Fall is a tough time of year for me. It’s a hard thing to admit, as so many people love the autumn change of season. For me, the loss of colour and beauty as the trees shed their leaves, coupled with the darkness of shorter days, has always been personally challenging. The fall is also a constant reminder for me of where my health journey all began.
November 22, 1963. A day no one who was alive then can forget. It was the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated. The whole world united in mourning America’s “loss of innocence.” For me, it became a pivotal day. A day that changed my life—forever. Together we mourned a collective loss of innocence. That day, I experienced my own personal loss of innocence. A loss that would in many ways, inform the rest of my life.
As a junior high student, vice-president of the student council at the time, I’d been suffering for several years with undiagnosable health issues that had me subjected to doctor after doctor, test after test, with a predicted, yet unlikely, prognosis that I was a “perfectionist.” I was down to a shocking 85 pounds and was considered deathly ill. Although the perfectionist diagnosis was possibly the truth, it probably wasn’t a viable diagnosis for the physical symptoms. Through years of seeking and exploration, I know now, the two are absolutely connected.
A Day None of Us Would Forget
On November 22, 1963, my father, Louis, picked me up from school and we talked about the loss of president Kennedy and what it meant to us all. If I remember correctly, it had only been briefly mentioned at school that day. Perhaps that memory is lost forever, as my father then announced to me, with great relief in his voice, that the newest doctor I had been taken to finally found ‘something’. My large and small bowel had somehow twisted themselves in a huge knot, an unusual “never before seen” phenomenon, that was later written up in a prestigious medical journal.
The gastroenterologist was referring me to one of Toronto’s top surgeons who was going to “fix” me. Cut date was scheduled over the Christmas holidays and they assured my parents, who had already spent more than enough troubled days and nights, that I would be “good as new” afterward. If only life were that simple. The experience was horrific for me. That’s putting it mildly. Waking up with a tube down my nose and throat (the infamous nasogastric tube) is still so real for me that it set the stage for how I would move through the traditional medical system for the rest of my life.
The Lesson in Asking Questions
My parents didn’t really ask a lot of questions before the surgery, as they were just grateful that someone had found something. I believe that is the key moment in my life, as young as I was, that I vowed to always ask as many questions as I needed to, to be prepared and get answers so I’d know what to expect. It’s also possible I asked a lot of questions before this. Funny thing how we create a story about a memory and it becomes our “truth.” This became one of the stories in my book, Confessions of a Middle-Aged Hippie.Funny thing how we create a story about a memory and it becomes our 'truth.' #memories #truthClick To Tweet
That day is only one of many in my life that is not only nostalgic but one where the memories are so alive, it’s almost as if they happened yesterday. There are other key world events that create the same instant recall in me too. I happened to be in Los Angeles with my family in August of 1962 when Marilyn Monroe died. My brother Niel says he believes he remembers that we could see the funeral procession from the window in the restaurant we were eating in. That, I don’t remember.
Some years later, my best traveling buddy Sharon and I were in Los Angeles spending a fun summer. It was August 1969. Then the Manson murders shocked and rocked the world and being in L.A. immediately ceased to be a carefree summer holiday. These are two trips I have never forgotten. Precise moments in time, which created indelible memories.
New York Would Never be the Same
Years later, when my daughter’s television series Ready or Not brought us to New York to film promos for its American network. We were comfortably settled in the studio enjoying taping the segments when we felt what seemed to be an earthquake shake the foundation of the building. Everyone was visibly rattled, as there was no logical explanation for what this possibly could have been. It was February 26,1993, the morning of the day the first attempted World Trade Center bombing happened. Luckily, the bombing was somewhat unsuccessful. It was a very unsettling time for the world. Maybe a forewarning of a more tragic time, with a much more devastating event to come.
The following year, on May 19, 1994, my daughter Lani and I were back in New York and heard the sad news that Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis had succumbed to lymphoma. She had only been diagnosed in January of that year. We joined the world and mourned this iconic lady.
Collective Memories — 911
There is one day that likely lives vividly in all of our memories. In some ways even though it is highly individual for each of us, it has become a collective memory, as life was never the same after.Individual memories become collective memories, when our lives will never be the same. #memoriesClick To Tweet
The day was September 11th, 2001. My daughter and I had made it to an early morning screening of a film “World Traveler” with Julianne Moore and Billy Crudup, at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). There weren’t a lot of people in the theatre, with the film set to start at 9.00 am.
We had arrived a bit early, in an attempt to beat the rush hour traffic to the downtown theatre. There was a buzz in the theatre by a few people who had arrived shortly before 9, about hearing something on the radio about a plane that had flown into the World Trade Centre in New York. That was it, as the movie credits began to roll. The startling memory for me, was that the opening scene of the film, was a shot of the twin towers, of the World Trade Centre in New York. Nothing will ever erase that morning and that memory, as it is ingrained in my consciousness.
Funny Thing About Memories
As I revisited my life to write Confessions, these stories surfaced as very vivid memories. Somehow the synchronicity of the timing of my life and my travels, with these key historical events, seemed to have left a permanent impression on my memory. I believe that many people remember exactly where they were and what they were doing for these same events. The day John Lennon died is another one of those events. Do you remember where you were and what you were doing?
It’s incredibly moving each year on the anniversary of JFK’s death, listening to people’s stories of where they were when they heard he had died and the impact it had on their life. For me, it brings up both the collective and personal memory of that day again. It’s interesting to look at what we remember.
Much to be Grateful For
I’m blessed to have a remarkable 101-year-old mother, Lil, whose memory is still so accurate, she astounds people. She’s an inspiration and shows what is possible. Our lives are made up of memories. As a curious observer of human nature, I’m continually amazed and fascinated by the way we spin the stories around these memories. Facts are the truth. Stories are the colour that bring them to life. That’s what is so amazing about creating your own individual life. There are so many unformed memories yet to be lived.
What are the memories that live on in you?
postscript 2016 and 2017: Another year, another November. Seems like November 2016 will be one most of us will not soon forget. The results of the U.S. Presidential elections caught many of us by surprise, after months of capturing our attention with the polar opposite candidates. My wish is that the results end up being a window to take a closer look at ourselves. What we value and what we stand for in our life. And then to go out and live it! May 2018 be the year we stand together to create the world we want to see for generations to come.