Josh was born the week after his father died from cancer. At the time of his birth his mother was in a deep state of mourning the loss of her young husband. Six months after his birth, his mother received the shocking news that she too was suffering from a life threatening form of cancer.
The next four years of the mother’s life were filled with weekly visits to the hospital, intermittent long-term hospitalizations and several plane trips to areas in the country that specialized in treating the relatively rare form of the disease. Throughout these years, Josh was cared for by a variety of different caretakers. At first, he was taken in by an aunt. After several months he was cared for at the home of a cousin. Eventually, several nannies were hired to care for Josh during the prolonged periods when his mother was not physically capable of looking after him.
In grade school, Josh was viewed as a bright boy who was a perpetual underachiever. He seemed void of energy and he lacked any drive to achieve. In the early grades, his teachers did not pressure him and accepted his lack of enthusiasm and achievement as a natural result of the stressful situation in which he was living. By the time Josh reached sixth grade he had fallen far behind in his studies. His mother’s health had improved after undergoing a series of experimental treatments. However, by this time, Josh was detached from almost all connections outside of the home. Although he went to school, he did absolutely no school work. Although he had a friendly and likable personality, he made little effort to achieve any sort of relationship with friends. After school, he would come home and spend hours in front of his computer.
Josh was examined by a psychiatrist and a psychologist and was diagnosed as suffering from depression. He was prescribed anti-depressant medication but would not agree to participate in individual therapy. For a brief period, Josh’ participated with his mother and sister in family therapy. However, Josh’s mom terminated the family treatment when she felt the therapist was blaming her for Josh’s lack of motivation. The mother perceived the therapist as blaming Josh’s depression on her lack of presence in his life.
By the time he reached high school, Josh was basically not functioning on any level. There were no friends, no learning and no sense of joy in anything. The professionals advised the mother to send Josh to a residential treatment program. Seeing no other choice, Josh was sent to a program in Montana. The program was based on a very structured system of reward and punishment. Children were able to advance levels and gain privileges based on their performance. Unfortunately, soon after arriving in the treatment center, Josh simply curled up into the fetal position and refused to participate in any activities. He seemed oblivious to any punishment or any reward.
At this point, Josh’s mother was truly panicked. In desperation, she spoke to a friend in Israel and asked whether there was anyone in Israel who could help with her son. The friend was a social worker who had recently participated in a project that Dr. Chesner had supervised for at risk youth in the Jerusalem school system. The social worker recommended that they meet with Dr. Chesner. Being without any other option, they boarded a plane and appeared at Dr. Chesner’s doorstep in Jerusalem.
Dr. Chesner describes his first meeting with Josh and Josh’s amazing development:
When I met Josh he was in a somewhat autistic state. He had almost no human connection. At our first meeting he put his head down on the table and actually fell asleep. He was clearly trapped in heavy armor that was his only way of protecting himself from what he perceived as a world that was at best indifferent to him, and at worst extremely hostile and dangerous. At the end of a two hour meeting, I offered Josh the option of spending some time living in my house for one month of the summer. When I told Josh that he would be free to return home whenever he wanted, he eyed me skeptically. I explained that he had to make the choice in terms of what was the best option for him in his life. I assured him that I would not keep him against his will. Josh was fifteen years old at the time, but he really had almost no sense of self. He was incredulous at the fact that I told him he could choose whether to stay with me or not. His entire life energies had been spent on protecting himself from the threat of the outside world. He simply could not believe that someone was offering him a sense of partnership with the outside world. I told him that he seems to be quite intelligent and that intelligent people are capable of sensing what is best for them. If he would want to try my program out, I would be honored to have him as a student. For Josh, my initial offer was an experience in wonderment. At first, he was startled by the fact that I respected his opinion and attributed importance to it. When he was taken to the program in Montana, he had been escorted by two security guards. Secondly, Josh was amazed over the notion of free choice. He had never felt that any of the significant life decisions he had to make were in his own hands. Decisions had always been made by others and he viewed himself as a victim of a relatively cruel and uncaring external fate.
From a conceptual understanding, Josh had never experienced the wonderment of the external world to a sufficient extent. As a result, the fundamental sense of self and the primary narcissism that is necessary to give life energy was not accessible to him. It was clear to me that our only hope for coping with Josh and giving him a chance for life happiness was to fill up an empty self with massive doses of wonderment.
In order to create a sense of wonder in a young man who would not view himself or the world as a wonderful place, I fashioned a program for Josh that included all the adults who were around Josh. My family, the staff at our school and Josh’s mother and relatives in the States committed ourselves to a massive effort of wonderment. We would try to provide a 15 year old with massive doses of positive attention that life circumstances did not provide him in a consistent way in his early years. In order to do this, I understood that we would have to create a certain shared mind set among all adults who were around Josh. First, I realized that before we could expect Josh to join our world, we all needed to find ways to marvel at his world. We needed to meet him and be wowed by him where he was at, before we could expect him to attempt functioning where we wanted him to be.
Finding wonder where Josh was holding when he first arrived was not an easy task. With the exception of eating and sleeping, the only activity that he engaged in and displayed any sense of vitality was the activity of playing a computer game called World of Warcraft. I learned about World of Warcraft when I was having a discussion with Josh about his interests. He told me that he was really interested in WOW. I excitedly replied that I also was really interested in studying WOW. He then asked me if I play WOW and I told him that I actually try to live WOW. It took a few moments until we each realized that we were referring to different WOWs. Josh’s WOW was the abbreviation for the game ‘World of Warcraft’. My WOW was the WOW reflex that in my view provides the basis for happiness in life. We both chuckled at the confusion sometimes brought about by the inexactitudes of language. I felt a bit of Divine Guidance on my shoulder, as the very thing that invigorated Josh had the same acronym as the response that I saw as critical to his future development.
In any case, it became clear to me that since World of Warcraft was the only source of conscious vitality that Josh could relate to, we all needed to start producing WOW responses to Josh’s mastery in the game of WOW. In order to do this, several of Josh’s teachers began to learn WOW strategies. We began to learn the different alliances that could be made and the specific functions and responsibilities of each type of player. We started to become aware of the importance of WOW gold in order to buy equipment to make you into a better and more attractive fighter. One of Josh’s aunts actually began playing the game and would video chat with Josh online as the two played together. We asked Josh if it was okay to watch him play. He agreed and we expressed our amazement over the adroitness of his hand eye coordination, and of his commitment and reliability to the guild of friends to which he belonged. As our focused amazement on Josh’s interest continued, Josh gradually began joining our world. He began to leave his curled up fetal position and began attending classes. He started displaying an interest in reading, and he started interacting with other children. Josh graduated high school with outstanding grades. Upon leaving high school, Josh was able to rent his own apartment and begin working in an apprenticeship as a carpenter. He has also started to take an interest in caring for his physical self and has taken off 50 pounds over the past year. He has formed friendships and is now considering starting college.
The above account of Josh’s story displays the power inherent in amazement and wonder. Josh needed to be reminded that he was created in God’s Image and hence of infinite value. Until he felt valued enough, he was unable to join the world. He felt there was no place for himself because he had no feeling for his self. At first, he used World of Warcraft as a means of escaping from reality. In order to reach Josh, his parents and teachers had to enter into his fantasy universe. They realized that this was the only place where Josh felt any worth. When they engaged Josh in his world, and showed wonder and amazement at his prowess there, Josh was capable of taking the first baby steps into joining us in our world. This is the power of wonder. It is the magic that allows a lost soul to begin to feel grounded and part of a family and a community.Please share this post!