A spark in the dark shining through
(Part 2 of a three-part series tracing the contributions of three persons with disabilities who serve the community with joy and dedication despite their handicaps.)
Seated on a bench and with his head slightly up, Elmer Mabalato calmly ran his fingers over the keys of a piano.
The melody of Whitney Houston’s “I Know Him So Well” wafted beautifully across the room as the power of music never fails to make Mabalato’s personal troubles fade.
“Music took away my pains. It healed me and made me feel good,” said the 28-year-old pianist from Barangay Cogon Pardo, Cebu City.
Completely blind from birth, Mabalato dealt with various forms of discrimination from people, including those close to him.
Agony and self-pity were his closest companions.
“There were those who were asking why I should go to school when it seems futile because of my condition. My lola, for one, was saying I won’t even be able to see the blackboard,” he recounted.
“To be honest, I was very desperate. I was asking God many questions, and I felt so useless. It was as if I was battered by huge waves,” he added.
One day, when he was only six years old, Mabalato walked to the sea near their house as he planned to take a dip in the waters.
But even before he could step on the shore, someone cautioned him not to bathe in the sea since the waters were deep.
He then turned around and headed for home.
As he was on his way, music coming from one of the houses in the neighborhood caught his attention.
“I got curious,” Mabalato said.
He traced the sound’s origin and as he heard the music growing louder, he knew that he was on the right track.
Innocent as he was, Mabalato entered the house where the music came from and ended up belittled.
But the young boy was more than determined to try playing the piano.
“Someone within me was saying ‘You can do it,’” Mabalato said.
With his little fingers, he pressed the piano keys and tried to make a melody.
The sound which first came out was awful; but it did not stop him from learning the skill.
Mabalato begged his neighbor to allow him to practice playing on the piano more often.
Soon, his frequent date with the instrument made him more familiar with every sound even though no one ever taught him.
“I was simply drawn to it,” he said.
As months passed by, Mabalato’s progress became hard to ignore and to the amazement of his neighbors, he became very good at playing the piano.
Realizing that he was just as able and as special as others, Mabalato found a renewed sense of self.
He expanded his musical horizon by also playing the guitar, saxophone, and drums, among other instruments.
Endowed with great talent, Mabalato was not keen on keeping it to himself.
At age 10, four years after his love affair with the piano started, Mabalato was attending Mass at the Santo Tomas de Villanueva Church in Pardo, Cebu City when he learned that no one was around to play the piano.
He did not let the window of opportunity pass him by.
“As usual, I heard people saying ‘He can’t do it. He may end up embarrassing himself.’ But the Mass was without music. I just can’t stand there and do nothing,” Mabalato said.
“And so I came forward, sat on the piano bench, and played the instrument,” he added.
To the people’s surprise, Mabalato played every song at Mass without a hitch.
Since then, the parish asked him to play the piano during church masses.
“It was my dream to serve at Mass as a way of thanking God for everything. I just want to give it back and offer my talent to Him,” said Mabalato who considers this a gift and a means of growing closer to the Lord.
More doors opened for Mabalato as he received several requests to play the piano during weddings, birthdays, and other special occasions.
At present, he also performs in different hotels in Cebu and at times even serves as host during events.
In 2013, Mabalato graduated from high school, ending years of toil toughened by adversity and patient industry at the Talisay City National High School.
He then studied music for two years to enhance his skills.
Mabalato urged persons with disabilities and even those who are able-bodied who find life a burden to never lose heart in the face of adversities.
“Discover yourself, and don’t waste time because we don’t know until when our life may end. I hope we use whatever God gave us so that when we face
Him in the end, at least we can say that we have contributed something in life,” he said.
On July 18, Mabalato is set to marry his fiancee who happens to be the head of the San Padre Pio Choir in Pardo to fulfill his dream of building a family of his own.
While doctors say he still has a chance to see, Mabalato said he has long accepted his condition and is not even thinking of undergoing eye surgery.
“I’m done wishing. I’m already used to being blind, and I don’t have to see to be able to do something in this world,” he said.
Though he gropes in the dark, Mabalato said that he has every reason to thank God for the blessings that come his way.
He also knows that he does not need sight to have a vision in life.
“I may not be able to see, but that is not a reason for me not to serve. I still have life — a special gift from the Lord,” he said.
“Whatever disability is not a hindrance to being productive. I may be blind, but I still have ears, hands, feet, and nose where other senses come from. What I lost is but one sense. I still have more in life,” said Mabalato.
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