Saturday, November 12, 2011

No hands, no problem

At just about this time a week ago, I was having dinner with someone who ate with her feet. That doesn't sound like a very pleasant meal to partake in, does it? I'd surely have the same impression had I not been the one chatting over lettuce soup and (my) baked fish in olive oil with a person whom I believe is worthy of much respect beyond the common respect that each human being deserves.

Jessica Cox was born without arms, and before she reached her 28th year she had already been swimming, scuba-diving, doing taekwondo, and driving with a no-restrictions driver's license. Then in 2009 she obtained her pilot's license. Now, this is just a fraction of the activity she's been engaged in, about which you can discover more here and here. But what I really think is important about this opportunity presented to me to spend a few hours with Jessica is the way I experienced starting off trying to overlook a physical condition and eventually forgetting that it's there without even trying.

A few of us met Jessica -- a Filipino-American who was in the country on vacation -- at her hotel to do an interview. I think it was when she casually flicked on an air-conditioning switch which was around eye-level using her foot that I began to feel a strange mix of "Oh, inconsiderate me, I should've done that" and "Wow, she can do that." After that was the interview during which she related stories of growing up in the US with her parents and two siblings, doubts she had experienced and assurances she had been given over the years, the traveling she's been doing to get her motivational message across to those who could benefit from it, and basically the wonderful upbringing that her parents carried out.

It was easy to lose sight of the fact that physically she was incomplete, but boy, what grit. And yet, I sensed no overly aggressive sentiments or any kind of defensive attitude that could have been a natural outcome of being regarded as "too different for comfort" -- which is very well a possibility given most societies' lack of understanding of special conditions or exposure to differently-abled people. But Jessica was composed, well-adjusted, pleasant. By the end of the interview, though her physical condition remained, what was more pronounced to me was her character.

I was momentarily reminded of her special condition, though, after she got some postcards to autograph for us. I was surprised for a few seconds, then thought, "Oh yes..." because prior to the interview I had seen pictures of her brushing her hair, putting on contact lenses and writing with a pen -- all using her feet.

We talked a lot over dinner, and though I was initially surprised the moment she took a sip of the soup from the spoon (of course, brought to her mouth using her right foot), it became unnoticeable to me right after that. Too bad we couldn't really take our time during the meal on account of another appointment that left less than an hour for dinner.

I can't even say that it was a memorable dinner, though I will never forget it. By the time of the meal, I had already grown accustomed to her -- the whole person -- so that whatever "spectacular" thing about such an experience may have normally stayed with me, simply went to my heart. That does sound somewhat cheesy, but I think spectacular things simply go up and fade away easily, while experiences that make their way into the heart stay and are felt in some ways long after they happen.

And the autographed postcard she gave me -- I guess it's simply a reminder of the strength of the human spirit and what heights we can reach when perceived obstacles are regarded as gifts and are used as stepping stones. Since one of the photos on the postcard shows the Pope, I'll let that be a reminder that it's with faith that everything begins -- even the belief that one can write with a pen despite the absence of hands.

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