imyeyes-banner-sqIn My EyesBy Edward B. Antonio

The blind who plays Christmas songs

It’s Christmas season once again, fellas.

As early as the “ber” months, Christmas songs are already regularly played in the radios, both AMs and FMs. Although hampered by the flurry of typhoons this November, the cold Siberian winds are here at last. And when the night is serene and cold and the trees mellow with the soft rhyme of “White Christmas” played in the air, you know Christmas is around whether there will be raindrops or wild gushes of the northern winds.

There are lots of Christmas stories told and retold that have touched our hearts. There’s the story of a travelling couple one Christmas Eve who stopped for a while to take a picture of the surroundings. The woman suddenly heard the stinging cry of a child in the forested area. It was getting dark and the husband restrained her from pursuing the cry. But Joanna insisted, using her emergency flashlight.

The trail led them to a grassy area and there, clad in a blood-stained white cloth was a baby girl. She looked dehydrated. The couple took the child, brought her to a hospital and later adopted her. That baby girl was christened Nicole who eventually became an air force officer. Nicole took good care of her adopting parents until their old age.

“My story is woven by God and I’m returning all the favors to Him,” she said.

And then there’s this story of a Filipino blind boy who struggled from early tragedies to become one of the most successful blind musicians in the country.

This story is shared to us by Dr. Belinda A. Aquino, professor emeritus at the University of Hawaii at Manoa where she was professor of political science and Asian studies and founding director of the Center for Philippine Studies.

There was this blind boy who played Christmas songs at a store during Christmas breaks and his talent in playing the piano would change his life forever despite the tragedies that befell his early life.

The old Liberty House in Honolulu was an iconic department store that was especially popular during the Christmas season. Part of the attraction was that of a young Filipino pianist from Cebu who regularly entertained customers by playing Christmas songs at the Ala Moana Center. It would have been just another holiday gimmick except that the talented pianist, Chris Cerna, is completely blind since he was 18 months old. His only “eyesight” was his seeing-eye dog, Gib, who stayed by his side as he played the piano. Occasionally, Gib would be seen sleeping close to the piano, probably lulled by his
master’s music.

The death of Gib would break the young child’s heart but in 2009, he met another musician by the name of Celeste who became his friend and guide. They later got married.

Chris later graduated with a bachelor’s degree in music at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. After they got married, Chris and Celeste moved to San Bernardino in Southern California, where he is now a band pianist and recording artist.

 But who is Chris Cerna and how did he get to Hawaii?

 His story is an inspiring, heartwarming and uplifting tale, fellas.

 Chris came from a poor family in Cebu. Born with twin brother, Chuck, a talented child who was his inspiration. But Chuck died when he was five of cancer and according to Chris, it seemed that Chuck passed on him his talent in playing the piano!

 “It just happened,” Chris would later say in interviews.

How did Chris get to Hawaii?

Dr. Jorge Camara, an eye surgeon, was with the Aloha Medical Mission, a Hawaii-based humanitarian organization, to Cebu, when he met little Chris Cerna. A classical pianist, Camara offered to take Chris to Honolulu for medical treatment and observation when he was eight years old.

Camara, also a highly trained ophthalmologist, performed surgery on Chris to implant a set of “artificial eyes” in his empty eye sockets. It was a historic feat as it was the first operation of this nature to be done in Hawaii. The surgery made Chris look normal even if he could not see. His mother accompanied him to Honolulu to help care for him before and after his operation, which gave him hope and a new life.

Because of their mutual passion for music, Chris Cerna and Jorge Camara became fast friends. The good doctor organized a concert to raise funds for the Aloha Medical Mission, titled “Four Doctors and a Patient.” This huge success before a sold-out crowd was followed by two more concerts featuring Chris as the lead pianist. The mission raised over $130,000, and Chris became an overnight sensation in Hawaii’s entertainment world.

In time his mother passed away, and again Chris was grief-stricken. He was even more distraught last August when yet another tragedy struck. Camara died suddenly, and Chris flew all the way to Honolulu from California to pay his last respects to his beloved doctor, mentor, friend and benefactor.

He played a number of beautiful pieces at Camara’s memorial service where a number of mourners fought off tears, so touched were they by Chris’ haunting tribute to a departed soul brother.

But life goes on for this indestructible and awesome artist, who overcame poverty, adversity and much pain in life. According to a recent announcement in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Chris has organized a band, called Lonesome Otis, which plays at festivals and special events in local communities. His wife Celeste, also a musician, is a member of the band. For the past decade, Chris has released a number of solo and band albums.

Chris occasionally returns to play his music before audiences in Hawaii, his first home away from home, a place that he loves dearly and that will always remain a part of his remarkable life and career.

Chris therefore, is akin to Christmas as Camara is akin to Christ who gave Chris the opportunity to “see” his real self.

And so, another Christmas story has taught us a valuable lesson: no amount of physical impediment can hinder us from growing up if we have the determination to succeed.

Just like Chris.

Merry Christmas everyone! ●