“My Personal Life Journey Through the Lens of Mort Laitner”

“Reflecting on My Personal Life Journey Through the Lens of Dr. Mort Laitner”

By contentAbdulrahman A. Alsaeed
Professor Mort Laitner inspired me despite the differences between his generation and mine. Different music genres, different country, different culture, and a different religion, but I still feel some of the core events in his life are similar to mine. His father, Dr. Wolf Laitner, lived an amazing life. He was a survivor, a hero, and an inspiration to a lot of people including my professor. From World War II, and surviving many death camps to moving to the States and living his life with his family. Professor Mort inspired me with his knowledge, his stories, and his humbleness among many other great qualities that I saw in him.
One of the main events in my life was when I graduated high school. It was the time to decide what career or path I wanted to pursue, and what major I should study. As a son of doctor, my father’s first and only choice for me was to become a doctor. I was not the only one who had this situation as professor Mort had the same issue with his parents. I remember I failed in three subjects out of the five courses I was taking during the first semester, then I decided to tell my dad that medical school was not the right place for me. I could not sleep that night. I laid my head on my pillow and kept thinking and thinking until I felt like my head was going to explode from asking myself questions like, “What is he going to say ?,” “How is he going to react?,” and “Am I going to be the black sheep in the family?.” I fell asleep late that night asking God to guide me to the right path. I woke up the next morning and went to my parents. My dad was reading the newspaper, and my mom was sipping on a cup of tea, I said to my parents, “I have something to say,” and I asked them if they kindly can listen to everything till the end.
It was one of the scariest moments in my life. I began talking about how each person has different interests in life. “Cut to the chase” my dad interrupted me with a thick, and a serious tone. I felt more nervous, “I don’t want to be a doctor” I blurted out. They glanced at each other before looking back at me with dagger eyes. I kept going, “I feel like this is not what I want to do especially that I failed three courses this semester, and I do not like failing, and I don’t want to fail again.”
“I knew you were my disappointment,” my dad yelled, “I thought you had it in you, but yeah, I guess I was wrong,” he kept going. “You are stupid! And your cousins are better than you. They are pursuing their medical degrees, and they are almost done.”
“Son, you are still too young to decide,” my mom whispered. “We know what is right for you, and what is not.” When they stopped talking, I left the room with my heart filled with hatred, and my stomach burning with frustration.
The next day was weirdly different. My dad woke me up in the morning saying, “Follow me to the living room, we want to talk to you.” I jumped from my bed, washed my face, and rushed to the living room.
My mother started talking, “We thought about what you said, and as much as we want you to be doctor, we still want you to be successful in your life. If you think that this is not what you want to do, then do not do it.” I was shocked! I was not expecting this at all.
My dad said, “Listen son, I am immensely sorry about what I said last night. I was furious and I said those harsh words unconsciously maybe because I am jealous of your uncles.”
“I am greatly thankful for your understanding,” I replied. I had mixed feelings inside me at that moment, but I was over the moon. I honestly could not believe that my parents changed their minds. They were willing to accept my choice. I ran to my computer, opened the university’s website, and joyfully started filling out the “changing-major form.” Now after almost twelve years, my parents and I still remember that day as if it was yesterday. Now we laugh about it, and even share it with my younger siblings.
Surprisingly, Dr. Laitner had a very similar story to mine. His parents wanted him to be a doctor but he became a lawyer and I became a biomedical engineer. Part of what our professor taught us is ethics, along with the seven philosophers and how their theories make a lot of sense when applied to our daily life or on any major life events. If we contemplated Martin Buber’s theories we will clearly notice that my parents treated me with an “I-I” relationship, which means that they see me as an extension of my father and I should become a doctor. Furthermore, the next morning they treated me with an “I-THOU” relationship, which is that each person is recognized as being different and having their own values.
Dr. Mort wrote a book about his father, and I read part of it. It was one of the most deeply-moving books I have ever read. The way he described and explained some of the events made me feel, smell, and imagine many of them. I lived such moments with his words, and that is one way of showing how words can be powerful.
A major incident that moved me the most is when Dr. Wolf Laitner talked to Saul and David in the death camp. During the last days of the war and before they all got liberated by the Soviet Army, he saved their lives by telling stories to keep their mind off death and food as David said “Well it was near the end of the war. We were all imprisoned in a concentration camp… inches away from death. We were ill and starving. We were skin on bones. We heard the bombs exploding in the distance, but we didn’t know how many days it would be before the Russian Army liberated us. Every minute, prisoners died all around us. Both of us were sixteen years old, and your father knew we were virgins, He kept telling us to keep struggling, not to give up on life, your father said we should stay alive, because making love to women was something we had to experience. He told us one story after another about his sexual escapades.” It is impressive how Dr. Wolf used making love to women as a weapon against hunger, fear, and death, and it totally worked. Saul and David are alive many years after this incident, thanks to Dr. Wolf.
Dr. Wolf expressed numerous valuable lessons in this specific scene. He definitely showed that every human has an “Absolute Value” according to Immanuel Kant. He also used the gift of storytelling to take those two teenage brains away from thinking about death, when he himself was in need of support and emotional help. St. Thomas Aquinas said “Goodness preserves life, and the human race” and I believe Dr. Wolf saved two human lives among many others just by talking to them, and encouraging them to think positively. That leads us to John Stuart Mill and his philosophy in which he states “Ethical choices should be based on their consequences and not just on duty,” which he called “Consequentialism”. He made an ethical choice in a very critical situation and his decision was based on a great benefit.
David whispered tearfully, “He kept our minds off of food and death. He gave us hope in our darkest moments. Your father, without medicine, used the only tool left in his bag… his brain,” which leads us to John Rawls and his theory about “Social Justice”. Dr. Wolf made a choice in order to protect those who are in a lesser position by sharing his stories with all the beautiful Italian women that he met when he was in college. I still admire and appreciate the way he acted in that situation. He never thought about, “What is in it for me?”, “Why would I waste my time talking to them when I am the one who needs the time to keep my self motivated”.
Even after Dr. Wolf’s passing away, my professor still gets life lessons from him. As this story showed, Dr. Mort never knew about this story before, and never thought that he will hear something like it, until Saul and David showed up at the funeral.
Dr. Mort Laitner really inspired me. I am truly thinking of writing a book about my father and how he taught me so much about this life. I want to write about him while he is alive, so I can hear the soul-moving stories told by him, instead of hearing it from his friends while he is not around.
Writing this story made me miss my dad which made me call him today. I told him “Dad, you are a great father, doctor, survivor, and my hero,” just like how Dr. Laitner describes his father, “I love you from the bottom of my heart, and I can’t ask for a better father. You provided a roof over our heads, food on our table, and cloths on our backs.
“I love you too son” he replied.
I reminded him of my first year in college, and how I decided not to become a doctor, and how mad he was. He laughed and said, “but you are a great biomedical engineer who is pursuing his graduate degree across the world, I am proud of you son”. I was speechless, struggling to hold my tears, I just could not respond. After few moments I said, “I will always be proud of you dad, and I will always try to make you proud.”


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