This blog started with Yolanda. At first I wanted to write about stories by people whom I’ve met. The stories of workers I’ve talked to whose families were affected. I thought they were worth remembering and writing about. But as I had begun to talk with our neighbors, friends, classmates or a housemaid or houseboy about what they felt when they could no longer contact their parents, siblings, cousins, grandparents, uncles, aunties, friends – their loved ones – I could no longer write about them. I mean they were restless and clueless as to the whereabouts of their families. How can you even say a word to someone who was anguishing over the possibility that he may no longer have a family to go home to? You turn pale. You know you can never be in their shoes. When most of them are here in Manila to work, or study – they don’t even own houses here – you begin to realize how shallow your empathy could be.
When the news from the Visayas started to trickle in, it did not bring relief, only in the least many were given the chance to brace themselves for the worst. Weeks passed before some of those I have talked to heard news of their families. Fortunately many of them did not suffer the loss of their entire household. But stories of death abounded.
One of our neighbors in Sampaloc, who came from Leyte, told this story to my mother. She narrated that her parents nearly died during the storm if it were not for the church. Not that the church provided absolute security, but that its massive walls at least tempered the rampaging flood. With the church’s roof torn open and its glass windows in shards, GI sheets, pieces of lumber with nails, broken glass composed a lethal mix with the churning water. Her parents, though old, survived despite being battered against the church’s walls, but they said they saw people drown, hit by wood, some were amputated on the spot when a corrugated sheet of roof swept along their way. When the flood subsided many could not believe they survived.
I still talk to some of them, asking how their families are. They smile first and tell you that initially their families have begun to fear the sound of rain, but currently somehow managing to rebuild their lives. I know it is not that simple. When you have a great number of people who have experienced death and dying, you know things have changed. A generation has changed. Somewhere in Leyte, Samar, Bohol and Mindanao, are communities of people who have a fresh way of looking at life. They are stronger than us, more learned, more compassionate. They have fathomed depths, we could not for all our comforts, bring ourselves into. Sooner or later, their lives will transform us for the better.