Another Way I support March of Dimes

Diane Spindel and Andria Spindel

The photo was taken over 9 years ago; my mother passed away on December 25th, 2007. She and I were very close and I still miss her, and most especially when I am with my young adult children and think about all the pleasure they give me, and how much I want to share it with their grandmother. It has caused me to reflect on the many things I want to share, some of which is incorporated in this article I wrote a few years ago. The article was shared with our donors and will be part of our Legacy Newsletter this month. I am sharing it here as another way to bring my mother and her journey into my memory.

“My own mother became disabled when I was only five years old. Perhaps that, more than anything else, has helped me personally understand, in a most profound way, the importance of individuals maintaining their dignity and independence, no matter what the disability. It’s a core value that instructs our every decision here at March of Dimes Canada. This childhood experience deeply impacted my life choices. At age 34, having just started working at March of Dimes Canada, I took the unusual step at that time of making a Planned Gift to 4 charities through the purchase of a life insurance policy, designating the charities as beneficiaries. I understood that it was an inexpensive way for a young person like myself to make a significant difference, to give back in a meaningful way, even though it would only materialize decades later. For me, making a Planned Gift was also a way to honour several of the most important pillars of my life, to formalize these commitments: community, international development, Jewish life, and the inclusion of people with disabilities. It has been my privilege to work at March of Dimes Canada for almost 35 years. While I could not have known at 34, when I purchased my policy, that it would be such a long relationship, I did already know that working with and for people with disabilities was my calling.

Making a Planned Gift to March of Dimes Canada made so much sense to me. During my time here, I have seen the life transformations that come from the services our organization provides to people of all ages and stages of disability. I have met with thousands of people whose lives we have touched, helped to establish programs that address their needs, and seen how advocacy enables change. I have worked with a remarkable team at March of Dimes and know their commitment is a major contributor to the success of the services we provide to the community we serve. I believe in the future of March of Dimes Canada, in the future of an inclusive society and in the benefits of planning now to ensure tomorrow’s important work — and hope that others share these values.

If you have not yet done so, I would encourage everyone to check with a financial advisor to learn more about the benefits of a Planned Gift. In doing so, it’s my sincere hope that you will consider including March of Dimes Canada in your plans. Based on my personal experience, I’m convinced that you will find Planned Giving to be a most rewarding decision.”

I’m 65 and I’m Alive!

Seems like an odd heading for a party invitation, but that is exactly what my Mother’s 65th birthday bash invitation said in 1989 when she celebrated by inviting over 100 people to a hotel luncheon. She had survived beyond expectation, having experienced a brain tumour at age 28 and then a broken neck from falling down our basement stairs while still recovering from brain surgery. My Mother was a walking quad, a highly energetic, socially-minded, volunteer-oriented, beautiful woman, who survived in style and humour until age 83. She fell because she insisted on doing laundry herself and on maintaining normalcy in adversity.

reunion, mom, deb and me

Andria, Mother, Sister Deborah 2005

In October I turned 65 and celebrated this in a small town in Calabria, Southern Italy, with total strangers who became good friends over the period of a ten day tour that included Sicily. My life at 65 is still full of long work days, three young adult (but dependent) children, hours of weekly volunteer activities,  and a bevy of funny, interesting and loving friends. My life is very much dedicated to my Mother, who despite many physical and emotional hardships never gave in to “kvetching” (excessive complaining), though she dined out on medical stories and inventions. She became somewhat of a “go to person” amongst those who wanted cheap medical advice as over the years she racked up experience with multiple surgeries, innovative drugs for pain, and laborious experiences with physio, hypnosis, acupuncture, and every other modality aimed at overcoming her limitations and her agony. Had she had a total spinal cord lesion, she would have had no pain and though she occasionally contemplated having her spinal cord totally severed, she generally, laughed at the idea, and said, ”Its only my pain that tells me I’m alive.”

I can hardly believe that arriving at 65 is so easy; it came so fast. My Mother never looked old; she aged beautifully, and had few lines on her face, uncalloused hands and feet, thick white hair, and sparkling clear blue eyes. She cared almost too much about how she looked, but then vanity is a medical marvel also. She wanted to always look beautiful, so she hid the neck braces behind scarves, painted her canes to match her outfits, and refused most of the time to stay home, use a wheelchair or let others do her errands.  She would have worked but for her disability; in 1954 when she was diagnosed, the prognosis wasn’t good.

My Mother was different. She wasn’t like other Mothers because she used a cane, could not get on a bus, never drove a car, could not lift or carry groceries, never picked up her daughters for a hug, because she physically couldn’t. She couldn’t turn her head sideways, step backwards, or wear high heeled shoes. She did try to look elegant and she never missed a party if invited, but she had to sit out the dances, much to my Father’s pleasure I think as he was much more the introvert.

My Mother was an inspiration. Her friends and family heralded her achievements in just surviving multiple surgeries, and not despairing. They referred to her strength as if she had a PhD in survivorship. She drove her children crazy because of her difference, but she became a role model for taking life as  it comes, feeling blessed about being alive, seeing the obstacles as mere challenges to be overcome, and expressing humour and zest for living and loving others. She was always there for me.

So, as I move through this momentus year of 65, I think often of my Mother, Dinah Spindel. December 25th will be the 6th anniversary of her death, and I will think a great deal about her and the wonderful path she set for me. She set expectations, she sowed ideas of commitment, persistence, generosity and above all, caring for others. I hope at 83, I can look back on a life well lived, as she did.

Something Very Special

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Andria Spindel, Hon LLD, giving her convocation speech

Life is full of surprises and when they are good surprises, like birthday parties, new babies, chocolate gifts, kindness in unexpected places, or a bright day after days of rain, one really welcomes them and wants to share them. How do I share the wonderful surprise that awaited me when I returned from a vacation,  when it was a letter from the President of the University of Guelph, advising I had been nominated for an Honorary Doctorate of Law? All I could say was “Wow, really?”  I couldn’t even imagine where the nomination had come from nor why. I was to learn that a board member of Ontario March of Dimes Non Profit Housing Corporation had recommended my nomination, supported by several other people. I was invited to give the Convocation address at the graduation of the Business and Psychology students at Guelph Humber on June 17th and would I accept?

The recognition was exquisite, making me feel very honoured indeed. The task of addressing 500 students was awesome and challenging. How does one add inspiration to an event that is generally inspiring in its ceremony, in the presence of many gowned elite and educated, exceptional individuals and how does one speak to the graduands of 2013? I think the fact I was asked to do this was the honour itself, for it assumed I have something important or significant to share. I wanted this to be very special, for them, as much as for me. I suddenly felt I had been granted a unique opportunity, and hoped I could make a difference in the day, and in the memory of the day for the students who would be in attendance on June 17th at 1:00pm. I knew there would be a week of convocation exercises, and those assigned this time slot were to be my special audience and I there special guest.

I pondered many topics and listened to other speeches by notables like J.K. Rowland who addressed the class of 2013 at Harvard. I reflected on what had impressed me at my BA graduation in 1968 when Maurice Strong addressed U of C grads at the Jubilee Auditorium in Calgary. I had been impressed then, though today I don’t remember his precise words, but I remember sitting in the audience, his name being called and his address, inflection, his very presence causing me pause, and making me think about my future. I went to Africa shortly thereafter, and I wonder how much he moved me to think about serving others.

So, whether my words will be remembered, or whether I am expressing too much ego, I will provide a link here to my written address and a link to the video excerpt of my presenting it at the convocation, when they are available, then you may consider if my message says something of value to you.

I wish everyone a very special day when you too feel appreciated, even made to feel like royalty. It was truly a wonderful experience.  Since I acknowledge my children in my message, let me add another lesson they taught me and it is that  “everyone is special.”

Click here to watch my speech, or read the transcript here: Andria Spindel Convocation Speech Transcript

Bicycles, Summer exploration, Autumn colours, Thanksgiving, People-to-people relations

What do all the above concepts have in common? Possibly nothing except they are all topics about which I have felt like sharing and blogging. I hesitate and another week passes, and then I think of a new topic but the former stays with me. So, today I am challenged to at least address one of these topics and over a few weeks, perhaps I can connect them.

The most obvious connection hit me on Monday, October 08, 2012 as its appropriate on Thanksgiving to speak of “gratitude.” I am indeed grateful and give thanks for each of the above, and for the every day joys of family, friends, good health, opportunities, and challenges. I think each morning about what I might do and say with gratitude in my heart. Here is one of my experiences that might inspire someone else to enjoy life’s pleasures.

I spent a week of my summer vacation in Quebec, and for the first time in almost a decade I rode a bike, and for the first time ever I went on a bike tour, and surprise! I didn’t fall off, feel left behind, nor did I ache all over after the 7 hours and many kilometers on a bike.  In fact, I had 3 days on a bike, once comfortable with the new technology associated with biking. I loved it!!!

I now recommend everyone try seeing a city on a bike, but particularly Montreal which has bike lanes everywhere, and they are safe, generally in protected lanes, and always respected by drivers, pedestrians and other cyclists. It is positively stunning to see how many people, of all ages and stages of life are on a bike. It is possible for a modern city, with tons of traffic, to incorporate a bicycle culture within its business, tourist, cultural and residential districts. It works! And more importantly to me was that my own legs worked and I enjoyed the company of a dozen cyclists who toured the Plateau of Montreal, including the old Portugese and Jewish neighborhoods. My tour companion was convinced we could do this, but she smartly determined we would not do a 5 day road tour on our (my) first excursion on a bike. We did however, tour the old city and the islands of Montreal on our own during the second day of vacation and then did about 40km in Granby in the Eastern townships on another day as Granby has a wonderful,  relatively flat trail through parkland.

I had never before even sat on a bike with more than 10 speeds, and had no idea what to do with 21. I was comforted by the guide who not only showed me how to properly fit a bike helmet, but also how to use only 3 speeds.

Most important to me was that biking reminded me of an old puzzle question my late father, David Spindel, once posed to me when I was a child and it has stayed fresh for me forever. He asked what was the greatest invention of mankind, it could be used by all ages, maintained or restored health, provided inexpensive transportation,  adventure and recreation, could be used in employment, had universal appeal and came in many sizes and colours?  It was of course the bicycle! I have often quoted my father as I see our city clogged, the air polluted, people struggling with weight and health problems, transportation prices rising, and a general population removed from the ground level of life.

So, try a bike ride, and enjoy the many pleasures that it brings. Take care to have physical activity in your life to remain strong and healthy, have adventures in your life to stay engaged and inspired, and have friends along with you to feel connected and happy.