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  • Keep Looking?
  • Warren S. Poland

She was one of the psychoanalysts who had managed to escape the Nazis and come to the States, and indeed she was resilient and flexible enough to prosper in the New World. Her unique combination of respect for others, unquestionable personal integrity, and uncommon youthful vitality made her someone children intuitively trusted. As a result she not only flourished as a child analyst, but with her rare passion for psychoanalytic inquiry she also eventually became the cherished teacher of a new generation of child analysts in the several cities in which she lived during the journey of her American career.

As I have heard tell, at one point she visited friends from the old country who had managed to immigrate to Brazil. They too had established clinical careers, but like her they had hoped to settle in the States. Now, after several years and very many unsuccessful applications, they had at last obtained their longed-for visas. But they had a problem.

Although for several generations their families had been secure in their homelands, they themselves had lost almost everything in their running away from tyranny. No longer trusting in security, now believing that safety might always be fleeting, they had taken their modest new savings and invested them in Brazilian emeralds. If ever again they had to move precipitously, at least some of their wealth would be portable.

But what to do about their visas to the States? If they declared the true value of the gems, the import taxes would take away a significant portion of the tiny amount they had accumulated. If they did not declare the gems but were found to be hiding them at the time of travel, they might lose all future hope of entry. The risks were great. [End Page 257]

Perhaps, they wondered, their friend would carry the emeralds for them, hidden in her suitcase. The financial risk remained, but the danger of their being permanently barred from America would be removed.

Such defiance of rules was alien to her characteristic integrity, but she also was a woman who knew the imperatives of reality. Hesitant though she might feel, she readily acceded to their request.

As she carried her luggage toward the door marked "Nothing to Declare," a customs officer waved her over and said, "Please open each of your suitcases!" The officer slowly, methodically, and she thought a touch unnecessarily dramatically, searched each bag. He had the look of triumph on his face when he found buried in the corner of one of the bags something she had actually forgotten, two pounds of Brazilian coffee beans she had bought as a souvenir to take back home with her.

As he confiscated the coffee beans, he condescendingly smiled and offered a piece of advice: "Let me tell you something. With your face, I suggest you never try to smuggle something past customs. It will never work. Your face will always give you away."

Later she told the story as an anecdote. However, as I said, she had a passionate dedication to psychoanalytic inquiry, so when she told the story she always finished with a word of analytic advice of her own: "When you find the coffee beans, keep looking for the emeralds."

Keep looking. If only life were that easy. It can be, of course, in fiction and in theory, each of which has its own constraints—but not the constraints of actuality. When one happens to be a specific real person working with another person who is struggling to optimize life while dealing with the pressures of time, life is never so simple.

A minor experience of my own when I was young led to a different conclusion from that of the wise older-generation colleague who hid the emeralds. I was a young and politically [End Page 258] passionate college student at a time when Richard Nixon, then for me a personification of evil, was vice president. Nixon had done something I felt was egregiously foul, so rather than write him a college student's complaining crank letter, I wrote a hero of mine, Adlai Stevenson, who I already knew would respond to my letters...


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pp. 257-261
Launched on MUSE
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