What did Hugh do during his 10 years out of music?
During this time of trial Hugh learned many of the lessons of life that he missed during his mad dash to success.
I've often been asked what I did during the 10 years that I was away from music. In 1988 I turned my life over to the Lord in Montreal. The first thing I felt Him calling me to do was to abandon music. The time leading up to my surrender to Jesus was riddled with anorexia, bulimia, and the New Age spirituality that I had used to try to escape my decent into the pit. The Lord must have known how much my self esteem and ego were tangled up in the music and therefore He could not use it for his purposes at that time. So He asked me to give it up. This became very clear through the many hours I spent in prayer and meditation.
It was terrifying to give up music because it was a leap into nothingness. It was a leap into the absurd. I was being called to give up the god of art for the God of our Fathers. I closed my recording studio, gave away and sold all of my equipment, destroyed thousands of hours of work, including that which I considering an extension of my soul - ten years of expensive, irreplaceable master recordings of my music compositions. I threw out all the newspaper and magazine articles about myself that I had. I went to work for minimum wage at a local charity. I kneeled in front of Churches at 5 am every morning.
My relatives believed I had gone mad and called the police. So the paradox of a decision for God, as the philosopher Kierkegaard explains, is that the "closer we come to the Absolute, through inwardness, the less we are understood by the outside world."
In a sense, I had gone mad, even though it was the greatest moment of clarity that I had ever had. It was a very difficult time of my life because I gave away everything that I thought was me. I didn't realize that I was a complete human apart from music. For a year I worked as a cashier in a local second hand clothing store for the poor, like the Salvation Army. I then got a job in a car wash wiping down cars at $6/hour. But there was a creeping problem that was threatening my ability to work.
My years of the eating disorder took their toll and at 108 pounds I had very little muscle tissue and so my tendons in my arms had to take most of the load of this manual labour. It was several years of being a Christian before I was completely free of the tendency to under eat. After several years in an eating disorder program, I eventually got gained all my weight back and got a solid meal plan in place.
I had no education so manual work was the only kind of work I could do. I wiped down cars for 8 months at a local car wash with a torn biceptal tendon in my shoulder that eventually led to two surgeries on my shoulder. Looking back on it, I don't know how I continued to work through the pain all those months. During the rehab for the shoulder injury I tore tendons in my left elbow which required surgery. I tried washing windows. After that and I worked sweeping streets for 7 months but there was no use, with the injuries I simply could not do manual labour jobs. I did not have a voice either because I had blown it out in the when I was in the US tour of "Cats" and I could not talk at all for three years except for 10 minutes a day of a whisper. I wrote on a note pad the rest of the time. I simply had to admit that I was a disabled person - unable to work.
So there I was, having given up my music for God and I was entirely unemployable. I was wondering what God was doing with me. I pleaded with him to show me the way. The Lord said "the truth shall set you free." The Truth was that I was disabled. Finally admitting the truth was the beginning of a way out. I walked into a government rehabilitation office for disabled persons and communicated to them my dilemma. They did some evaluations on me and they found out I was in the 95 percentile in cognitive abilities and that I should be retrained. So I went right back to grade 10 where I had dropped out of math 17 years earlier. I couldn't add two fractions. But I put my mind to it and after two years I graduated from high school with an 89% average and began a business program at the University of Ottawa.
During school I picked up more injuries and ended up with computer related repetitive strain injury, which required a surgery to my other elbow. I couldn't type on a computer anymore and this was threatening my last hope for becoming employable. I was unable to do my school work and was about to drop out of school.
One night I was in complete despair, I said to God:
"You are going to have to do something if you want me to stay in school, because without computer I will fail and I can't use computer anymore. It hurts too much to press the keys and move and click the mouse. "
Then suddenly, a crazy thought came into my head. I went into my closet and pulled out a $1200 palmtop computer that I had purchased but could not use anymore. I had an idea to pull it apart. I "knew" logically that I would probably ruin it but felt that I might as well try since I couldn't use it anyway cause the keys were too hard to press. After a couple of hours of fiddling with the key mechanism, with the computer apart, I put the computer back together. I thought to myself "that was the stupidest 2 hours I've ever spent in my life." But then I turned it on and touch a key. A miracle happened. The computer not only worked but the keys had almost zero resistance. It no longer hurt to type on the keyboard. I had a computer keyboard that I could use with my disability. Praise the Lord! I learned how to program this little computer to control my desktop. I am using it to build this web site and type this article (6 years later).
But I was still having trouble using the mouse. Then I got a crazy idea to put a touchpad on the floor and use it with my toe. I hotwired it so that I could click with my left foot and navigate with my right foot. I was using the mouse with my feet.
There I was back in business. I could do my school work. Not only that but then everybody thought I was an inventor and I filed for patent (which is pending). It gave me a new career. I began tailoring my school studies toward computer technology for people with disabilities. I graduated from university Magna Cum Laude and got a job working in the computer field for people with disabilities three days a week. We do computer technology for people with disabilities and build web sites that are accessible to blind people and things like that.
Eventually my shoulder and elbow problems improved and when God put it on my heart to begin music again in 1998 on that Christian retreat, I was able to play guitar using an instrument with very light touch. I have a special bent flute I had made for myself. My voice also came back pretty well so that my CD's actually sound like the radio voice I used to have when I was singing on Broadway. God is Good!
I have no idea what the future will hold but I love my life today. I go to daily Mass, I have hundreds of friends, I work in technology for people with disabilities. I was married to Diane in January 2011.
When a friend with a disability was asked how he copes with his limitations, he said "I do what I can and I ask for help with what I can't!" I now see the wisdom of those words. Sometimes our necessity can be the mother of invention, and it is remarkable how supportive the business community can be when we take initiative. I'm grateful to God for showing me that He will provide if we believe in ourselves and unite our adversity with faith and creativity.
Lord Jesus, I thank you for all you have given me. I thank you for all I have lost. And I thank you for all the hearts who you've touched through me and the hearts that have loved me to health and happiness in your most Precious Name. Amen