Thursday, August 5, 2004

Mody with the smiling soul

She did not paint with her mouth or strum the guitar with her feet. She did not write verses or propound mathematical theories. She was no savant, but she was no sorry saint either. She had no spectacular talent or stunning achievements to speak of that could make her a celebrity worth all the fuss.

What she had were syringomyelia—and her immense capacity to take in life and be joyful. And to infect others with her joie de vivre. And to draw people to herself. And to be drawn to others.

Her story is worth retelling, my former editor at the Sunday Inquirer Magazine said to me the other day. I told her that Cecilia ``Mody’’ Chuidian Jurado, whom I had written about in 1991, passed away last Tuesday morning after a bout with respiratory illness. Mody’s body was cremated immediately. She was 46.

Mody had been bedridden, wheelchair-bound for 37 years. Only her head could move normally. And except for her upper limbs that could make slight, difficult movements, the rest of her was practically immobile. Mody was a quadriplegic. What Mody could not do for herself, others had to do for her.

Mody had been that way since she was nine years old. She was stricken with syringomyelia at that age when girls romped about and beat boys their age at their own game. One day all that energy came to a sudden stop. After four months in the hospital, Mody was brought home, never to move freely again and to start life anew.

Syringomyelia is a blister in the spinal cord that results in a chronic and progressive condition associated with sensory disturbances, muscle atrophy and spasticity.

The Jurado home in Magallanes Village had to undergo renovation so that Mody’s room on the ground floor could have a good view of everything that went on. Mody continued her studies at St. Scholastica’s College through a home study program and finished grade school and high school. She could have earned a college diploma but the Education Department at that time had requirements that a quadriplegic could not fulfill. Mody’s mentors encouraged her to keep on learning on her own. Mody read and listened to tapes and opened herself to the world.

Mody was the third of the five children of retired Air Force General Augusto Jurado and Nena Chuidian. She had two older half-sisters, her father’s children by his first wife who was killed by the Japanese during World War II.

``Mama said I’m helping God carry the cross,’’ Mody stated without a tinge of religious sentimentality. She was completely given to her condition. When I asked her what she would have wanted to do with her life had she been mobile, she said, ``A doctor in the missions.’’

Mody’s aunt, Sr. Consuelo Chuidian, a Good Shepherd nun, was one of the human rights workers who perished in a sea mishap off Mindanao in 1984. Her aunt’s photo hung beside Mody’s bed.

Mody was a study in wholeness and oneness with the world. The fact that she was no celebrity made those qualities shine through. She was no saint, no heroine, she would laugh. She was like most everyone—ordinary. Could that have been the reason many people were drawn to her?

People would come to her with their problems. She listened, gave counsel. Her smooth voice and good diction were some of her worldly assets. She had a keen sense of humor, was even self-deprecating at times, not hiding the weaker side of her. She could be lazy, she would say.

Mody could run the house even from her bed. She supervised the househelp, planned the marketing and the menu. She taught the househelp how to cook. ``Utos lang ng utos,’’ she chuckled. She also liked going to the mall and, when she was younger, to pop concerts with her friends.

Mody could use computer and do email with one slightly moving finger. A cordless phone was always with her. That Mody’s spastic hands could move at all was due to physical therapy. She could write, even do cross stitch ever so slowly. There was sensation in her entire body but she could not move. Someone had to brush her teeth and clean her up.

In 1991, Mody had breast cancer and underwent radical mastectomy and chemotherapy. She didn’t bother to wear a wig when her hair fell off. Mody survived cancer.

Friends who came to visit Mody all these years were not visiting a sick person. Her best friend and neighbor Florian Nuval-Nequinto would come around often for a chat, taking along her baby to roll on and wet Mody’s bed. The two were best friends since they were kids.

Her father (who died a few years ago) said they made sure Mody did not turn out spoiled. ``If we gave in to her every whim,’’ her mother said, ``she could have ended miserable.’’ She thought Mody was really very special. ``I think the word for her is valiant.’’

Mody was never sore at anyone, God included, for her condition and the finality of it. ``I didn’t think it was going to be temporary,’’ she said then. ``You take what God gives you, do the best you can, be happy. I think I live a pretty good life. I am relatively healthy, I have lots of friends. I have a nice family. I get sad but not depressed.’’ Sad about what? ``Seeing other people’s hardships, their poverty, their suffering--physical, mental.

``We have to make the most out of life, be the best. Don’t worry. This does not mean we should not plan. But we have to have faith in the Lord.’’

I spoke with Mody a few months ago before her health deteriorated. She later emailed me about the small reading project she and her friends had put up for poor kids in their barangay.

Mody, you stood out in a special way, among the hundreds of people (good, bad, wonderful, obnoxious)I had written about these past many years. Goodbye, and thank you for your quiet inspiration.