Sunday, October 25, 2009

Overcoming disability

That seemed to be the message of God for me this week ...

Yesterday evening, I was privileged to watch Jeffrey Tate conduct the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande (OSR). Tate was born with a spinal condition called spina bifida which is taken from Latin meaning "split spine". As I got into the hall, I saw him conducting sitting in an elevated swivel chair with one foot on the ground and the other rested on the foot rest of the chair. His left shoulder was lower than his right shoulder and he seemed to have a hunchback on the right side. He swung his baton up and down forming a diagonal line from left to right shoulder. I also saw a cane hanging from the conductor's stand indicating he walked with a cane.

He conducted John Mark Ainsley, a tenor who sang Benjamin Britten's nocturne for tenor (7 instruments and strings, op. 60) and Jean Sibelius' Symphony No. 2 in D Major, op. 43.

I didn't know who Jeffrey Tate was and neither did I knew he had a disability.

I was vaguely aware that there was a meeting on persons with disabilities. Looking at the UN schedule of meetings in Geneva, from 19-23 October, was the UN human rights' (OHCHR) second session of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. I say vaguely because I noticed we had more disabled people around the grounds. Usually, if there was a meeting on the rights of indigenous peoples, you'd also see people dressed in their native attire. So, I figured there must have been a meeting.

Then seeing Jeffrey Tate, who was disabled, I figured, they must've chosen him to close the session of the meetings and to top off the yearly concert of the OSR at Victoria Hall on the anniversary of the United Nations.

Today's gospel was about Bartimaeus who was a blind man who sat on a dirt road begging and shouted out to Jesus as He walked by to heal him. Jesus, moved by the faith of this man, healed him and said "Your faith has saved you". (Mk 10:52)

Later on today, at the Marian Conference I attended, I heard a testimony of one woman, who everybody knew as a jolly lady who had risen from her past trauma. She had a bipolar mother and a womanizing father, who eventually left them and she was sexually abused as a child and only recovered a few years back. You wouldn't be able to tell that she underwent these trials in life if you met her because she always seems so happy and jolly.

All of the stories I mentioned speak of disability. Some physical others spiritual. Tate initially took up medicine but gave it up because he wanted to pursue music. How difficult it must have been to conduct with lopsided shoulders? I don't know if it hurts but even if one doesn't have a disability, beating a baton for hours on end is tiresome. Try holding up your arm at shoulder height, bending your elbow for even 5 minutes and see how it feels. But his disability didn't stop him from pursuing what he really wanted. He probably beat the odds.

Second, Bartimaeus' leaped from his place, disregarding his cloak - who, from Fr. Richard's sermon, was a sign of letting go as for a blind person, his cloak is everything. It protects him from cold and it is his home during the night. But he didn't care because he believed that God would heal him and the benefits were far greater than a blanket but recovered sight.

Third was a story of a woman so broken, she wanted to take her own life. She was paralyzed by the ghosts of her past which almost ruined her marriage and destroyed all hope. But after joining a Christian community during her youth, she began the healing process and the road to full recovery took almost 30 years. It required a lot of faith and a lot of help from family and friends and brothers and sisters in community.

I feel blessed and inspired at how these people have overcome their disabilities.

Often we think, the world or even God dealt us a bad hand in life. I'm too ugly, I'm too short, I'm not good enough, why do I have this family, and so on and so forth. I don't have a good nose! I often hear this from people who look perfectly fine to me, no real physical disabilities whatsoever but complains of the blessing that is their healthy bodies. Then I meet a blind girl who shares her singing talent giving testimony to God's love for her. I meet a blind man who translates at the UN. I see a conductor with a spinal problem leading an orchestra producing angelic music. I cried listening to them play because it was so beautiful. The movement of the music as he conducted was really wonderful. As he points to each section to play, I feel the rising and lowering of each note. He received three call backs after the concert as the audience ceaselessly clapped. I hear of a hearing-impaired man playing piano at church.

Their lives are testimonies to God's never-ending goodness to create something wonderful from what initially seems to be a curse.

We often create our own disabilities that paralyze us. There are our insecurities, our fears, our hangups, all those things that stop us from fully realizing our potential. But the stories prove that nothing is impossible with God.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church 153-158, "The ability to see beyond the present is wisdom. To see beyond the possible is faith, a grace from God. The Spirit of God empowers us with spiritual intuition and insight. We cannot arrive at faith by ourselves."

This is true because God doesn't force us to believe. It is a choice. In the same way, it is a choice for us to rise up from the things that cripple our bodies and spirits. With God, everything is possible. Faith in God can help us get to that place where the impossible becomes possible.

Friday, October 23, 2009

last day at work ...

today was my last day working for the english text processing unit of the language services of the conference management division of the united nations office at geneva ... phew! a mouthful!!! but more than a mouthful is the love and appreciation i felt working with my colleagues.

i shared with my colleagues that it was a job worth getting up for. i never dreaded going into work and i would actually look forward to going and spending the day with the people i work with. and because we work in text processing, we saw the product of our labours every single day. day in and day out, we would produce finalized copies of conference papers, resolutions from all types of meetings including the infamous economic commission for europe (ece) documents that regulated and standardized fruits and vegetables to the more disturbing transport of dangerous goods.

i learned a lot on this job ... and i really felt appreciated ... and my boss interrupts me, "so why are you leaving? i thought you were intelligent." to that i just politely chuckled and smiled. because i knew the answer, it was time to move on because opportunity had presented itself.

i got a promotion. that promotion was God's hands at work. it was one day in may after getting back from holidays in the philippines that the head of personnel called me. he asked if i was interested in a possible move and a promotion. i said "yes" because it's not every day that you get asked that question. so i went to see him and he asked "why didn't you apply for this position?" honestly ... i didn't even know there was such a vacancy.

as a backgrounder ... i had prayed earlier on, i don't remember if it was the same week or month, because i had started getting bored at work. i wasn't usually like that. so, i prayed that if He willed it that i would be able to get another job. the problem was, i never applied for anything because i never really looked at vacancies. and here was my answer. how good is God to answer my prayer so quickly even if i did not lift a finger to realize my prayer. and to not act at this stage would probably be smiting Him. so, i applied and was e-mailed for an interview. after the interview, months had passed. i knew the post was due to be filled on sept. 1 but i had not received any indication that i had gotten it so i applied for leave and went home to surprise my mom on my bday. my boss granted me the leave maybe because she had wanted me to stay. she knew i was offered another job.

i went home thinking nothing about the other job offer. when i got back to work, all of a sudden, my boss calls me in. she shows me an e-mail saying that i had gotten the promotion and she didn't know whether to say congratulations or not. she said to think about it. i thought about it.

i accepted the post because this was the answer to my prayer. even if it is scary to start in a new place with totally new responsibilities, i have to because it will help me gain new experience and broaden my horizons.

and to top of my leaving, my colleagues planned a surprise farewell that left me crying. they even gave me a watch. the regular watch i used to wear stopped working at 12 noon yesterday. and a friend showed great insight and said ...

"the watch is really a reminder of God's perfect timing. and perfect plan."

she was right. everything happened in perfect timing down to my getting my marching orders just yesterday, a day before my last day. i got my official memo from personnel saying i had been promoted and a call from my new boss saying i will start come monday morning.

i wasn't able to take any pictures of the farewell because it didn't occur to me to take pictures. i was so happy to be among them eating and talking that i forgot.

after the party, i cleaned up the rest of my stuff. i had already cleared my other things the day before. i now needed to say goodbye to my office with its wonderful view of the lake. i was supposed to savour it and walk out slowly. but my colleague offered me a ride home and having to carry much, i obliged. but i didn't feel right. i almost forgot i was supposed to run an errand and had to catch the store before it closed, so again, i got home in time to buy what i had to and then still make my way back to say my goodbye properly to my desk and chair and view, take my last call on my office telephone, and to walk out slowly from the unog ... up the hill and out its gates ...

on monday i will be starting at the documents processing unit of the office of the united nations high comissioner for human rights ... where the old league of nations used to be seated.

a new chapter begins ...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Far far away

How have your pains and sorrows strengthened you? At times, does being separated from the comfortable company of your family and friends help you to bring God's kingdom to the bigger world? - In His Steps guide question, 22.10.09

I laughed at this question when I read it last night ... I wasn't being heretic or anything but because it was so true for me, at least, in my life. The question spoke to me. I was amused because it reminded me of my life.

I entitled my blog "wanderer" for the exact fact that I've traveled or lived far from home most of my life. And it's been painful as well as joyful. Moving requires a lot of energy and strength because you have to say goodbye to the people that you've met or have made friends with. No matter how often you say goodbye, it never gets easier. It is also a logistical nightmare! Packing is nostalgic and tedious at the same time. My brother would often comment why our garbage made it home to Manila. Firstly, the packers were like hurricanes who put anything that wasn't nailed to the ground in a box. So, garbage came with. :) Secondly, we couldn't or rather my mom couldn't watch over every single piece of paper but as a safety precaution, she took everything, including folded tissue papers in between photos, etc. It's all very funny and also very sad for some.

But going back to the question, being away from the comforts of home and family indeed makes you more dependent on people. You begin to crave the attention and company you left back home. You strike up new friendships. Church becomes a place of solace. And you appreciate the people that really keep you company and make it less lonely being alone in a strange land without your family and old friends that have grown up with you through the years.

Since I grew up everywhere, I've had friends that grew up with me and those that grew apart from me. I've never returned to any of the places I've lived in before except Manila.

But I always carry the memories of the good ol' times.

That's why I cherish the Philippines so much. It'll always be my home.

And that's why I also appreciate Geneva so much, because it's become my second home. I was asked once where I would live if not in the Philippines, I said Geneva.

Not just because of the beauty of Geneva but because it has helped me grow in service and grow closer to God. Here I was able to know God deeper through community life and Church and I was also able to share my faith with others - people like me, far away from home, in a strange land and in need of a helping hand. I was and still is often at the receiving end of that and when the opportunity presents itself, I try to do the same.

So, long story short, it is difficult to be far away from home but in the discomforts of living far away, there is a new comfort, the possibility of striking up new friendships, having free time on your hands and being able to share God's kingdom in any possible way - be it to help others, serve in Church, go on missions, etc. And having had the sorrows and pains of life, I can also be a wounded healer to those that need it. And in that, it has helped me to heal and gain strength because I know I'm not alone.