So the question now is, what do we do without him? Michael Smith was a doctor, a great doctor. He was born in California and when he got his medical degree as a psychiatrist, he could have stayed right there in California, say Santa Monica, and had a beautiful life taking care of Hollywood stars, sunning, and swimming. Instead of that, he moved to New York City where he counseled prisoners on an island jail and worked at Lincoln Hospital’s treatment center in the Bronx. The medical director there, Dr. Richard Taft, was murdered. Other psychiatrists at Lincoln found new positions in safer areas, but not Michael. He spent a lot of time talking to the staff and to patients, and he read about Dr. Wen, a surgeon in Hong Kong who used acupuncture to perform surgery on an opium addict. The patient told Dr. Wen that his craving for opium left him during the acupuncture.
Dr. Michael Smith, I believe, became the Archangel at this time. With his education and brilliance, he could have certainly found a much better paying job, but he put his patients first – and their needs. At this time, instead of job hunting, he did research on acupuncture and started to develop the NADA protocol. He placed his patients in a room together to calm their fears, so they could learn that recovery is not done in isolation but with others who are in recovery from drugs, alcohol and mental illness. There they sat, in quietude, in peace, letting the feelings of goodness and wellness return – and in doing so allowing their own spirits to soar. To believe that they matter, that they count and can be accountable.
Unlike many of us, he used few words. He parsed words. He spoke softly so we listened harder. But harder is not what he was about. Michael was about softer. Softer and more gentle recovery for those in need. He was the opposite of the opiate doctors. He never had to check the stock market to see how the pharmacy stocks were doing. No. No need. His patients were getting off of opiates. Methadone was no longer an option. Full recovery from drugs and pain became the mantra. The programs of Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous were recommended in a clinic that became a holistic center for health care.
So what did he do for the thousands of patients he saw? What made them better? Another judge and I went to Lincoln one miserable rainy day and asked him that question. What do you do to these patients? Dr. Smith let us know that we were poor lawyers: “If you were a good lawyer, you would not ask me the question. You would ask the patients. Wouldn’t it be self-serving for me to answer?” We sheepishly left his office. We talked to a room full of patients all with needles in their ears. They talked to us. We listened. We had a hard time listening though because the tears started coming. We were moved by the stories of their lives and how, for the first time, they had a life.
This noble doctor had his own mantra, “Whatever the problem is, you have to make it better.” As a child, he suffered from a speech disorder. He taught himself to think before he spoke and he learned to speak slowly. What started as a great hindrance in life became a blessing, a mitzvah. He came to believe that we are change-makers of our own destiny. Dr. Smith counseled patients not to feel bad about themselves or to punish themselves. He treated each patient with dignity, and helped them understand that: “Whatever the problem is, you have to make it into something good.”
You may have seen the “Archangel” flying to Ethiopia, Nepal, Ireland, India, Africa. You could only see him if you traveled economy class as he did. He has brought treatment and recovery principles and the NADA protocol to the world. Police in India, judges in America, Chinese acupuncturists working in HIV clinics, doctors and nurses helping the mentally ill through the use of Dr. Smith’s auricular acupuncture in Russia, Asia, throughout Europe, Canada, South America, Mexico and the Philippines.
Dr. Smith is the Johnny Appleseed of human rights to the traumatized of the world. He says that everyone has the
Right to be Drug free
The right to be nurtured with needles and beads, with tea, in 12-Step programs … the right not to be categorized … alcoholic, addict, bipolar, etc. We are all human beings, we are all sacred.
If we are asking the question of what do we do without Michael, the question has already been answered by Michael. We know the answer. We keep doing the same thing but with greater gentleness and softness and care.
Some of us stood at fire stations on 9/11, or in the Philippines for a tsunami, or in Nepal for an earthquake, or in a prison in Ireland doing acupuncture. So what do we do without Michael? It is pretty simple. We pick up our feet and leave the chains to never again capture anyone. We must bring a new day to this earth.
Each of us needs to stop the hopelessness and bring the change we dream of. Take your choice, write a book, make a documentary, do a blog, talk to the mayor, the governor, the prime minister, get the laws changed – but do something. Stop leaving home without the seeds. We need to follow the path of Michael the Archangel.
When I last saw Dr. Smith in 2017, it was the end of summer. He sat in a great chair and could see the leaves on the trees. We talked about doing a book, a documentary, something to help others learn what he taught us. He looked at me with such a great twinkle in his eyes, and said, “Yes, yes, yes.” I thought then that I would come back to New York and visit him and give him a progress report.
That is not going to happen, but let us always remember that the mark of a great person is that their work is never completed in their lifetime. And so it is with Dr. Smith. Now we have our own angel, in fact an Archangel, Michael Smith. We will ask him to open the doors for us so that we can carry on what he started. He will make it happen. He will lift us all.