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.

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