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New Beginnings


I was asked to write about change and new beginnings – themes associated with the Jewish New Year [5784]! A version of this was read out loud to hundreds of people at Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom on September 17, 2023.


When I was asked to write something for Rosh Hashanah I was honoured. My voice and speech impediment is why L. is kindly reading this. A friend of mine started a podcast a while ago and it got me wondering how I’d ever be on one if asked. It was never in my mind not to do it but my imaginary ask led me to a ‘figure it out mindset.’ I figured that I’d write answers in advance to a script of questions and get someone to answer for me – reading for me, like L. is doing now.


I studied at the University of Toronto in the 90s, before I was disabled, and I attended a guest lecture by the physicist Stephen Hawking. He gave a brilliant lecture using a computer-generated voice. There are ways of doing things.


I recently marked the 20th year of my brain surgery for a benign brain tumour that was blocking important brain functions and which left me disabled. It may seem like a long time now but for me, it is not finished. I am physically changed and have a new beginning. I had mentioned to someone that my 20th year was coming up and she responded by saying that I must be very grateful. To my core I am grateful but like most things, it is not a black-and-white experience.

I have many medical procedures and use several physical aids all of which might seem horrible but imagine if they did not exist given my present physicality. Yes, it sucks but I’m still grateful. Like I said, it’s not black-and-white.


During the coma a white substance was seen in my brain and to this day neurosurgeons have no idea what it was. I believe this was mystical in nature and that I was saved – but that’s me. The silver lining for me about being in a coma for so long is this first-hand experience of divine intervention. Sure, being in a coma is scary but surviving it is kind of miraculous. My parents were cautioned by many doctors not to hope for me. On the cover of my first book, ‘You Never Know’, I put a picture of white tulips as a kind of metaphor for the white substance. No one knew that – now you do.


The way I see it most people will not experience what I have in a lifetime. You might say ‘thank God’ - but I do too. As challenging as my new body is, it works. I have been called by professionals a ‘medical miracle.’ I love that I beat the odds and that it is unexplainable. I have few regrets now because I did so many things in a different body. I now do many things in this new body. Since the operation I’ve written 3 books, 1 play, and hundreds of articles: Typing with one bent finger.


Even though my physical reality is new and changed there is a continuity of ‘self.’ That is my lesson. The new beginnings and changes associated with Rosh Hashanah are about adapting to the changes and new beginnings for me. I am not starting from scratch I am finding a way to do my work in a changed body.


I was trying to think of an identifiable example and thought of aging. Our bodies change but there is a continuity of self, eh? It’s not like you wake up old and are suddenly a different person. Also, you figure out how to do things in a new changed body. For most people, the changes are slow and expected. Mine were fast and unexpected. That is the difference. Actually, we all change bodies several times in a lifetime, don’t we? I am still me, with a new physical twist. I mean, babies are the same people until they get old; their bodies truly alter.


Take gaining or losing weight to changes over time, like wrinkles. Arthritis could lead to cramped, compromised hands. Poor circulation might make it difficult to walk upstairs. A walker might be used to aid in walking. Vision gets weak. Memory could suffer. Strength is diminished. Hearing aids might be required. We need to think about disability now. Some things are chance and some are inevitable. Sometimes we expect changes and sometimes we do not.


Most people identify with a different, younger body. When I think of physical changes and new beginnings I recognize that a new self is a different version of an older self.


It is my strong belief that everyone, especially people with disabilities, needs to rethink the body. This might seem radical and it requires lots of courage, but it’s worth it. First of all, people are not “trapped” by their bodies. Although it might feel like it, a person will adapt and find ways of doing things. Naturally, there is a feeling of limitation when you are disabled. Dependency and asking for help is tough. This world is built for able bodies. There is a presumption that everyone is the same. Everyone is not the same. Differences can be very scary to many people when the goal has always been to fit in, to assimilate. Bodies are supposed to look a certain way. Industries are set up to reinforce that belief, like the beauty sector, gyms, diets, etc. We need to reassess what the body actually means. This involves two major processes: mentality and physicality. In my opinion, both are intertwined. We have ideas about the body, right?


I guess it is important for me to be realistic. This is not about denial; it is about acceptance. Acceptance for me does not preclude change. New beginnings are about blending realities and weaving the idea of identity. Fluctuation and adaptation are important qualities of new change. Obviously, it is not all unicorns and rainbows. My new beginning involves making lemonade out of lemons. Oh yes, a lot is challenging but I do what I love now, write, and the rest well, c’est la vie.


I have adapted very well to my new reality but it is not over - a new beginning, 20 years later.


“shanah tovah umtukah,” and many blessings to you all!


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