Sunday, 15 April 2018

Dr Theresa Smith-Ruig's visions of life.

Sometimes life provides a way out. The question is, will you follow?

For Theresa, she did. She followed it through. She never looked back. Because she can't, I mean literally, as she is blind (in both eyes). 

But Wong Kim Hoh's article today entitled "Proving the doubters wrong" inspired a new perspective in me about the role of insight in a life.

I recall Helen Keller once said that, "it is better to be blind and see with your heart, than to have two good eyes and see nothing."

And Theresa would put many of us (with two working eyes) to shame with how she'd followed life to where it led, and achieved everything she'd put her heart, soul and sight on. 

At 40 plus, Theresa saw more than most. Here is her journey of the heart. 

For ten years, she lived in "a very large farm with 2000 sheep and 500 cattle" in a farm town called Boggabri, about 500 km northwest of Sydney. 

She is the second of four children. She led an idyllic life and her eyes were continually nourished by the unadulterated horizon of nature.

But this all changed when her mother noticed that she kept dropping her knife and fork at the dinner table and took longer to find them. 

Her doctor who examined her said: "Oh no, your retinas are tearing and you'd better fly to Sydney tomorrow for treatment."

Over 12 months thereafter, Theresa went through 12 operations, even one "performed in England by a world renowned specialist." 

Theresa recalled: "My right eye couldn't be saved, the retina was far too damaged. They tried to halt further damage in my left eye but over the next couple of years, all sorts of other eye issues cropped up."

Fighting for her sight, she had to wear thick glasses, and it made her very uncool in appearance. 

She however made it through high school with strong support from her teachers and friends. In fact, saying she "made it through" would be an understatement because she was her high school's top student, "achieving the highest university entrance score - 94.5 - not just in her town, but also the surrounding region."

She credits her mother as "her biggest champion" helping her to develop a "never say never" attitude.

But finding a university would prove a challenge, because the world still sees her as limited by her sight (or the lack of it).

Wong's article observed this:-

"(Theresa) remembers visiting one of Sydney's top universities, which she declines to name, during her final year in high school. "One of the professors told me: "Why come here? We take only the best ones." He was very patronising, his tone suggested there was no way I could get in there.""

Recall Keller's quote? "It is better to be blind and see with your heart, than to have two good eyes and see nothing"?

I believe many goals worth pursuing in our life are beyond what we can see, tangibly speaking. It has to be felt in the heart. That is where the enduring source of strength and hope lie. That is where true vision resides. 

And Theresa never leaves a challenge undone, or unpacked. That professor's word gave her wings where it should have clipped it by ordinary (worldly) standards. And she went on to qualify for that top university. Yet, she opted to read commerce in another university, that is, the University of New England. 

Needless to say, she did exceptionally well in university and this human dynamo did not stop there. She said: "It was both luck and drive. My ambition was to be successful. And I want to prove people wrong. I'm blind but I can do things."

She found a job in the bank and thrived at it. She was "put through the bank's different departments including fraud, debt collection and data analysis."

That's not all. 

Wong wrote that "the high achiever also found fulfillment outside of work by volunteering with outfits like Vision Australia, a non profit helping visually impaired people, where she held the position of deputy chair. She was also vice-president of Blind Citizens of Australia, an advocacy group."

And that's not even half of it...

Theresa took her professor's advice and went back to school (UNE) on a scholarship and pursued her PhD. This is way her world and another collided. This is part of the article's lighter moments.

"While doing a research project on careers and management in the finance sector, she met Joel Ruig. He was supposed to be an interview subject. It turned out that he was not good for my PhD, but good for something else," Theresa laughs.

"Mr Ruig, who runs a financial planning business, interjects and says: "It was a fishing trip." 

Wong wrote about their romance in such whimsical way:-

"The chemistry was right, they started dating. Her disability was not an issue for him." 

Mr Ruig says: "I didn't have to agonise about when to hold her hand. I did it on the first date." 

Levity aside, he adds: "Theresa created such normal environment you forget about her disability.""

18 months later, Theresa became Mrs Theresa Smith-Ruig. They tied the knot in 2006 and "their first daughter came along the following year. Two more followed in 2010 and 2014."

And the uphill climb for Theresa became a vantage perspective from the summit when she managed to complete her doctorate and juggle with motherhood, together with performing part time work and temporary contracts with the universities. All done, swimmingly.  

Now, Dr Theresa Smith-Ruig has "set her sights on an associate professorship.

Indeed, she saw further than most people without disability ever did because what she can't see with her own eyes, she saw clearer and deeper with her heart. 

Lesson? Just one.

I have much to learn from such a wonderful, never say never life. So much.

It is said that when God shuts one door, he opens others. The problem is that I am so accustomed to that shut door in front of me that any other way to another door becomes an uphill climb. It becomes unnatural, too burdensome and self-debilitating too. 

But for people like Helen Keller and Theresa, they never have that privilege of seeing obstacles the way we see with both eyes (that may just be a blessing in disguise?).

Helen Keller once said this most beautifully:-

"They took away what should have been my eyes (but I remembered Milton's Paradise).
They took away what should have been my ears, (Beethoven came and wiped away my tears) 
They took away what should have been my tongue, (but I had talked with God when I was young) 
He would not let them take away my soul, possessing that I still possess the whole."

I have always found this profound and enduring beauty in a life that is always overcoming, seldom complaining, and fiercely resilient. 

It is not what they have lost that draws me to their life. It is what they have gained with the loss that stirs my soul from within with deep admiration.

Circumstances may turn a blind eye to them, but they are never blind to their vision to overcome. Life may serve them undue notices of the tragedy of a loss (whether physically, a turn of a fortune, or loved ones), but they are never daunted, never sidelined, never giving up. 

Like Helen Keller said, there is a wholeness in our soul that we can never be dispossessed of if we keep our focus on what truly matters in the end. 

For a greater tragedy in life is to have eyes but not see (like that university professor who wanted only the "best ones" and arrogantly judged Theresa as far from it), or to have ears but not hear, and worse of all, to have heart but never heal, never touched (or touch) and never feel. 

Alas, I can't end this post without one of Helen Keller's quotes (and I encourage you this Sabbath morning to be nourished by them). Here is one that resonates with me. 

"The best things in life are unseen, that's why we close our eyes when we kiss, cry, and dream."

And I just want to affirm here that Theresa's life is music to my heart. They play to a different tune that the world is often tone-deaf to. It is the score of life that defies the script of this world. It radiates hope, it broadens perspective, and it deepens experiences. 

And as I meet my own challenges (which pales in comparison to Theresa's or Keller's), I too want to savour the best things in life by closing my eyes, and feel the lyrical score of courage, the vibrant notes of resilience, and the sweet melody of love and hope to bring me by the hand to the other doors that are open for me rather than to mope over the one I see in front that is firmly shut. Cheerz.  

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