher and Scholar Joseph Campbell, a hero is an archetypal figure who takes a journey from his or her ordinary world, goes out on an adventure, through a decisive crisis wins a victory, then returns home transformed with gained wisdom to offer others. This podcast features inspiring stories of real people on The Hero’s Journey and the pivotal moments that changed the course of their lives forever.
Michelangelo would see a big piece of marble. He said he saw the sculpture inside and he would just cut away what didn't belong there. That's, you know, what we do to each other. We bring the very best out of each other and the rest just falls away.
I couldn’t help but fall in love with Hedy Schleifer whose warmth and radiance are informed by tremendous tragedy and triumphant resilience. Her unique life story is rich with page-turning chapters. May your soul be illuminated and guided by this great woman of valor. I’m Belinda Lams and this is The Moment When…
Psychotherapist Hedy Schleifer is an internationally renowned relationship builder and motivational speaker who guides, counsels and teaches couples, partners, business associates, therapists and families about relational maturity. Referred to by colleagues as a “therapist’s therapist,” Hedy has a unique, warm and dedicated approach on relationship building.
I usually start each episode by setting the context of how we know each other. And since we don't know each other yet, I will let how I know of you. My husband's friend and his new wife had gone to one of your students for premarital counseling, and through that they learned of you and how impactful your work is, in which case I found out about you. So I looked you up, I got your documentary, I watched your TED talk and I love your style, your transformative work that you do with people and it's so my heart as well. So that's how I know of you and I can't wait to hear what you're going to share.
Oh…I'm very touched by the story because it's a story of connections, you know? That this couple went to somebody I touched. And then they found out that I touched that person who counseled them and then they looked me up and then they—you know, it's like connection, connection, connection and I love it.
That's your theme, right?
Yes it is, it is. That's right. So touching, you know, to hear that that's how it works. Yeah, when a heart is touched, then it goes further from one heart to another. Yeah, that's beautiful. Beautiful.
Tell me about your ordinary world before you got your call to adventure.
My parents were in transit camps in Vichy France. They had been apprehended and those were the camps from which people were actually sent to Auschwitz. And my mother was this exceptional woman, engineered an escape for herself and my father and they walked through the Alps. My mother got pregnant with me. And then when she got to the border — the border was closed to refugees— and she just threw herself into Switzerland. And my father was smuggled in by one of those amazing people who smuggled people into Switzerland. The day that I was born, Paris was liberated, August 19th 1944; a very big day for the world and for my parents of course, who not only were alive but had a little baby.
And then they came back to Belgium from which they had run away and lived their life there. Had another baby, my sister. And were very much insular as Jewish people because they had been persecuted just for being Jewish. And so, they basically kind of closed the door to the outside world. They were very afraid that I would fall in love with a non-Jew and marry a non-Jew. And they didn't want me to have contact with non-Jewish people.
As a teenager, I decided that I needed to have a double life and that I had to have a secret life, and that my secret life would be that I would make friendships with non-Jewish people and learn about that part of the world. And so, the very thing they were worried about occurred.
Hedy’s call to adventure began when she dared to cross the border of her family.
There was a young man in the group, you know, my secret group. And this young man was called Robert. And Robert just was this very lovely man and I liked him and he liked me and then he loved me and then he said to me, “Look, I really want you to marry me.” And he said, “Either you marry me or I become a priest.” Oh my goodness, I couldn't bear that responsibility, you know. Oh, Robert becoming a priest and I cannot marry him. I'm not ready to marry and I'm not ready to marry him even though I loved him very much, you know? And so I engineered us to walk on the street where my parents would catch us. And they did. And my parents put me on quarantine. I could not leave the house.
Hedy would not be detained for long. She engineered another plan to cross another border, this one thousands of miles away. It so happens that she had a cousin, who miraculously escaped from the death camp in Aushwitz, and eventually settled in Sao Paulo, Brazil with her husband. This cousin would be Hedy’s ticket to freedom.
She and I just hit it off, you know, like we've known each other our whole life. And we decided that we were going to go on a very big adventure. And the adventure was to take a boat on the River Parana.
And the River Parana is in the Brazilian jungle. And these are indigenous boats that take the indigenous people who live in the jungle from one part of the jungle to another part of the jungle. And so, she and I decided we're taking like a three-week journey on this boat because it's the biggest adventure we could both be thinking about. And she had really been so restrained in that cast that, you know, the two of us decided that's it! I felt restrained with my life, you know, there were so many things I couldn't do and she felt restrained and we are going on the River Parana.
Hedy and Louzie set sail on their big adventure along with some indigenous people with children and chickens and goats. The girls sat atop the gangplank portion which was loosely attached to the bottom of the boat when sailing, and then reattached to the boat when docked, allowing the passengers to disembark.
And we are sitting there all day; Louzie with her crayons and her colors because she was this exceptional artist and me just with my eyes just taking in this incredible view. But what we didn't know was that the River Parana can go from completely calm to completely wild suddenly. And it did. And so, the part of the boat we were on started to move away from the boat, come back to the boat, away from the boat, come back to the boat. And Louzie and I held on to the border there and the people inside the boat tried to pull us in. But because I was flexible — I had moved all my life — they were able to really pull me in with my assistance. But Louzie was not flexible, and the boat closed on her and when they pulled her up she had died.
Everything I'm going to tell you I do not fully understand, because even though I didn’t speak the language, I organized for everyone on the boat to surround her. We put her on a table. They all surrounded her and together we prayed and we sang devotional songs. And I cut a piece of her hair and put it in my pocket. And then they decided that they couldn't keep us on the boat because you cannot keep a dead person on a boat. So they took us down to a part of the jungle where there was a little chapel and they left us in that chapel.
In the Hero’s Journey, the Hero meets a mentor who helps guide them in the new world. Hedy’s mentor came as a still, small voice from within.
It says to me, I'll guide you through the jungle and you'll get to a road and a car will come. And take that car. It will take you to a village where there is a doctor who can embalm the body of Louzie. From that village you'll be able to call her parents to let them know what has occurred.
And so, I started walking. The jungle comes to the top of your thigh. You know, you put your foot in but the vegetation comes to the top of your thigh. And I heard the voice saying, “Put your foot right here. And put your foot right here.” And I just did. You know, I followed where to put my foot and I did get to a road. And a car came and I stopped the car. And we went to that village from which I could call her parents to explain that they needed to come and get us. That Louzie had died in the boat and also a doctor who came back to the chapel and embalmed her body.
Two days later, Louzie’s parents sent a plane, which brought Hedy and the body of Louzie back to their home.
Now the parents of Louzie were these amazing people who all they wanted to know was how happy she was for the days that we were together. They wanted every single detail of her happiness. That's all they wanted to know. And I knew her happiness because I'd watched her, you know, and I could tell them all the things she said and all the things she did and how perfectly happy she was. And for them, it was like the biggest gift that she had been perfectly happy in a real adventure of life.
Hedy gave them the lock of Louzie’s hair, and then returned to the home of her cousin. The painful reality of what had happened began to sink in.
I felt like the person who should have died was me because I had had a life and that Louzie deserved to have a continued adventure. You know, she wasn’t the one who should have died. And I decided that I'm just not going to live. So the way I'm going to do it is I'm going to walk on the street and I'm just going to carelessly cross the street so that a car will just hit me.
The Moment When…is a pivotal moment that shifts the course of one’s life. For Hedy, that moment came in another mysterious encounter.
And so, I went down to the road of the cars. And I heard that same voice and it said, “Look, I did not guide you through the jungle for you to take your life.” And it was just so clear there that my life had a real purpose and that I didn't have a right to take my life. That it was much bigger than me. I deeply understood it. I didn't know what my purpose was but I just understood that that there was a purpose and that I'm guided in a very profound way. In ways I don't understand at all.
I’m Belinda Lams and this is The Moment When…Today we’re talking with Hedy Schleifer about her great adventure that turned tragic and the mysterious inner voice that saved her life… Her story continues.
Hedy returned to Antwerp, Belgium where she was from. It was there that she met her future husband, Yumi. Yumi was the only person who could truly understand what she had lived through. You will discover why as you now learn of his journey.
He was born in a Romanian village called Arad, a town actually Arad. And his mother who's very psychic understood that a big fire was going to come to Europe. And so she decided with her husband to leave the four children; Yumi, his brother, and the two sisters with the big extended family, and to come to the World's Fair in New York 1939, and then bring the family there. Because she really understood it's just going to be a fire. And so they went to the World's Fair, but the war broke out. And they decided that rather come back into Europe, they will work at bringing the family over there. And my mother-in-law was just this unbelievable genius decided that she was gonna learn English so she could talk to Eleanor Roosevelt and tell Eleanor about her kids. And so the State Department has a whole file on the Schleifer children because it started with Eleanor really deciding she's going to help this woman.
Anyway, in 1944, Yumi and his brother and the two sisters and an aunt decided that they could get visas, you know, because of what happened in the States, and the little girls were put on a boat that went from Constanza to Palestine of those days. And Yumi and his brother, because there was no room on the boat — the boat was already too full of refugees — Yumi and his brother went by train through Turkey with the aunt. And what happened is that the boat was torpedoed and all the survivors were machine-gunned.
On that journey toward freedom and safety, Yumi lost his two precious sisters Naomi and Yudit (of blessed memory), yet his own life was spared. He ended up living in Jerusalem for a year and then came to the United States in 1946 to join his parents. Yumi’s path eventually led him to study at Columbia University where he met a young woman named Debbie.
And Yumi and Debbie were profoundly in love and decided they were going to get married. But Debbie decided that before their wedding, she's going to Jerusalem to visit her family there. And so one day, she's sitting on the windowsill in Jerusalem with her uncle, and a Jordanian sniper kills them both.
And Yumi finds out about it because it's in the New York Times. He’s sitting in the cafeteria in Columbia University and finds out that Debbie was killed.
Yumi had inside of him this enormous scream about loss, really tragic loss. And I had inside of me this enormous scream, you know, about this type of loss. And when we met, it was as if we both understood our hero’s journey; the choice you make to live even though your losses have been so big. And so it was an immediate connection. As a matter of fact, I was born ten days after the girls were killed in the refugee boat. And strangely, Yumi and I felt that on top of the man, the woman, you know, partners, we also somehow had a brother-sister connection. Because, you know, he adored his sisters. Yumi and Yudit promised each other that when they're big they're going to marry each other because they love each other. So, you know, it was so amazing that, you know, I didn’t even know the story but that dimension of brother and sister was also in our relationship.
And so we fell in love with each other because we understood the hero's journey at a deep, deep level. And I don't think, you know, anyone who hadn’t lost at that level would have known the deeply pained young woman that came back from Brazil and could hold that pain the way Yumi knew to hold it. And the way I then knew to hold his enormous scream, you know, when it slowly began to emerge.
It's unfathomable in so many ways. I mean, survivor is not even the right word. It takes so much belief and courage to want to go on and go through this whole journey rather than just halt yourself when you were ready to do yourself in, you know, and you understood that your life was about more than that. Powerful. Powerful.
And that voice had actually gotten me to do things I never knew I could, for example, get a whole room of people I don't speak their language to pray with me around my friend.Or how to walk in the jungle. It told me where to put my feet. That was so amazing. And, you know, til I heard that voice again when it said, you know, I didn't guide you through the jungle for you to take your life. I didn't give it thought that I was guided.
Has that voice continued in your life?
In various times it's been there. And I have to get very quiet and listen. But yes, it has been there. In Hebrew it's called, kol d’mama k’tanah.It's the small whispering voice. And yes, I hear it when I get quiet, deeply quiet.
Hedy has another guiding voice in her life as well. The voice of her husband Yumi.
At every turn where I've learned something, he would say, “You must teach this. Now you've learned it, you must teach it.” And every time I taught, a deeper integration of what I now teach would occur inside of me. But the encouragement, “You must teach this,” came from him and I knew he was my mentor. You know, I knew he was pushing me at the edge where unless I go there, my life won't continue to have the higher purpose. So Yumi has been a profound mentor to me.
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Today we’re exploring how life can be found so close to death …with my guest Hedy Schleifer.
Hedy’s epic journey rewarded her with keen insight and interest in relationship building.
There is a theory that I studied in which what attracts us to the other is that we have the same wounds. And I have come to discover that we are not wounded. We’re heroes on a journey. We're not wounded. And what attracts us is that we have such a similar hero's journey that we understand each other’s war story. Carolyn Myss is the one who said, “You know this concentration on wounds is called Woundology.” And she says, “We are totally attracted to Woundology.” But it, that doesn't exist, this Woundology. We aren't wounded. We are heroes on a very challenging journey, of course, the journey of life with all the dimensions. And that the person that we’re attracted to shares that magnificent, powerful hero’s journey that you then unpack together over a lifetime and become more and more attracted to the strength and resilience and courage of this person. And you know with Woundology, we remain a victim.
And Hedy has had plenty of justifiable opportunities to be the Victim. Like when she was diagnosed with breast cancer 22 years ago.
It’s a terrifying diagnosis. Two, three hours into the terror, Yumi said to me, “Hedy, how long should we feel terrified? Two hours? Three hours? How long?” And I looked at him, it was like unbelievable, what an amazing question. And he said, “Look, once we stop being terrified, it's an adventure to be lived. It's not anymore a problem to be solved. It's an adventure to be lived.” And so he gave the adventure a name. And he called it rallying around the boob.
So, we rallied around the boob. And everyone who rallied, we called them the Boob Brigade. And so we would go to a doctor, and we'd say, “Are you ready to be on the Boob Brigade?” And any doctor who didn't understand that kind of humor was not going to be our doctor. So the Boob Brigade became you know, this international Boob Brigade and we rallied around the boob.
So I came to get my fourth dose of chemotherapy and there was a big banner that said, Welcome Cancer Survivor. So I said to the woman, “There's a mistake in your banner.” And she looked and she said, “I can't see a mistake. Is it grammatical? Is it letters? What is it?” And I said, “It’s conceptual.” She said, “Tell me.” I said, “Look, you've had the flu but do you call yourself a flu survivor?” She looked at me and she just was struck and she said, “No, of course not.” I said, “Why should I then continuously be reminded that I had cancer at one time? Why should I always be a cancer survivor?” And she says, “Oh, but I thought it was going to encourage you.” I said, “Not at all. I had cancer. I don't have it anymore and I don't want to be called a cancer survivor.” She looked at me and she said, “How should I call you?” And I smiled and I said, “Hedy Schleifer,” as simple as that. She was flabbergasted. She says, “It's all over the hospital. We have to take those signs down everywhere.”
Why do people who once had cancer have to always go back to that experience? They go on with their life. And it's Woundology because we are so attached to, Oh my God! Something terrible occurred. No, it's an adventure. It’s called rallying around the boob and we did it.
Hedy also gained relationship insight from the famous Renaissance artist Michelangelo.
It's to bring the very best that we are out of each other. Because you know, Michelangelo would see a big piece of marble. He said he saw the sculpture inside and he would just cut away what didn't belong there. That's, you know, what we do with each other. We bring the very best out of each other and the rest just falls away.
What I love and I love to teach is that in a long marriage, people are changing all the time and choosing the new person. Choosing the one you become and marrying them is so important. I remember the time I suddenly realized Yumi was my 7th husband. I had chosen him seven times already and since then, it continued, you know, to choose the man he is now.
You know, if we have the courage to unfold and to listen to the voice that guides our hero's journey, we will be different people in different eras. You know, a long marriage is about choosing again this new person and having the new adventure.
The Hero’s Journey isn’t complete until the Hero brings home the elixir to offer others. Here’s what Hedy brings back.
There are two really powerful things. And the first one is the one we're talking about, which is, that there is that inner guide that knows from a dimension we don't even understand. You know, that knows where we need to put our foot in the jungle. There is that inner guide. That's one. And that the other one is that out there in the world is another hero who can be our soul mate, who somehow probably has been traveling in the same soul cluster that you have. And the GPS brings you to them because they have a hero's journey that matches yours. And I do believe now that we are attracted to the hero who knows our hero's journey because they’ve lived it themselves.
I offered Hedy a few words from my heart to hers.
You're fascinating and I feel you. I feel your soul. I thank you for being so transparent with your being and giving yourself to the work that you do to help people, to bridge, bridge souls to one another and find the hero in each other. My heart is full Hedy. Thank you so much.
Thank you for stepping into my life the way you did, Belinda.
You can learn more about Hedy by visting her website at hedyschleifer.com. You can also follow her on FB and Instagram.
Go to themomentwhen.me to see some beautiful photos of Hedy and Yumi, as well as discover all the other episodes from Seasons 1 and 2.
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