Friday, December 20, 2013

Christmas messages from the ruins

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo
Sorrow is just next door. Sorrow can be the word on top of one’s mind while one contemplates the series of tragedies—earthquakes, supertyphoons, storm surges, landslides, road accidents, armed conflicts abroad—that claimed countless Filipino lives and left families in grief while the Christmas season was approaching.
“Pasko pa naman”—not “na naman”—is the oft-repeated refrain. What difference a letter makes in a phrase.
And while many of us may remain physically, materially, or financially unscarred, we cannot be emotionally untouched by the sights and sounds, the wailing and gnashing of teeth, the proximity of it all.
So easy for us to say that “hope springs”—and indeed it does in our eyes—but those who are still trapped in the depths see only darkness until and unless, little by little, they are lifted up by the loving arms of those they do not even know—those who offer time, talent and treasure and who wish no recognition or reward.
And, notwithstanding the ugly bickering, character bashing and political posturing among the ill-spirited (“Boo!” to you), the amazing thing is that nations, countless individuals and communities of people have stepped forward to embrace the Philippines.
When everything is compounded, mountains do move. The spirit of goodwill is worth more than the sum total of the material aid that has been given. And the divine forces in the universe have a way of weighing all of these energies together and ensuring that nothing goes to waste.

Just now, after writing that last sentence, I was moved to open the pages of Teilhard de Chardin’s “Hymn of the Universe.” And this is what met my eyes: “Without any doubt there is something which links material energy and spiritual energy together and makes them a continuity. In the last resort there must somehow be but one single energy active in this world. And the first idea that suggests itself to us is that the soul must be a centre of transformation at which, through all the channels of nature, corporeal energies come together in order to attain inwardness and be sublimated in beauty and in truth.”
I know an 88-year-old widow, loved by her many adopted sons and daughters, who was aching to give back to the universe. In my state, she thought, what can I do for the Supertyphoon “Yolanda” survivors? She picked up the phone, asked for relief items from her fellow senior-seniors in the neighborhood, and before she knew it her garage was full of donated goods. Now, now, she thought, what do I do with these when they can’t fit into my car? Well, a neighbor with a pickup vehicle happened by and offered to take the relief goods to a receiving center.
I have received letters from friends who have waded into the ruins of Samar and Leyte. Here are some excerpts:
From Sr. Cho Borromeo, FMM: “One heart-wrenching story is that of seven children who lost their mother while she was trying to save them one by one. That was just one of the many stories that gripped us.
“As we coursed through the various towns and barrios, scenarios of destruction and desolation loomed large: buildings and houses reduced to rubble, countless dead coconut trees lining the mountains, children running after passing vehicles begging for food and water, electric posts lying on the roads, roofless churches and houses.
“But amidst these images of darkness, we witnessed signs of light and hope. In all the churches we visited, statues of Jesus, Mama Mary, angels and saints stood tall in the midst of destruction around them. In Naval, a big stained-glass façade was shattered to pieces but not the figure of Our Lady of Guadalupe at the center. Is this not God’s way of assuring us, especially the Yolanda survivors, that He still has the last say?
“Despite lack of food, clothing and shelter … people still had time to prepare the Advent wreath, green being the symbol of hope, growth and life. Indeed, no amount of devastation can extinguish the religious dimension in the human heart—especially in the heart of Filipinos!
“What also made a strong impact on me was our teamwork. For many of us it was the first time we met the other members of the team. But the way we worked and interacted with one another gave one an impression that we knew each other from Adam! That’s the Franciscan spirit!”
From Sr. Ana Maria Raca, OSB, and the Benedictine Sisters of the Divine World Hospital in Tacloban City:
“In the midst of the immense darkness on the landscape, rays of light shone. It came from good hearts—hearts that cared—and they reached us! Relief goods, medicines, financial help and various forms of solidarity and support coming from all over the country and the whole world. Light pierced through the darkness and gave us hope and joy…
“In the confusion and chaos during the first days of the arrival and retrieval of relief goods coming to Tacloban, we received the first five boxes (the rest of them retrieved at a later time) from St. Scholastica’s College, Manila’s relief operations. These were 2 boxes of IV fluids, 2 boxes of Nips chocolates and a box of Bear Brand milk choco.
“The Nips were our supper for the night and what saved us in the succeeding days when hunger came. To you who donated the Nips, please know what it meant to us and how it became a symbol of hope. Please know that no action is small in a situation of life and death.
“For us who believe, destruction and death are not the last words, but HOPE in a loving God who works through His people like all of you.”
From me to you: A God-drenched Christmas to you all!