Adversity is like a strong wind. It tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that we see ourselves as we really are. ~Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha
It was a lamentable weeked for all Filipinos. Typhoon Ondoy wreaked its havoc and turned Metro Manila into a sea, literally. The amount of rain that could pour in a month, Ondoy poured not even in a day, but in less than 12 hours.
As the waters rose, people from low areas sought higher ground. The lucky ones could seek shelter in the upper floors of their own houses or were stranded on the top floors of school buildings. The less lucky ones stayed in rooftops, wet and cold waiting for help or braved the neck-deep waters and leptospirosis to save themselves and their lovedones.
Gratefully, the most people I know are safe and dry. Although, as I have earlier expressed, I wish them all strength, in rebuilding their houses and their lives. I stayed on calamity calling last weekend checking if everyone was ok. Kept my radar on the news. The calamity map on Googlemaps was very helpful. It helped me track family and friends. When there would be a place or exact address of someone close that popped up in that list, I sent an sms or called directly.
It is surprising how technology can be trusted in these trying times. One would expect that everything is submerged in water and that nothing can be depended on anymore. But cellphones worked, albeit lobat, and landlines too. Man’s invention did not fail man.
Being grateful is however not in place at the moment. Many have lost their loved ones. Many are still missing. The death toll is still rising. However dramatic it may sound, my heart is breaking.
Nonetheless, it is not all heartbreaking. Adversity brings out the best in people, they say. It gives us enough wares to fight with and turns our wounds into wisdom. While the Philippine government can only muster the word “overwhelming”, the directly-affected Filipinos overwhelmed and overcame. Heroism prevailed. Muddy hands helped each other. Friends or not, related or not.
A judge used his jetski to save a hundred people and felt bad that he can’t save more. A construction worker died after saving a 6-month old baby girl not related to him. A friend’s brother who is a policeman drove on Saturday in his motorcycle looking for people to help while his pregnant wife and one-year-old child was trapped on the third floor of another friend’s house. Not sure if the two-storey high water is ever going down. The policeman cannot even do anything to help them because he can’t get through and can’t find any boats. But he did his duty.
In photos and videos, one can see the spirit of the Filipino bayanihan (spirit of communal unity) at its best. Men, able-bodied and otherwise, carried the sick and the elderly. Men and women alike pulled ropes together for the safety of the children. And the story goes on and on. The masochist in me felt bad that I can only see these in images. It would have been an honor to be part of this once-in-a-lifetime nobility. To help someone you do not completely know. To make sure that other people are on safe ground just like you are. Just because you are sharing the same difficulty. If humanity allows us to do these things, then Gandhi was right in keeping faith in it.
Ondoy, the typhoon that caused the worst floods in Metro Manila in 40 years. Surely, his name will long be remembered. For the grief he caused and the hearts he broke. For the families he separated. For his victims who may never be found. But after his story is told, we can only hope that Ondoy be also remembered for the time when he made heroes out of men.#