A Snapshot of Meaningful Moments with Prof. Dr. Elisabeth Lukas

Maria Marshall, Ph, RP

If I was to arrange my memories with Dr. Elisabeth Lukas in a photo album, the album would span several decades. In this essay, I will draw out my favorite pictures from the album and share them with you.

My first memory reaches back to 1982. There is a beautiful Christmas tree in my grandparents’ home. It is set on a table with glorious decorations and best of all, marzipan candies covered in chocolate and colorful, shiny wrapping paper. It is comfortable to sit under the tree and listen to the conservation of the adults sitting around the dinner table in the kitchen, adjacent to the living room. My father leads the conversation. He talks about Dr. Frankl and Dr. Elisabeth Lukas. He visited Dr. Frankl a few years earlier and is in touch with him about setting up a local telephone hotline for the prevention of suicides. It is the first initiative of this kind in our region. A lot of psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers will collaborate under my father’s guidance. The line will be available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, so many volunteers are required who are willing to help. The discussion shifts to Dr. Frankl’s book, “Man’s Search for Meaning” and the second world war. The memories of my grandmother are still vivid from the time when children she used to play with on the street were forcibly taken to unknown locations, neve to be seen again. The memories are fresh for my father as well, since his great grandfather perished in Auschwitz and his father came back alive from the forced labor camps. Everyone is silent for a while. My grandmother wipes tears from the side of her eyes. Then, my grandfather proposes to try my grandmother’s pie.

The second picture is from 1989. It is a chilli but sunny, beautiful, spring morning. My father leaves to work on his bicycle early in the morning to start work at 7:30 a.m. at his hospital. I have some time before I need to leave for school. There is a noise at the door as the flap of the mailbox closes. I run downstairs to empty the contents and retrieve a brown envelope with my father’s name and address on it. It is written with a blue fountain pen and impeccable spelling of our address 16 Vase Stajića, Subotica, Jugoslavien. The sender is Dr. Lukas and her husband, Mr. Gerhard Lukas, at the South German Institute of Logotherapy in Fürstenfeldbruck, Germany. I place the envelope on the living room table, ready for my father to open when he comes home from work. That evening, I see for the first time some images of Dr. Frankl and Dr. Lukas in the Jahresbericht (the Annual Report) of Dr. Lukas’ Institute. I sit in a comfortable armchair covered with grey velvety fabric and spend hours taking in the images.

The third picture is from 1991. There is a war in Yugoslavia. Everyone suspected that war would break out, but no one was really prepared for it. As soon as I arrive home for the summer holiday after my first year of university, my parents send me back to Hungary with the earliest train in the morning. All I can take with me is a backpack. They reassure me that they will join me later that day, when they cross the border in their large van with my six siblings, pretending to go on a holiday. They give me the address where I should go and wait for them. The day seems like an eternity. Finally, late in the evening, they arrive. They made it and got through the border safely. The van is packed to the brim. Even then, there is only one suitcase for each person. Inside mine, I discover the few books by Frankl that my father owns and used to read in the dim light at night, with pen in the hand.  The books are heavily used, and the pages somewhat discolored brown, with shorthand side notes, and some exclamation marks. The yearly reports from the South German Institute are there as well, the whole package enveloped into a few T-shirts. This is the only literature that travels with us during the next few weeks while we wait to receive the immigration papers to Canada. The waiting seems unending. We wash our clothes in rivers. We sleep in abandoned parking lots or quiet streets, in the car. Finally, after two months of hope against all the odds, the visas are granted. We book plane tickets for nine persons: two adults and seven children, to Calgary, Alberta. We are off to the “unknown.” The suitcases are boarded onto the plane. They fly with us to this new land.

The fourth picture is from 1997. Nearly ten years have passed since we have been in Canada. The date is September 2. I am in the Counselling Psychology Doctoral Program at the University of Alberta and have just received a list of signatures from committee members who approved that my doctoral research with the title, “The Applications of Viktor E. Frankl’s Logotherapy in Counselling Psychology” can go ahead. Six committee members have approved the proposal and recorded their signatures in black ink. I am beyond words, elated. I have no idea that thousands of kilometres away, on the other side of the ocean, in Vienna, Dr. Viktor E. Frankl passed away on this day. I do not have e-mail and no internet. But I do have Dr. Frankl and Dr. Lukas’ books with me, and that is enough to get me started in my work.

The fifth picture is from the year 2000. I have just finished my Doctoral Dissertation a few months ago. It is November, and I am walking toward the South German Institute of Logotherapy. Dr. Lukas has invited me to be her special student at the South German Institute of Logotherapy. After participating in several presentations that she offered in Canada, the United States and in Germany, today is the day of the final exams. The class time seems to have passed very fast. It was a stellar opportunity to hear Dr. Lukas speak and demonstrate how she applies the principles of logotherapy in practice. As she talks, my attention is all on her. I soak in every word and every movement. I feel that I understand her very well, even though when she askes me if there are any nettles in Canada, I get so embarrassed that I stutter something like: “I do not think so.,” in German. To which Dr. Lukas says that that maybe I live in places where there are no nettles! There is a wonderful book that she hands out as a present to the class, written by one of her former students.  It is about “Ortie” a little nettle who grows up to be different from the other plants around her, and must learn that she too has an important place to fill in the world. In this class, I get to know people who become life-long friends and colleagues. Among them are Dr. Alexander Batthyany, in charge of the Viktor Frankl Archives at that time, and the late Dr. Cvijeta Pahljina, a psychiatrist from Croatia, who knew my father. Everyone in the class is very supportive and I quickly forget that speaking German is not effortless. Will I do well on this final exam? I spent the entire night reading through the books again.

The sixth picture is about the final exam in Dr. Lukas’ office. It is the end of November, and Christmas is approaching fast. We are sitting around a large, round, glass table. In the middle is a candle. Dr. Lukas light it, which gives a reassuring sense of comfort and peace. She asks me a few introductory questions and then to describe the qualities of the human spirit. I do know some things, and she adds a few more concepts about the relevance of the resources of this specifically human dimension in health care. We speak about the first and the second Creed in Frankl’s logotherapy, according to which the essence of the person, the spirit can not become ill. It is a healthy core and resource. A person can become ill, but behind the mask of the illness, the spirit is always present. A person may be disturbed, but they can not be destroyed. At the end of the exam, Dr. Lukas does not tell me if I passed or failed, because this is not a pass or fail exam. I find out why. Dr. Lukas trusts me to keep learning and applying logotherapy and she has confidence in me. We walk to the front of her office where all of Frankl’s book and her books are exhibited on shelves. She invites me to indicate, from among all the books that I see on the shelves, the ones that I already have, and which ones I do not have yet. I am hesitant to admit how many books I still do not have, but I want to be honest, so I point to all the beautiful new editions, one more desirable than the other. One by one, Dr. Lukas lifts the books from the shelf and gives these books to me as a present!  I have no words for her kindness and no words to describe how I feel. I am now the proud owner of almost each of her available books, and several new editions of Dr. Frankl’s books in German.

My book collection has been growing ever since. This is thanks partially to my husband, Edward, who has the same love for logotherapy as I do. Together, we direct the Ottawa Institute of Logotherapy in Ottawa, Canada. We have five children ad we distribute our time between taking care of the children, seeing patients, research, writing, and teaching logotherapy and related topics. Our connection with the Vienna Institute is fostered through a bond of friendship and collegiality that has endured the past twenty years.

What was Dr. Lukas’s influence on me? More than what one can express in words and write in an essay. I look up to Dr. Lukas as pioneer in presenting and teaching the applications of logotherapy in clinical practice and transmitting the ideas of Dr. Frankl in their purest form. I admire her work ethic and sound judgement. I admire her wisdom and her peaceful manners. I am in awe of the number of books she has written over the years and the knowledge and experience that she has in the areas of logotherapy and existential analysis that is helpful for clinical practice and for everyday living. I like her charming sense of humor and her sophistication. More than any other female psychologist, Dr. Lukas is a role model whose influence I cherish. Despite the distance in miles, Dr. Lukas feels close in spirit.

Nowadays, I am with Dr. Lukas, each time I cite her books, articles, or presentations. She is mentioned and referenced in most all the books that we have ever published through the Ottawa Institute of Logotherapy. Thanks to technology, I can regularly follow her presentations on the television or radio and get notified about her new publications.

With Dr. Lukas, Viktor Frankl’s Logotherapy and Existential Analysis continues to be an invitation to keep learning, reading, thinking, and comprehending, to be able to give and to give generously. Finally, to live, and to live to the fullest.