There are moments that change your life forever.

It was 7:53PM, on Friday November 3, 2017 in Los Angeles. I was standing on the corner of Olympic Boulevard and Sherbourne Drive, walking to a Shabbat dinner, carrying a box of strawberries and a carton of blueberries. The traffic was at a standstill. I walked across the first lane of stationary cars. Then the second lane. I put my left foot into the third lane, felt an impact on my thigh, and was thrown onto the hood of the car. I fell to the ground as the driver slammed on his brakes.

It would be easy to ask, "What if I had not walked that route?", but I prefer to ask. "What next?"

“I saw the whole thing and thought that guy is dead for sure,” said Colin Washington, a witness whose car was in the adjacent traffic jam. “But then you got up off the ground. How?”

Marcus Freed (Photo: Joey Genovesi)

I blacked out the split second I was thrown onto the car and then onto the ground. The strawberries and blueberries were strewn across the road but I was still in one piece. When I opened my eyes I got to my feet and immediately focused on my breath. My 18 years of studying and practicing yoga and meditation had led to this moment. If I let fear take control, it was all over. I had to breathe.

It was just a few steps to the curb and I made it across, meeting Colin, another witness called Shirley, and the car driver whose name was either Michael or Jonathan. He was in his early 20s, looked a bit like a surfer, and had one arm in a sling. They all wanted to drive me to hospital, but my healthcare had expired a year earlier when the premiums doubled under Obamacare. My budget had been tight and I made the choice to have food in my fridge rather than health insurance.

Standing at that street corner, I was concerned about getting a $5000 bill if I called an ambulance or was taken to the wrong hospital. Little did I know that I was about to rack up hospital bills more than 30 times that amount in the coming week.

I was in shock and declined the offers to be driven to hospital, and asked to be driven to a friend’s house. Although I never get into a car on Shabbat, I was in a haze of shock and not thinking clearly. I gave them all my business card, Michael/Jonathan to drove me to my friend’s and offered to walk me in. I declined and he drove off.

As the door opened, my friend Metuka Daisy Lawrence saw blood on the side of my head, and like a good apologetic Englishman I said, “So sorry to bother you, I’ve just been hit by a car.” I went into the bathroom to wash my face and after a few moments it felt like there was a waterfall inside the left part of my head. Something felt very wrong. I didn't realize it but I was having a brain hemorrhage.

Metuka walked me a few blocks to my home but as we got closer I found it harder to walk as each step sent shock waves through my body. As soon as we reached my home, she called Hatzolah, the Jewish emergency services. The volunteer paramedics arrived within two minutes, quickly called 911, and recommended that the ambulance take me to Cedars Sinai where there would be a neurosurgeon on-call. When we arrived it was Dr. Moishe Danielpour who assessed the situation. He rushed me in for emergency brain surgery and saved my life.

If I had just gone home by myself and laid down to rest, I may have been dead within two hours.

I woke up early on Shabbat morning, lying in the Intensive Care Unit. My parents were visiting Florida at the time, having just flown over from their home in England, and booked emergency flights to come to Los Angeles.

That Shabbat morning I had been due to lead my ‘Soul Revival’ alternative service at Pico Shul. God had other plans. Instead, Metuka walked from shul to shul throughout the Pico-Robertson neighborhood, telling the rabbis what happened and asking them to pray on my behalf.

Immediately after Shabbat, the scene in ICU went crazy. Visitors poured in. The nurses had to turn an office into a private waiting room for people to come and see me. Those waiting recited Psalms and prayed on my behalf.

Four days later, I had a second brain hemorrhage and a second brain surgery. I was sent home from hospital within 72 hours, with a 14-inch scar on my head and part of my skull secured with titanium screws.

Life with a brain injury was very challenging. I barely read or write. External noises were unbearable since my brain wiring was incredibly sensitive, and I could not go out after dark because every light seemed too bright. Public gatherings were impossible to attend because of the over-stimulation, and in private I found it very hard to regulate my emotions.

It was unclear if I would ever be able to resume my work as an actor, writer and marketing consultant.

That was when I decided to invent a new game: Uncovering Hidden Blessings.

Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the first Lubavitcher Rebbe and author of Sefer Tanya, taught that everything is a blessing but some blessings are hidden. If we look for the blessing in an apparent curse, if we really look for it, then hidden blessings can get revealed.

UNCOVERING 10 HIDDEN BLESSINGS

My situation looked horrible but I was determined to uncover hidden blessings. Here are ten I have uncovered, and more blessings will be revealed as time passes. The trick is to keep looking out for them.

1. My financial situation looked horrible. I had $150,000 of medical bills and it was unclear if or when I would be able to resume work and cover my living expenses. My mother immediately said, “We will sell our house,” at which point a friend of mine, Audrey Jacobs, said, “No you won’t.” Audrey began a crowdfunding campaign to help cover my medical with bills and help with my living expenses, ensuring that I could stay in America where I have lived for the last 10 years, rather than flying home to England. (We didn't realize back then that flying was not an option because the changes in air pressure would place too much stress on my brain.) The crowdfunding began, and within weeks there were over 1800 people who supported the campaign – 100 times 18 (chai) which is the gematria/numerology for life. I never knew there was such love and friendship out there. This was a miracle. 1800 miracles to be precise.

2. So many people wanted to visit that I had to create a schedule to avoid getting overloaded. As an extrovert who loves to socialize, it wasn't easy to say no to people, but I had to rest and recover. I was painfully aware that there are so many people who become ill and do not have visitors, and I was overwhelmed with gratitude for every person who reached out. Again, God was showering me with these blessings of love and friendship.. It was extraordinary to see how much love there is in the world.

3. Many well-meaning people sent messages along the lines, “What happened to you is such a tragedy,” but this did not fit the rule of my game that Everything is a Blessing. Any time I received one of those messages, I was first thankful that people cared enough to reach out, and then I would use the ‘tragedy’ comments to remind myself of the bigger picture: children getting killed in Rwanda is a tragedy. Ethiopians dying from starvation is a tragedy. Homeless people overdosing 10 miles away in downtown Los Angeles is a tragedy. I am one of the lucky ones. There are enough people who lie in hospital with no visitors or have nobody who cares. Thank God I had the opposite problem.

4. I am a creative soul. My brain injury made it very difficult to organize my thoughts. I could barely stand, I certainly couldn’t learn new lines, and I was unable to sit and write scripts, articles or books. But the creative drive was surging through me and I had to create something. My friend and neuropsychologist, Dr. Dee Gaines, prescribed learning new creative skills to help rebuild neuro-pathways. I had always wanted to paint and mentioned this to my friend Shlomi Kagan, a wonderful commercial artist. He set me up with some acrylic paints, brushes and canvases, and I started to paint, taking daily Youtube painting classes. For the first time in my life I discovered that I could paint and generated a series of canvases that brought a very deep satisfaction. There is now a gallery on the wall of my lounge, and this may never have happened without the blessing of being hit by a car.

5. The brain injury healed within three months, which led me to a new place of gratitude. Dr. Gaines said my healing was a miracle. There are people who have suffered far less of a physical impact but have far worse injuries and ongoing cognitive dysfunction. I am so grateful that once again I can read, write, think, articulate, perform and speak clearly. During that time I regularly listened to the podcast Adventures in Brain Injury, presented by Cavin Balaster, a survivor of brain injury who has a remarkable blog and series of resources to help people learn from his experiences. Cavin shares inspiring ideas and he speaks articulately despite having a slightly slurred speech due his brain injury. Speech is so central to my career, whether it is acting, teaching, public speaking or corporate presentations; I thank God every day I have this faculty intact.

6. During the Kabbalat Shabbat service we say “Sing to God a new song” and I feel that so many of my everyday experiences are a new song, brimming with gratitude to God. After four months of not driving following the accident, I appreciate that I can get behind the wheel of a car, even if it is on the insane streets of Los Angeles.

It took 9 months of recovery before I could drive at night, since my eyes were so sensitive to bright lights, and for a long time I had to wear specially adapted dark red glasses whenever I left the house. Nowadays I am especially grateful every time I get in the car after dark. I would have never considered this in the past and just take it for granted.

I also appreciate being able to stand in public gatherings, since it was so difficult to even listen to the sound of rustling papers.

This year I discovered a thrill in going grocery shopping. After the surgery I was not allowed to lift anything heavier than 5lbs in case it adversely increased my blood pressure. I once tested the theory, ended up in ER with a massive headache, and realized the doctors were right. Over a year later I found that I could walk around a supermarket, put items into the shopping cart, stand in a noisy line at the checkout, lift the bags out of the cart into my car, unpack the bags at home, take them up the stairs and put away the groceries into my kitchen cabinet. The first time this happened felt like a miracle. An absolute miracle. I always want to remember this feeling of awe and wonder at being able to accomplish such a basic task that I would never have considered before.

I love that I can write again and recently completed a three-country tour to relaunch a new edition of my first book The Kosher Sutras: A Yogi’s Guide to the Torah. Two years ago it would have been impossible to even read a page at a time, let alone complete this project or contemplate giving public book launch talks in Jerusalem, London, Venice Beach and Los Angeles. Thank God.

7. Three weeks before the accident I had mentioned to my parents that I wasn’t going to stay with them at their condo because as an independent adult I had finally realized that our relationship is more healthy when I spend time with them while staying under a different roof. God’s plan was different. The doctors said that I could not be alone for at least three months in case of seizures. My mother moved in to my apartment for three months. God laughed, I smiled at the irony, and my mum put up with a temporarily brain-damaged extrovert son who would occasionally have private meltdowns and behave like a three year old. My father was also amazing and they both did so much to improve my living conditions, without a word of complaint. They are extraordinary and dropped everything to help me. It feels like I won the parent lottery.

Although that time period was exceptionally difficult, it improved the relationship with my parents and our bond is stronger than ever before. I look back on those months with my mother as time that was deeply precious, and I was inspired about how my father dealt with it all. My gratitude to them is endless.

8. Living in the City of Angels, I have been blessed with so many loving friends, who cared for me throughout the recovery, put up with my post-traumatic challenges and are still a very important part of my life. There is one friend who I had only met once before the accident and her extraordinary friendship became invaluable.

9. So many pieces of my personal jigsaw puzzle fitted into place that night. My yoga training enabled me to keep my breathing focused, my friend Metuka was home rather than visiting friends for Shabbat dinner, and she realized the need to call Hatzola right away. The paramedics acted quickly, Dr. Danielpour was on call for the occasions I needed emergency surgeries, and Dr. Gaines took on a vital role in my recovery. My sister Lauren had all the skills to support the recovery effort from afar and help my parents with all of the planning, travel logistics that took place during those months.

It is now two years since the accident. I recently performed on stage for the first time since before the brain surgeries. It felt like breathing again. Thank God.

10. We have not found the hit-and-run driver, despite newspaper articles, radio interviews and a video that has been viewed many thousands of times. Perhaps this too is a blessing. If I had the driver’s details and he had car insurance which covered the recovery costs, then the crowdfunding would never have happened and I would never have experienced the outpouring of love. I had no idea that so much love existed in the world.

It is a daily process to search for the blessings in every situation. Like the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel, sometimes I have to wrestle with my thoughts. I can fall into ‘victim consciousness’, and bemoan the things that happened to me. Alternatively, I can find the positives, and relentlessly look for the upsides.

I still get dizzy on occasions and sometimes have to cancel social arrangements at short-notice due to exhaustion, but I am able to function, work, create and enjoy life. The accident was a miracle from which I have been able to derive many blessings.

My friend Jeffrey Van Dyk teaches that we can change our perspective from "this happened to me" to "this happened for me." Getting hit by a car, surviving, thriving, and bouncing back was one of the greatest blessings I have experienced, and I thank God for giving me a second chance in life.

Click here to watch a video about the hit-and-run: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=2&v=kAPOJpoK-7U.