Having just returned home from weeks of rehab, with more out-patient rehab in the future, I have been pondering my experiences and needed to get it down on paper. I have always considered myself an “open minded” person. During the course of my life I have met many Jews and Gentiles of different persuasions and have tried to model myself after a great mentor – Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach ZTz”L, who loved everybody from every religion and strata of life that he ever met. I couldn’t be further from that level.
Being in a Canadian rehab hospital, that benefits everyone regardless of financial ability, I got to meet all kinds of people including those from the lower income population of society. While I thought myself open to all people, I began to realize that I had prejudices about them. In my unconscious mind they were white trash. I believed that they were crass and uncultured; they appeared to not care for themselves or anyone else. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Frank is a blind stroke victim who lives in the city and comes to the rehab hospital three times a week for out-patients therapy and is about 50 years old. Instead of spend one to two hours for each session, he and his wife Sharon always arrive at 10:00 AM and stay to 3:00 PM. Frank is tattooed all over his body, he has hair down to his waist and is a former “biker.” The two of them chat with the patients who spend long hours outside the building, some smokers and some just getting away from the sterile hospital environment. They enter the hospital and go around to different rooms and encourage bed-ridden and severely disabled patients that there is hope and through hard work, anything is possible. They act as a conduit to the outside world for many patients who are not mobile and who rarely receive family visits. They shop for them, do banking for them and act as if each patient is family. They are true Tzaddikim (righteous ones).
Albert is a sixty-five year old (though he doesn’t look younger than eighty) who comes to visit his daughter Mary every day. Albert is immobile he also had a stroke a few years back and rides around on a red scooter. He is paralyzed on his right side and has a severe speech impediment. He’s a jokester and keeps Mary and the rest of us laughing.
Mary has been a patient for seven and a half months and will soon move into low-income handicapped housing. She is toothless, crass (I once heard her say to her son, “Take your dick out of your mouth) and doesn’t take care of herself. She’s the bank, or rather the ITM machine. She lends money (interest free) to patients who run out of funds until a family member or friends can bring in some cash. She’s been burned by some but would rather help out and lose a few dollars than silently watch someone not be able to buy a coffee or a snack during the day.
Sue is another person entirely. She’s 62 years old and when I first met her she had been in the hospital for a year and a half with an ailment in her legs that make it hard to walk. She’s full of self-pity and always complaining about anything and everything. She’s tolerated by most even when she appears to push them away. She became my project and in just a few weeks she began smiling and acting positively towards her fellow patients. She’s still a liar and unreliable but she is beginning to see the good in others and her need to literally pick herself up and bring about her own recovery.
AJ is a 35 year old Jamaican leg amputee (almost to his groin) who will never walk unaided and is a most talented wanna be rapper and spends most of his day sitting outside smoking dope. On a number of occasions I asked him to sing some of his compositions and he shyly refused. One evening I convinced him to let me hear some of his work after revealing to him that I was also a musician. I found him to be a very spiritual man whose poetry is amazing, very syncopated and extremely articulate. He first sang me a piece called “God’s Love” and his universal message show’s true sensitivity and sophistication. He has enough material to come out with a CD but doesn’t have enough confidence to expose himself to the music scene. Though I encouraged him by my genuine enthusiasm (he can’t believe that a Jewish white boy could be accepting of his music), he still wants to be discovered but is afraid to take the first step in exposing himself to such an endeavor.
Now Mike is another case. He’s an affluent, articulate individual who came into rehab because his spine was severed during an operation on his back. He was in the plastics industry and invented the pool-noodle, a long foam tube used by weak swimmers and often seen in swimming pools and therapy facilities. He marketed his invention around the world and became a millionaire. Mike was in the room next to me and we spent a lot of time together discussing life, people and the human spirit. He is coping with his disability and spends a lot of time doing research for his lawyer in an upcoming lawsuit against his former surgeon and the hospital. Like me, Mike spends a lot of time outside, encouraging other patients even though he himself will probably not get better.
One day between therapy exercises, I looked around at the various patients in this large physio-therapy room: one person was a stroke victim learning to walk; another had a heart condition and was building enough strength to function outside the facility; there were many amputees with different prosthetics undergoing therapy to make use of their disabled limbs; others were being encourage by the staff just to try a little harder and gain the confidence to go on; each of the 20 or so patients had his own therapist aiding and encouraging them to take that extra step. As I sat there I realized that I was living in a country that made all this possible for people who would never be able to afford this type of treatment in such a modern and well equipped facility.
Between the patients and the staff I met people who I never had had contact with in my insular Jewish world. I found out that many of the people who I previously and unconsciously looked down upon were in fact men and women of integrity and who were caring of their fellow man. One day I too, will walk again, I just hope that I can keep the spirit of Reb Shlomo alive and love my fellow man without boundaries.