NO ONE could have predicted the extent of the devastation that typhoon Haiyan visited upon the Philippines’ central Visayas region. Warnings were issued. Most people heeded them as best they could. We are a nation accustomed to typhoons. We “know the drill” and we thought we were ready. We were not.
Incredibly Hard to Comprehend
The reactions of victims, rescuers, volunteers, reporters, and those watching the news were the same – disbelief. I watch the news and the words in my mind are the very words I hear everywhere. “We are used to typhoons but never have we ever seen anything like this.” With fresh news stories, the disbelief deepened. No family, it seems was left intact. Every survivor had a family member who perished or went missing. Images of people walking around aimlessly, mobs looting in desperation, and half naked stragglers scavenging for food among rubble of debris and dead bodies are incredibly hard to comprehend. They are happening right now right here in the same country as we watch the news in our own homes.
The disbelief is difficult enough. If you entertain survivor’s guilt, it could paralyze you. I know because I have felt it. Safe and dry with family at home, I felt some sense of gladness and relief for being spared. But there was also the heavy awareness that others were not. I hesitated over normal weekend activities – watching the musical I have reserved tickets months ago for or ordering a meal in a restaurant. It felt inappropriate – at odds with the parallel lives of extreme misery happening simultaneously only a few hundred kilometers away.
Helping: A Way to Cope
Action is a two-prong solution – gathering old clothes and blankets to bring to the community parish donation drive, coordinating and helping in different ways, and urging others to donate. I find comfort in this. The process of acting and helping is predictable. It also feels familiar and appropriate. I am doing this to help others, that’s true, but I am also doing this to cope, psychologically.
The rescuers, volunteers, and reporters who are there feel this paralyzing disbelief, first hand and several times magnified. My heart goes out to them too. They are overwhelmed but they do their jobs as best they can, eyes tearing up, voices breaking, helplessness and impatience rising. They show up and they do their job. That’s where I get my realization and my cue.
Just Show Up
The simple act of “showing up” helps victims. It also helps second hand witnesses cope. As we continue to look for ways to assist, we can also go about our routines, go to work, sit down at the computer and write, go to the bank, pay bills, go grocery shopping, pick the children up from school. Yes, even watch the musical you have bought tickets for. They too donated part of their proceeds.
Precisely at the time when large parts of the country are devastated and many are suffering, we must do our part by “showing up” in our own spaces and keeping the wheels of life moving.
We especially need to be easy on each other and understand that no one is purposely slowing down aid and rescue. Everyone is doing his/her best while trying to cope.
A lot of grueling work awaits ahead – the search for answers and real solutions. But for now, let our collective message be: Yes we have been dealt a truly heavy blow, but we will not be overwhelmed. We will not let the tragedy rob us of the ability to keep going. We will show up every day no matter how many every-days it takes until the time comes when we can ALL begin to recover and smile again. This, we can each do right here and now. Whether you are a victim, rescuer, volunteer, donor, or second hand witness, you can decide. That choice is available to everyone.