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Emerging from the Shadows: Lessons from the survivors of Haiyan

It is cold and dry here in our part of the Philippines – December thru February are the coldest months in this country, when the amihan or trade winds blow through the archipelago, and the cold northeast wind makes life pleasant especially during the day. But the world’s climate is truly changing, because in the two other main islands of our country, there has been rain, a typhoon and much flooding. The very same areas – central Visayas – that had been devastated by super typhoon Haiyan last November, and Mindanao, which was hit by category 5 typhoon Bopha in December of 2012 had been once again inundated, when they too, should have been enjoying the cool and dry northeast winds.

Filipinos in the island of Luzon are enjoying the blessings of the trade winds, while our countrymen down south are continually challenged by nature. It is such a paradox, and a few days ago, I wondered if it was right to enjoy our blessings while others so close to home are having such a difficult time.

In the silence that I have once again learned to retreat to, I realized that suffering and joy are two conditions that are always in our midst. They are two opposite poles, two opposite sides of a ubiquitous see-saw in our lives. Sometimes we are up, while others are down. Sometimes we are down, while others are up. On the surface, the analogy does not seem right, because in the game of seesaw, the one below ultimately has the power, and the one up on the other side is at the mercy of the person on the lower side.

Joy is such a high-frequency energy – we feel light when we are joyful. Suffering, on the other hand, is heavy energy and weighs us down if we are not able to re-frame our experience. In a way, it is true – those who are suffering, who are imbued with heavy energies, hold the power. Poverty and suffering can be potent tools of manipulation. The suffering and the poor can weigh us down if they feel that it is the duty of others to lift them up.

During the weeks following Haiyan, our countrymen from the south have continuously made us proud. The world has seen the resilience of the Filipinos through the way they have responded to one of the most devastating natural calamities the world has seen.

“Just give us a boat and we can take care of ourselves,” said a fisherman from Concepcion, one of the places devastated by Haiyan. The headline of an international online resource read, “Four weeks after typhoon Haiyan, it is mostly the survivors helping recovery efforts off the ground.” This video is entitled, “Needing aid, Typhoon Haiyan survivors fend for themselves.” The Scotsman’s headline for today reads, “Typhoon Haiyan’s victims help themselves too,“

In the seesaw of life that now exists in our midst, it is so heartwarming to know that the ones on the bottom are trying their best to rise up from the rubble – with the characteristic Filipino spirit. Although I do not subscribe to the concept that these calamities are sent our way because the world needs to learn from the Filipinos, I do take comfort in the knowledge that it is all right to enjoy our blessings in this island because our countrymen in the devastated areas continue to count, appreciate and make use of their blessings.

So much has been said of the Filipino spirit, but in the ultimate analysis, what empowers most Filipinos is their deep faith in God. “Bahala na,” one of the most common expressions in the vernacular is oftentimes said in times of extreme challenges. It has its roots from the expression “Bathala (God) na.”

“This attitude, loosely translated into English as ‘fatalistic passiveness’, actually describes the Filipino way of life, in which, he is determined to do his best, hence the term bahala na, which actually came from the phrase bathala na, meaning ‘I will do all my best, let God take care of the rest.” – Wikipilipinas


In the seesaw game that we call life,
May we find the faith and courage to help us find the blessings
buried deep within the challenges that come our way.

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