Friday, January 15, 2016

The gift that keeps on taking

They say, "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth." But when Michael J. Fox deemed Parkinson's disease to be a gift, many people - especially those suffering from the disease - took offense at his choice of words. Nonetheless, Michael continued to describe Parkinson's as a gift, but with the following clarification:

“Because Parkinson’s demanded of me that I be a better man, a better husband, father, and citizen, I often refer to it as a gift. With a nod to those who find this hard to believe, especially my fellow patients who are facing great difficulties, I add this qualifier — it’s the gift that keeps on taking...but it is a gift.”
~ Michael J. Fox

A gift? Really? Can I return it then? Where's the exchange slip?
But there is no exchange slip in the box. It even came without wrapping. No, it appears that it is mine to keep. But what do I do with it now?

Michael certainly wouldn't have called it a gift the day he was diagnosed with what is usually known as an old man's disease. He was at the tender age of 29 and at the height of his acting career. He had wed Tracy Pollan, the love of his life, a few years earlier and they had already started a family. One might say that he was living a charmed life at the time. That is, if it weren't for his excessive drinking and workaholic habits that kept him away from his family and fed on his constant worry that it all would somehow dry up if he didn't keep pushing himself.

And then the sky fell in and the next day was the first day of his life.

Michael's immediate reaction to the diagnosis was to drink even more and take on even more projects to bury himself in work. At that point, it appeared that he had entered the early stage of denial - which lasted for the next nine years as he tried his best to hide this disease from the general public - even from his co-workers on the set of the hit TV series: Spin City, where he was filmed from every angle.

What changed, then? What brought him out of the closet?

"Humility is always a good thing. It's always a good thing to be humbled by circumstances so you can then come from a sincere place to try to deal with them."
~ Michael J. Fox

Michael's coming out had a great effect on the Parkinson community. Parkinson's was a disease that was generally pushed into the background. There was no cure for it. The most you could do was to try and slow it down. It was a disease that many felt ashamed of, because it was so noticeable and socially ugly. And here was Michael, whose warm and expressive boyish features had once won us over in Family Ties and Back to the Future, now exposing the haggard features of his Parkinson to the world - no longer feeling the need to hide his symptoms.

"Acceptance doesn't mean resignation; it means understanding that something is what it is and that there's got to be a way through it... I often say now I don't have any choice whether or not I have Parkinson's, but surrounding that non-choice is a million other choices that I can make."
~ Michael J. Fox

Michael was surprised by the strong positive reaction of the Parkinson community to his news. It was then that he realized that it was within his grasp to do much more. He set up the Michael J. Fox Foundation to provide significant funding for promising Parkinson research in the hope that it would lead to a cure. And he set out into the world, speaking at fund raisers and agreeing to give interviews to the media, so that Parkinson's might take on a new face in the public eye. He even continued his acting career, appearing in guest spots in many different TV series. All this, despite his being told at the time of his diagnosis that he might still have a good ten years of work ahead of him. And here he was, ten years later, about to set out on a crusade to find a cure for Parkinson. His work had just begun.

What can we learn from all this? A good friend of mine once said: "It's not the disease which is at the heart of the matter, but rather how we react to the challenge." It is what it is, and we must decide what we will do with it.

We never know how we will react to a situation until we are there. My father was diagnosed with cancer at the age of seventy-six, I was the first one to visit him in the hospital after he had received the diagnosis. "Well, I have had a good life," he told me. That moment has stayed with me ever since.

I am a recluse. I admit that. No matter how many people surround me at times. I am invisible to most. I know that most of this is my own doing. And when it comes to medical challenges, my immediate reaction is to keep it all to myself. This is a result of my upbringing - or at least a significant part of it. But that is another story. I will tell you about it when we know each other better.

As for now, it may be time to change. If Michael could change in his own way, so can I. For I am fortunate to be loved, and fortunate to be surrounded by such a beautiful family. And as long as I am not a heavy burden on them, there is still reason to pull myself out of bed on a cold winter morning.

Humility. Acceptance. Can we do without denial?
"How can you possibly leave yourself so open and vulnerable?" you ask.
"Have I? But you must realize that this blog is not about me. It is about Michael J. Fox."
"Yeah, right," pipes up a little voice from the back. "It's about you and Parkinson's."
"Okay, since we are in a giving mood, I will give you that," I respond. "It's about Parkinson's."

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Why give Expats the vote?

There is nothing funny about Canadian politicians. They are a bland lot making their way (plodding their way, I should say) toward election showdown. Or is it me? I can't see the humour. The joke is on the inside, leaving the expat outside, knocking on the door.

Which may be more reason why I, and other long-term expats, have no right to line up with resident Canadians on voting day.

As a Canadian expat, do you bemoan the fact that the right to vote in a Canadian federal election has been taken away from you? Or are you even aware of the fact - never having had the inkling to vote while living abroad? There are approximately  2.8 million Canadian citizens living abroad and 1.4 million of them have lost the right to vote, as a result of a recent ruling in a Court of Appeal.

Let's take a quick look at the recent history of the expat voting debate. In 1993, a court ruled for the first time that expats living abroad for longer than five years could no longer vote in federal elections. However, the five-year clock was reset for expats who returned for even short visits. Then, in 2007, Elections Canada began to enforce a requirement for expats to resume residency in Canada in order to regain their right to vote abroad. In 2014, two Canadian expats living in the United States launched a constitutional challenge to this law restricting their right to vote. A Superior Court Justice threw out this voting ban, thus giving long-term Canadian expats the right to vote again in federal elections. However, in July of this year (2015), a Court of Appeal, in a split decision, overturned that ruling and the right to vote was taken away from long-term expats yet again.

And many Canadian expats are crying foul - among them, a number of well-known celebrities. Actor Donald Sutherland published an editorial stating that not only is he a Canadian through and through, but that he was honoured as an Officer of the Order of Canada - and yet he is not allowed to vote in Canadian elections. To stress their case, expats point to countries which do not hold such restrictions on expat voting. Poland, Venezuela, Russia and Japan provide polling stations at embassies and consulates. France and the United States allow online voting for citizens abroad. Italy and France have created members of parliament to directly represent their expats. India has even created a government ministry dedicated to its expats. But supporters of the most recent ruling argue that many countries do have similar or harsher restrictions. UK citizens cannot vote after living abroad for more than fifteen years; Australians are restricted to six years and New Zealanders to three years. Irish citizens cannot vote while living abroad at all. Nor can citizens of Zimbabwe or Nepal.

And what about Israel? We can't forget Israel - my country of abode and the other half of my split personality. You may be surprised to hear that there is no absentee voting for Israelis, unless they are in the service of the State abroad. But Israelis living abroad can return to Israel at election time to vote. And many do so. Why doesn't Israel allow Israelis living abroad to maintain their ties to the mother country through voting? Maybe they don't want to encourage the mass exodus, or they are punishing those who won't stick it out with the country through thick and thin. Perhaps it is ideology. You can choose your own conspiracy theory.

So, who do you think is right in all of this? Let's look at the reasoning behind this ruling:
Canada's social contract entails citizens submitting to laws because they had a voice in making them through voting, the ruling states.
"Permitting all non-resident citizens to vote would allow them to participate in making laws that affect Canadian residents on a daily basis but have little to no practical consequence for their own daily lives. This would erode the social contract and undermine the legitimacy of the laws," Justice George Strathy wrote for the majority of the court's judges.

I must admit that, despite my anarchistic tendencies, this makes sense. Sometimes being on the outside looking in offers a better perspective. But not here. Why should I have the right to vote on things that have little or no practical consequence for my own daily life?

"Okay then," you challenge, "why should you be able to still hold Canadian citizenship? You have lived most of your life outside of Canada. What makes you think you can still be Canadian?"
"Ah, read my blog," I want to say. But I know they won't. How do you explain it, then, to a non-believer?
"That is different," I argue. "Being Canadian is also a state of mind. Growing up in Canada is a part of who I am. You can't take that away from me. Being a Canadian is also something that I share with my children. I would like to say, "and also with my children's children," but according to a 2009 amendment to the Citizenship Law, automatic citizenship extends only to the first generation born abroad. What do I think of that? Once again, I can understand the reasoning. I just hope my legacy outlives that decision.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Growing old gracefully

One thing that we all have in common is: growing old. It can't be denied. Some of us go through it gracefully; others stamp their feet and pull out their hair. Some of us are in denial; others try to meet it head on.

I, for one, cannot remember growing old past the age of 19. Yes, I know that there are smidgeons of memories. The first years on the kibbutz, marriage, parenthood. Milking the cows, becoming a teacher, taking on social responsibilities, leaving to live in the desert. Creating a meaningful environment by connecting the world through educational initiatives and then entering into cultural and intellectual stagnation. What is left? What might have been, what was, and what will probably no longer be?

There is no point in crying over spilt milk. Whiskey is a good substitute. But not even whiskey can fill the place of all of the things that have gone missing. Most people would say that the main problem is me. They may be right, but I am not willing to let the world off that easily: not quite yet.

I don't recognize the face that I see in the mirror each and every morning. Nor can I imagine what people see who call me father, grandpa, husband and son. Do they recognize in me something that once really was? Or have I drifted away, leaving them with anything that they may want to paint into that image?

I admit that I am not growing old gracefully. I feel the desire at times to kick and scream. Although I find myself gradually slipping further and further into passive acceptance, or better said: the desire to toss it all in.

The problem with all this is that the memories get in the way. They creep up on you and pounce at the oddest times. Some memories make you feel invincible; others leave you feeling increasingly feeble. Sometimes we chase after memories in an attempt to rediscover misplaced nostalgia. But more often, we seek to avoid them. Although there are things that can never be ignored. Why is it that we have this obsessive urge to connect the dots, as if we can harness the neurons in our brain and make them do our bidding? When all that we accomplish is a more fractured sense of self.

And there are times when our memories seek out our own self-destruction, as they did this Yom Kippur. Wandering down to the Volunteers' Beach at the kibbutz by the sea, I was reminded of midnight swims past, when we ran down the hill, discarding clothes on the way, following a ritual of song, chocolate milk and brandy. The calm midnight sea allowed us to walk deep into its arms, each of us seeking out a special niche, as individuals we still were, with no thought of growing old. It was called the Volunteers' Beach, as opposed to the Members' Beach on the other side of a stone cliff, as it was a place where almost only kibbutz volunteers would go. Perhaps because mothers didn't like their children, and especially their husbands, to ogle at the topless Scandinavian volunteers.Or maybe it was because of the strong currents and undertows at this section of the sea. But we could navigate those turbulent waters. We were invincible.

And now it was Yom Kippur. The waves were sweeping in, crashing down upon the water's edge. I imagined myself to be 19 again and out I went. The thrill of riding the waves. Water sweeping over me. The sea flirted with me and drew me out further, until I felt the undertow taking control of my legs, pulling me to where there was no bottom and to where there was possibly no way back. As a 19-year-old, I would have had no problem swimming  out of it. But now it appeared almost poetically fitting that I would meet my maker on the Day of Atonement, when I had really thought that I could wind back time. But no, it was not to be this day. The human intervened and I was pulled to safety. And now there are two layers of memory, with one mocking the other.

So what is there beyond growing old and dwelling in the memories? Looking at the glass half empty, I suppose that my greatest fear is in becoming impotent: both physically and mentally, with all that that entails. For when we begin to question the reason for going on living, we question our very existence.

"Write another book," some of you say. "Isn't that a part of the legacy that you want to leave behind?"

Maybe. But what should I write about? Old-age? They say that you should write about something that you are intimately acquainted with. But I feel that I have said all that I have to say about old age. And now it is me, staring at the wall, wondering if I still have a voice, or why it should really matter if I do or don't.

I know, it's starting to sound like I am dwelling too much in self-pity. That was not really my intent. But what was my intent? I am too senile to remember. As for you, what still provides you with the quest for life, despite your growing old, despite the inevitable? Are you willing to share your secrets with us?

Saturday, August 15, 2015

We speak English, don't we?

The other day I started up a new WhatsApp group: Lloyds English. I announced it to my close family: Israeli-born offspring and Israeli-born wife, and stipulated that it would serve as a place where we'd communicate only in English. The immediate response to my announcement was: "What are you drinking and are you already drunk?" And then silence. The last words uttered in Lloyds English. So there was nothing left to do but fade back into the linguistic woodwork.

A friend of  mine asked me the other day, over a pint of Guinness, what I regret in life. Normally, my response to such a question is that I regret nothing. I believe in learning from mistakes, rather than dwelling in regret. But this time, whether it be the result of my increasing age or growing egocentricity, I admitted to having one regret: that I did not speak English with my children.

Now, in an earlier blog posting: Curiouser and curiouser, I defended my reasoning for not speaking English to my children, and in doing so, robbing them of a golden opportunity for becoming bilingual. If you haven't read that posting, or have forgotten what it is about, it would be a good idea to read it first. There I explained why my entrance and acceptance into Israeli society was not a simple one, and why much of it was dependent upon my acquiring a working competence in Hebrew. Speaking only English at home, at that time, would have prevented me from reaching the linguistic competence required to meet that goal and would have sent a wrong message - both to those in Israel and in Canada back home, who were waiting for me to come back to my senses and leave Israel - about how serious I was in my endeavour to fully adapt into Israeli society. So, I put my linguistic competence first, above that of my children. I thought that they would have ample opportunity for picking up English  on the way. Wasn't this a small price to pay for not having a father who was a social outcast?

The irony is that, in the long run, all of my effort really didn't make much of a difference. True, I took university classes in Hebrew, wrote papers in Hebrew, gave lectures in Hebrew, carried on correspondence in Hebrew - but in the end I was still the odd man out. I would never really fit in. Not because of the language, but because of me. I am simply meant to be an outcast, whether I live in Israel, Canada, or on the moon. I reached the point where I felt that I had adapted as well as possible to Israeli society and had nothing left to prove. And it was then, that I began to regress. At times, I felt like I was speaking with stones in my mouth, and Hebrew was often like a hot blanket, under which I lay smothered on a hot summer day.  Words only flowed in that ancient language when I felt emotion, and such moments became less and less frequent over time. My adult identity was slowly beginning to crumble. I needed to find a way to slip back into something which was perhaps lost forever: slip back into me.

Would speaking to my children in English help in any way? Or had that ship sailed forever? It's not that my children don't know English. They did pick it up along the way. A daughter who now speaks mostly English in her work. A son who is writing a 100+ page MA thesis in English on a very technical subject. And another son who decided one day, through his own volition, to speak to me only in English (and was the only one to applaud the creation of Lloyds English and not question my sobriety).

It seems that I never know when to stop chasing windmills. Don Quixote. It is my battle alone. And in the meantime, Lloyds English still lies there, ignored, like an unwanted orphan. Why should I expect anything more?

Sunday, August 2, 2015

When Winter Wind Wears Desert Boots

It's exciting putting out a new book. It's hard to describe. It all begins with an idea, a small seed, which slowly grows and creates constant turmoil in my mind. The seed becomes a story - and then the story begins to write itself. It is then that I know that a book is inside of me. And I rush to get it out, get it out before the rivers dry up and I lose my way.

But I do lose my way, many times, during the process. At times, I wonder who this is on the other side of the page. Whose story is this? Or can it belong to anyone?

A good friend read the finished draft manuscript and told me not to publish the book.
"You are risking too much by publishing it," he said.
"But it is fiction!" I exclaimed. "Why would this be putting myself at risk?"
"Because only you know what parts of it are fiction and what parts of it are not. And some people may see it all as real - an autobiography, perhaps - or maybe even a confession."
"If this is in any way a confession, then it is Daniel's confession," I said. "Although I think, if he still had a voice, he would claim it to be more of a legacy, than a confession."
"And he would want to believe that," my friend said. "As would you. Aren't you and Daniel the same person?"
"No. I am the author. Nothing more. He is my creation."

In my first book: "As I Died Laughing", there appeared to be no clear borders between the real and the unreal, between fact and fiction. In a continually fragmented plot, the author found it much easier to hide in the background. But there is nothing for the author to hide behind in: "When Winter Wind Wears Desert Boots". I stand there naked. There is truth in what I have to say, but I choose its maner of creation. The characters are real to the book. They begin and end there. Some of you will believe that you see yourselves in the book, but you are who you bring to the reading. And if you take away much more, then I have succeeded as a writer.

I have written two novels, and this second novel - "When Winter Wind Wears Desert Boots" - is the one that I believe will define me as a writer. Why do I put such emphasis on this second book? Because it is something that has been waiting to be written for a very long time. You may understand this much better when you read the book.

So, what is left? There was a time in my life when the act of writing, by itself, was enough. Just by putting words down on a page, I was in communion with self. But that is not enough, now. Not nearly enough. My words seek to be heard. They have lived in solitude, inside of me, for so long. And now, they no longer belong totally to me. They wander, seeking a new home, many new homes, as they live on and become real in the consciousness of others.

Another good friend asked me:
"What's it like knowing that there are people out there reading your most innermost thoughts at this very moment?"
I hesitated, but only for a fraction of a moment.
"As much as this may sound surprising," I answered, "it is a relief."
And I left it at that.

Thursday, April 23, 2015


How many of you are humming the tune from Fiddler on the Roof right now? Tradition. But I am not talking about tradition that reaches back through the ages to our ancestors. But rather small traditions that bring us closer to people dearest to us.

One of the special things about my trips to Canada each year are the traditions formed with family and friends. Traditions which grow in importance from year to year.

One such tradition is the celebration of my parents' wedding anniversary. Each year, Gayle, Paul and I celebrate this happy event with my mother, at a special restaurant mother and father once shared. Father is always there, in spirit. He would never miss his wedding anniversary. And the celebration is also a sense of coming home. For Gayle, Paul and I were childhood friends and our home was a second  home to them. And it is still a home we all can come back to.

We grew up in a Scarborough suburb, which seemed so safe and polished at the time. It wasn't long after a war that we never knew. At times, we looked like we had stepped right out of an episode of Leave it to Beaver or Father Knows Best. Of course, nothing is as idyllic as it seems, but looking back - those were happy times.

But for Gayle this ended too quickly. When she was in the sixth grade, her family moved out West because of her father's work.  And this wasn't the last time they would be uprooted because of his work. It may have ended there, a friendship which had hardly begun, if it weren't for Mr. Herrington: Gayle's father.

I remember that day - a day that would unexpectedly have such an impact on my life. Mr. Herrington was sitting at the dining room table in our house, talking with my parents. He was on a business trip to Toronto and was staying with us for a couple of days. Normally, at the age of thirteen, I wouldn't have paid much attention to an adult conversation. But Mr. Herrington had a gift of bringing you into the conversation. It didn't matter whether you were ten or sixty years old. He made you feel that you had something significant to say. So I listened as he talked about Gayle, about how lonely she appeared in her new home. And I then did something quite unexpected. I asked for her address and sat down to write her a letter. And I discovered the writer within me. Until then, the only letters I had written were thank-you  notes that mother made me write after every birthday and Christmas.

And Gayle and I exchanged letters, sharing our thoughts and lives from afar, until Gayle moved back to the Toronto area with her family. And it was then that the stage was set for my two best friends and I to become The Three Musketeers.

I don't know if Mr. Herrington knew what an effect this conversation had on my life. I think that in some way he did. For he knew that Gayle and I became very close. My mother told me that Bob (she knew him as Bob) once told her about a conversation he had with Gayle. He asked her if she and I were in a romantic relationship. Gayle apparently answered: "No, that would only ruin it."

For some things cannot have labels. We can only experience them and know that they are real.

And each year, I look forward to meeting Mr. Herrington again, at another one of our small traditions: the Lloyd / Herrington brunch at The Blue Sea in Whitby on the last Sunday before Christmas. But this year I will not see Mr. Herrington at the Blue Sea. For he has passed on and left us behind. But we won't cancel this tradition. For I am sure he will be there, the first one in. Opening the door for the others to pass through. We will sit around the table and hear his voice. And know that all is good in the world, if even for a moment.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Curiouser and curiouser

I think I have become somewhat of a curiosity to my children. Perhaps this is a part of losing relevance as we grow old. Or perhaps it is also linked to circumstance. A close childhood friend of mine - same age as me - started having children much later in life. His oldest child is in her mid-teens and he still plays a very relevant role in her life. But my children are all grown up and have flown the coop. When is it that we feel less responsible for our children and they begin to feel responsibility for us?

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that my children view me somewhat as a curiosity. Most people do. It just took my children a while to catch up, perhaps. And I suppose I am to blame. I left them partly on the outside most of their lives, beginning first and foremost with the language.

"So, you didn't speak English with them at home."
"Why not?"
"Adva and I spoke Hebrew at home."
"But Adva knows English."
"And the English language is the greatest gift you could give them."
"I thought that giving them life was."
"That too."
I sighed into the darkness.
"Anyway," I said, in a meagre attempt to defend myself, "I was fighting an uphill battle. I was changing country, language and culture. It was very important for me to adapt."
"Most new immigrants go through the very same thing."
"Yes, but with a significant difference."
"Which is?"
"They are confident in their right to be here, and in others recognizing this right."
"And you aren't?"
"Not necessarily."
"Why not?"
I looked nervously around me to see if anyone was listening.
"I'm not Jewish," I whispered.
"Is that all you have to say?"
"Maybe I should go."
"You can't go, you are my muse."
"Yes, but wasn't there an escape clause about misinformation?"
"When did I ever feed you false information?"
"I don't know. I will have to have my lawyers look at this."
"Okay, you've got me. One of the problems of living in Cyberspace."
"Are you going to help me with this or not?"
"Do I have a choice?"
"Okay, then I guess I am."
Silence. She always liked the dramatic effect of silence.
"So," she said, "you speak Hebrew at home, but with a Canadian accent. You are not Jewish, but your children are, because there mother is Jewish. They probably have no idea why you came to Israel in the first place and why you are still here... am I on track, so far?"
"Knock yourself out," I said.
"And you wonder why they consider you as a curiosity."
"You are missing the point."
"Am I?"

"Was it as simple as that?" I thought to myself. What about the whole thing of getting old? Or was I trying to blame everything on getting old?

There are very few constants in life, things that I can state with certainty. But one is my children. They are the greatest part of my life. I would not take anything back. And now we have our first grandchild. And that is a real bonus to having children. They say that when your children are young, and they still don't know better, you are a superhero to them. But later they begin to see the flaws, and in their teens they wonder how anyone can be that stupid. Yet, in their early twenties, they are amazed at how much you have learnt in the past few years. And while you still have a very good relationship with them, you can never get back the magic. For they go on to create their own magic, through their own marriage and children.

And just when you are about to write yourself away, there is a grandchild. And you rediscover the magic through his/her eyes, letting you into a world you have almost forgotten. And I know that some day my grandchild will view me as a curiosity. But that doesn't disturb me. In the meantime, I will enjoy every moment.