Divinely placed, says epileptic survivor
WHEN REVEREND ANTONIO CORBIN sits in counselling sessions with a member of his congregation, he brings to bear an empathy and understanding based on his personal experience.
Worshippers at Disciple Training Centre in St Peter put their confidence in a deeply engaged pastor who reaches out to those who may have fallen through the cracks or are bothered by some situation that has rendered their life miserable.
This pastor certainly knows what misery feels like. For 18 of his 51 years, he endured the misery of epilepsy, the neurological disorder that robbed him of a huge chunk of schooling and even brought the state of his sanity into question.
“I look back at it now and I can only give God thanks for where I am, understanding where I could have ended up,” Corbin told the SUNDAY SUN, as he opened up about the illness which in his youth threatened his future, but has turned out to be the motivation for his outreach to others needing his wise counsel and encouragement.
“I would just be there, and then I would just start biting my tongue, falling over, having no co-ordination, somehow being semi-aware of who was around me but unable to be in control,” was the way he described the “fits” that plagued him from childhood right through his teenage years.
He does not know exactly when the epileptic seizures began, but recalls he often suffered seizures while at primary school. The last of ten children, he would notice the fuss his siblings made over him during every spell of illness and even now he cannot stop praising his late mother for her tireless support through it all.
“I must say that during that time my mother ‘Mama’ stood with me every step of the journey.”
Mama devoted herself to her son’s care, taking him to every doctor’s appointment, standing anxiously by his bedside each time he had to be hospitalised.
“I knew that I was really bad one day I was having a fit, when Mama looked out that door (at our home) and asked God ‘Why my Tony?’ That is when it hit me that this was more than just an ordinary sickness,” he said.
Other experiences served to bring home to the teenager the severity of his condition. Sitting in a doctor’s office with his mother once, he was crestfallen when he heard that doctor say to his mother: “Do not bring him back to me. I cannot do anything more for him.” Even as an adult, he does not hide the angst he feels when he repeats that doctor’s words.
“Can you imagine me, young and innocent, knowing what the world has to offer me and I sat there and heard the doctor tell my mother not to bring me back, because he can do nothing else for me?” Corbin asked.
Relating another experience he said: “One of my feared memories was when a doctor from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital made an appointment for me to go to the Psychiatric Hospital. I was between 11 and 12 and of course I did not understand the stigma of the Psychiatric Hospital then. But looking back on it now, I remember the person to whom I went with my mother said he had three diagrams for me to draw.”
He distinctly remembers drawing the face of a man in the first diagram. But it was the reaction of the psychiatrist when he finished the second, more complex diagram of lines, that has left an indelible impression and he has never stopped asking himself “What if?”
“When I put that drawing down, the gentleman asked my mother ‘Why did they send him here?’ The question was an eye-opener for young Corbin. “Now, when I am preaching, I ask myself and I say to people ‘I wonder what would have happened to me had I crossed those lines the wrong place. I believe I would have been written off.”
Nonetheless, key people in his life refused to write him off and he said: “I have to say thanks to Daryll Jordan, the principal at St Lucy Secondary School, and the teachers who would have accommodated me throughout my school years, for not making me feel less than a person because of my sickness.”
“I remember there was a school term that out of 13 weeks, I only got to school 13 days. It was during that time I thought the Queen Elizabeth Hospital was my home. I remember being discharged a Friday and I was back there on Monday morning.”
“That is why I have to single out Daryll Jordan for his heart and his oversight. He never once called my mother to pull me out of school.”
That nurturing and protection from principal and teachers amidst his difficulties enabled Corbin to become a top table tennis player at St Lucy Secondary (now Daryll Jordan Secondary), among his very limited achievements.
Still, he did not escape the cruelty of some fellow students, who often taunted him with the nickname “Fitzy” because of his epileptic seizures. The overwhelming kindness and understanding of the majority of fellow students and the support in his home and from people in his neighbourhood served to lessen the effect of such taunts.
Yet, looking back, for him it was “a dark world” mainly because of the way his illness prevented him from benefiting from a full education.
“I can remember two days before I had an exam, I ended up in hospital. I have had a number of days when I was robbed of a valuable education,” Corbin mused, but he added: “Where I am now and who I am, I think that carries more value to me than the education I lost, because it has given me a heart of understanding and a heart of compassion.”
The divorced father has a son and a daughter who are both achieving the kind of academic success that he reckons makes up for his own shortfall, though he managed to complete school in Upper Fifth Form. He says: “I might lack in the area of the certificates I need when I am applying for the job, but when it comes to my mental state and understanding who I am and what life is, I have not lost out there.”
He believes the direction his life has taken is where God intended him to go and is convinced he was divinely placed to help others.
“The title Reverend is good, but the office of a pastor is the one that connects you with people” he observed, adding: “Outside of being a pastor, what else? I don’t have the congregation that lifts me up when I come around, though I am very much involved in my congregation, but it is the passion for what I do; it is my love for the people; it is knowing this is what the Lord designed for me.”
The dark days of epileptic seizures are behind this pastor, who is growing in stature in his church and he said: “I have no shame in sharing with those who the Lord allows me to come across, where the lord has brought me from.”
Though she has now passed, his beloved Mama as well as his late dad had the satisfaction of seeing their once sickness-prone son shine in his pastoral role. He declares full commitment to exploiting the “unique gift” with which he has been blessed. (GC)