Though it has been three years after, I am still brought to tears by all the memories from the Supertyphoon Yolanda. Since then, I have tried to live each day with the conviction that life is a gift and that it should be spent well.
I am writing this blog not to lament on what has been lost. Rather as a survivor, I would like to impart all the lessons I have earned from that experience.
My prayer is that all my readers would be able to receive this gift and this realization that our life is our moment and this moment, this fleeting one, should be filled with happiness.
Day 0 – 4AM – The surprise visit of apocalypse
November 8, 2013. One fateful day for approximately 250,000 people living in a city called Tacloban. The strongest typhoon of our modern day smashed the heart of the city, wreaked havoc and killed more than 20,000 people (contrary to the government-declared death toll of 6,000+ only).
The whole world saw an apocalyptic disaster.
Storm surges brought tsunami-like waves that literally ate everything in its path. And people were fighting for their lives. If not, death would invent all ways to get their souls.
THE AFTERMATH AND THE LESSONS
#1 – All things pass away except Faith
Let’s make a list of things almost all of us have: TV sets, shoes, smartphones, credit cards, money, houses, shirts, suits, dresses, make-up, bags, blouses, couch, car, bike, love letters, family photos, unfinished thesis with correction notes, trucks, toys, cane, the hot chick next door, the hunk you’ve been stalking, the parks you usually visit, the trees you climb, your favorite coffee shop, your Xbox, kitchenware, table set, pingpong racket, your dog, your pets, the slice of cake you left in the fridge, the wine bottle reserved for a special occasion, the downloaded movies you wanted to see later, the DSLR camera you just bought 3 days ago, the Macbook you’ve been paying on installment, the beaches you went to enjoy life with friends and the list goes on.
All of them eventually fades away. Add more things, and they all lose their luster, too. They only have value when we have them but when they face their finite destinies, they are nothing. We are all nothing.
Five hours after the hurricane, when people roamed around to recover what was left, you would only need the bare essentials, a roof over your head, a cup of rice, dry wood and potable water (this was the hardest to find). So, when you have nothing, what else is left? FAITH – an undying spirit and belief that everything is going to be better. Despair even dies away with the debris. Faith is what saves you. Faith feeds you. You understand that the source of all that you have comes from a higher form of intelligence and it provides you with what you need.
You may not be religious, but faith is far more than being religious. It is an enlightenment – a sort of awakening amidst the harsh reality. I thought that if God (that’s because I believe in Him), took away everything, I would be brought to despair; however, the opposite happened.
During those moments, I was in survival mode walking around with my best friend, looking for our friends to check if they were still alive. We passed by Santo Nino Church and inside the storm-torn church we saw two women who were kneeling down and praying. I was so moved by what I saw. I can’t say what had happened to those women and their families; but from them emanated a strong spirit of submission and faith. Not despair, but faith. A hope that even if it is impossible to believe, you believe in the impossible.
Everything is vanity of vanities said Virgil; and this was what I saw with the eyes of my soul. I learned that things, in front of death, has no value. And that faith, in front of death, becomes your last card.
So, you better have that trump card, and play it well.
#2 – Fill the shoes of the other – share your blessings
Early morning after the storm, I woke up at 4AM to go around the city together with neighbours – one had a tricycle. We saw people walking and there was one very evident thing I noticed. People wore non-identical pairs of shoes or slippers. Others wore a slipper on one foot while the other foot had to endure walking bare. It was very important to have something to protect your feet from whatever was on the ground. A lot of people incurred wounds in their soles after accidentally stepping on protruding sharp objects like nails and glass. Having shoes on your feet gave you a better chance of survival.
Other than that, seeing another person without something that you had, gave a pinch to your heart. It was there that everyone had the “chance” to fill in the shoes of another.
I experienced that our neighbour had no rice to eat so we offered rice and they offered to cook the rice for us because we had no matchsticks to light up a fire. It was a nice experience to share all that you have with the other person. Because we are all humans, thus, we are all part of a big family.
I learned that we are equal, we have needs and we are all capable of giving. Give and it will be given unto you.
#3. – Give a listening ear to the next person; you don’t know what they are going through and have gone through.
One day, we had to go to a storm-stricken supermarket to find some food. I went with my 2 cousins, and we walked under the sun, burnt with each one dragging an empty luggage for which we were to fill with food, water and whatever we might be able to find.
We arrived in this huge warehouse, dilapidated but flocked by the crowd. Imagine people with sacks on their back, filled with mud and goo while carrying close to 30kg on their backs, and traversing through fallen down concrete and metal braces. We had to go through that same maze and walk around 15 km back home dragging all of what we were able to get.
On the way home, we sought to rest in a waiting shed and nearby was a faucet were people lined up to get water. A father and daughter stopped by the place we were in, and my cousins and I thought of offering them water. The daughter was piggyback-carried on her father’s shoulders. I offered them a bottled water, the father took it, gave to his daughter and never said a word. I tried to talk to him, but he was lost in his thoughts. Maybe he lost other family members. I felt how difficult it was for them and I knew I was more fortunate I had my family intact. I said a silent prayer for them.
I remember also, asking the military how the roads were far ahead going to Ormoc because I was planning to take a boat to Cebu to leave the city with my family. The army didn’t have an idea and from nowhere came a man weeping while on his bike as he was going towards the army. He asked the same question and said that his whole family died and he was the only one who survived. Up to now, it brings me to tears.
These people needed someone to console them, an ear to lend to at least ease the pain.
Fast forward three years after, I had this deep desire to listen to others. Sometimes, saying nothing and just listening has become the best way to help others. When we listen, we divide the hurt and the difficulties and it becomes lighter to bear. When we listen, we learn and we grow emotionally, too.
We make friends for life when we listen.
#4 – Be happy when others are happy.
Having nothing is a huge temptation to be desperate and envious of others. However, during the aftermath of the storm, being desperate could cost you a grumbling stomach. During those days, I saw my neighbourhood change. From not talking to one another and comparing things, we started conversing of things that we could share. We revelled in the feeling of being happy when others were happy.
And happiness was simple, it was a joke in the middle of the night under the moon and candle light. It was a song we sung together. It was a tale of yesteryears. It was laughter at what everyone got into even if it looked so sour. It was the fun of cooking pasta when it was what we got instead of rice. It was the joy of cleaning the house endlessly. It was the joy of watching TV programs from the 2-inch LCD of a cellphone. It was the hope that tomorrow there would be something.
Being happy when others are happy helped me a lot to survive, one day at a time. It trained us all to live. And living means sharing your time with people around you.
#5 – Be thankful and forgive.
I think I have to explain clearly why these two things are related.
During the storm, I saw the poor response of the government. I’m sorry but I have to be objective. I am one of the survivors. I saw that the highly-elected officials never really lived their promise to serve the public interest but then diverged into their political and economic interests. This really disgusted my guts. I was on the forefront of people ranting about this injustice and insult to the dead.
But what came of it was actually and absolutely nothing. The administration that was in power did what they could and, God forbid, “may” have squandered all the relief funds that was generously given by other nations. My skin and blood has been put to shame. But the rants seem to have fallen on deaf ears.
Say what you need to say, but too much of it, especially the ones motivated by anger and the sense of lack, leads life to give you more of it – anger and lack.
Since I believe in the law of attraction, I had to fine tune the feeling that I had inside. To not harbour hate, be objective but never sow ill feelings. Be angry at the deed but never the doer.
I started to be grateful because in fact, surviving and breathing until now while I write this is wealth itself. Life is a gift – be grateful and all you need and wish for will come your way, in ways you could never imagine.
#6 Don’t be stupid – love thy family.
As cliché as it may sound, and no matter how common this advice is, believe me man, your family is the last thing you would ever want to lose. I think this as obvious yet we fail to give it its due.
So imagine yourself losing everyone, who you are and what you are. Deep inside, the family we take for granted is the perfect icing on this cake called “life”. You may enjoy your cake and eat it, too!
#7 CLIMATE CHANGE IS REAL – wake up politicians, heads of state and civilians.
Climate change is real. I think we have to embed that in the conscious and subconscious portions of our brain. The storms that ravage my city annually were not as strong as they were these succeeding years after Haiyan. Taclobanons really underestimated the wrath of Haiyan when she came; we were literally unprepared for such colossal damage.
No matter how hard we deny it, climate change is affecting every living organism in this planet, including you and me and your dog, eventually.
Just last night, I saw the documentary of National Geographic Channel called “Before the Flood” and it shook my soul so hard that I really wanted to raise this as the last lesson in this blog. The more we abuse our environment, the more it will backlash on us. And sadly, the Philippines is in front of the Pacific Ocean where the strongest hurricanes are born.
My city and my country is at risk 24/7. I don’t think blaming the carbon footprint of other countries would help. Instead we have to make each one realize that we Filipinos are in the frontline, and soon, everyone else is in queue.
This lesson is by far like compounding interest, if we set to protect and nourish our environment, we reap the benefits of it. In the Amazon, they believe that if natural disasters come, it is a reflection of man’s relationship with one another. I believe this to be true. The absence of peace and understanding among us hinders us to take care of the environment together and benefit together.
Please, please, if you have something to reflect on from this blog; I hope that I was able to disturb your normal routine and look around while asking yourself these questions: Are all the trees still green? Are the waters still clear? Are the clouds getting darker? We are part of this ecosystem. Let us do what we can, now!
Happy 3rd anniversary to all survivors of Typhoon Haiyan. Thank you for sharing your stories. And oh, thank you for commenting! Would be nice to share your thoughts!