For the past few weeks, I and my colleagues have been busy preparing for a Literary Festival. Now that the work is done, I can finally put some thoughts on ether.
I had lunch with my boss yesterday, during a short lull in the middle of the festival, and we finally got to talk about the recent tragedy that has befallen our country. My boss’ hometown was one of the towns ravaged by the typhoon, and one could see the extreme sadness on her face. Apparently, she’s been told that 98% of her hometown was destroyed, and she told me she just couldn’t imagine it, the absolute destruction. What is that remaining 2%? How does one even begin to quantify the tragedy? And she asked me, “why is this happening to our country?
Of course, I couldn’t offer any sensible answer. I do not know. I do not even have words to articulate my thoughts, my feelings about the whole thing. I told her, though, that if it hadn’t been for the Festival that kept us busy and sane (sanity amidst the madness of the preparations), today would have been so different for all of us. We would have been acting and speaking differently. The thing is, the Festival forced us to put on a facade, to act as if everything was okay, to move about as if we had a handle on things. I couldn’t possibly facilitate a demo-workshop for teachers if I let my feelings about the tragedy overcome me. I couldn’t possibly host the dinner that was to happen that same night if I were to be constantly reminded of other people’s lack of basic necessities. I told her about my need to put the dinner, a celebration of sorts for a host of many departmental triumphs (the nomination of our mentor and colleague Cirilo F. Bautista as National Artist for Literature, the Festival’s success, and our send-off for a beloved faculty who is retiring at the end of this year) in proper context. And she agreed.
So there we all were post-Festival last night, at the rooftop of the spanking new building in campus, me in my new dress and perfectly coiffed hair, eating and drinking and enjoying music and having fun, and finally as host, I had to say my concluding remarks:
As we cap this event with food, and drinks, and laughter, and memories, we are also reminded of the bittersweet landscape that we currently find ourselves in. But amidst our losses and all our pains, we also commemorate our triumphs, both individually and as a community. For we are each other’s pain, as we are each other’s victory.
For we are each other’s pain. As we are each other’s victory.
I couldn’t help it. By the time I got to the word victory, I felt my voice breaking. For a moment there it seemed no victory could overcome our collective pain.
Now that I have time to collect my thoughts, and to process all that has happened, I find myself sick to my core. Of course like millions of Filipinos who were spared, I have already (thanks to the initiative of my sisters) sent a bunch of clothes to be donated. But I know it’s not enough. I will send monetary donation as well, but still, I know it won’t be enough.
Nothing will ever be enough.
I think of all the parents who lost their children and the absolute pain that comes with it. Of all the children who are now orphaned by this terrible tragedy. I think of the land, of the terrain that will never be the same. Of the thousands of people now gone, deprived of a decent death. I think of that moment when they realized, probably right before they died, that they were about to die. Just like that. The fear and the helplessness would have been too much to bear. I think of the future of all these towns, now wastelands of despair. How long before scores of people can recover from this? Is there even a chance of recovery?
While my sorrow and anguish are palpable, so is my gratitude. So is my hope. I see so many Filipinos moved into action. I see the international community reaching out to this little archipelago this side of the world. The desire to help is larger and more magnificent than any storm surge known to man. As a Filipino, I thank all of you. For your concern. For your assistance. For your prayers. Truly, we live in a small world. Differences in language, in politics, in religion, in skin color are nothing compared to our sense of humanity. The world really has no lines, no boundaries, when it comes to empathy.