Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes

Do we know it’s Christmas?

Posted on December 23, 2006 by jimparedes

Humming in my UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes
The Philippine STAR 12/24/2006

Early on Wednesday morning, December 20, my next-door neighbor’s house burned down. Chinchin Gutierrez, an actress and my friend, woke up to fire engulfing the abode she shared with her mother. Luckily, neighbors came to the rescue and helped carry her very sick mother out of the house. Visitors who were using the studio at the back of my house immediately rushed them to the hospital. In the process of saving her mother, however, Chinchin sustained wounds and burns on her arms, legs and face.

As I write this, I am in Sydney, having just arrived from Manila where I’m still in a state of shock trying to grapple with the reality that the house beside ours – which had been there since we moved into the neighborhood 20 years ago and which had I visited on several occasions – is no more. Now reduced to ashes, the only things left are the tiles on the bathroom wall and a few standing twisted pieces of metal. Gone is the physical structure whose walls housed the memories of Chinchin’s growing years and the home that nurtured her and her mother who is sick with diabetes.

From accounts I have received, the people in the neighborhood watched with a sense of fear and loss as the flames consumed the house quickly. There was a collective feeling of horror at the sight of seeing a part of the neighborhood’s communal memories go up in smoke.

Despite the embers that were showered in the direction of my house, we were spared.

In truth, I must admit that I don’t quite know how to react when people text, call or tell me how lucky we are that our house did not burn down. I know that I am lucky but it’s hard to be gleeful about it when I am aware that my friend Chinchin and her mother have lost everything.

Five days before I left for Sydney, I was talking to another good friend, Eloisa Mathias, who was telling me about the tragedy that hit Bicol, where she comes from. The recent storm buried wide areas in mud, killing close to 2,000 people, and making it difficult for those who survived to continue living the lives they are used to. She told me of a cousin who was bitten by a rattlesnake that had been swimming in the flood waters. He died three days later because no help could arrive to save him.

A lot of tragedies have been hitting people too close to home. It has become too close for comfort. For many of us, tragedy is merely a mental concept – it only happens to other people. And so we can take our breakfast while watching the horrors in Darfur on the morning TV news, or read about the gruesome realities of crime, calamities and corruption in the newspapers as we drink our coffee.

I am reminded of an admittedly funny cartoon sketch I saw many years ago about a proverbial dumb blonde who, upon reading the headlines that screamed “Nuclear War!!” burst into tears worrying about the possible loss of her new job.

What is it about a tragedy that seems to release a feeling of unity and empathy with suffering among some, while others feel a sense of relief at being lucky because they were not the ones hit?

In the song Do They Know It’s Christmas, there is a line that goes, “Well, tonight, thank God, it’s them instead of you,” which has always made me feel uncomfortable. It highlights feelings of separateness and alienation that hit me severely.

While I completely understand the sentiments of those who are spared from suffering, at the same time I feel there is something in it that is reflective of an inner poverty. It comes from a point of view that looks at life as an “either/or” situation wherein someone must lose for another to gain. It seems to imply that I am okay, only because I am not the one suffering.

When I feel united with those who suffer, I feel sad but better at the same time. Why? Because I know my own comfort zone is less sustainable because part of the bigger world it belongs to is bleeding. While that is distressing, it is also reassuring since while I suffer, I feel the empowering reality that I am part of something greater than my own skin. It is no surprise, therefore, that people who experience compassion for those who suffer are also capable of joy when others are joyful. They tune in to the larger experience of being part of humanity and not just a tiny, insignificant existence others like to call their “life.” They are one with all aspects of the human experience. There is no “other.” There is nothing outside.

I so admire people who work for Doctors Without Borders, Greenpeace and other such advocacies, who see the role of their tiny lives in the greater scheme of things. In fact, their lives are not tiny and insignificant at all but are dynamic parts of a greater whole. The whole relies on them to keep the entire system that is human life running.

For this Christmas season, I have vowed to reflect further on the significance of my own life in the scheme of how the universe is unfolding, or at least how I wish it should be. I am putting myself in a terrifying and humbling but empowering place and imagining the extremely remote possibility that my birth into this world is as significant as the birth of a Child 2,000 years ago.

Why? Because I feel we honor God when we attempt to think great of ourselves. “All these and more shall you do,” Jesus said. What are the ramifications of that? If that were so, how much of my own life have I wasted in not fulfilling my mission orders?

Or maybe I should think smaller so I do not get too overwhelmed by what I sometimes think is a latent “messianic complex.” But I know I can make a difference in the immediate reality I am involved in – the people I meet every day and those within my immediate circles who need help. All I want to do this Christmas is to ask the many suffering people I meet if they do know that it’s Christmas, and help them have a good one.
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Visit http://jimparedes.com or write to jim_paredes@gmail.com.

15 to “Do we know it’s Christmas?”

  1. JULIA says:

    aI am sure your resolution to ask people whether suffering or not if it’s Christmas and in your own way help them have a good one will not only be during this blessed season but in everyday in every situation you are in. Just to remind you, your blog alone makes a positive difference in people who visit it… BTW, IT IS CHRISTMAS!!! … and I am sure you know the Real Reason for the Season… Have a great one!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Yeah, I always say ti myself that I’m lucky coz ny house didn’t get on fire. Last Saturday, Dec. 16, I went to an orphanage because my family and I donated toys and such to those children. I felt so nervous for that was my first time. I now realize that I’m luck to have parents who take care of me. Well, there’s one more thing to say, MERRY CHRISTMAS to you Sir Jim, and everyone here on earth.

  3. snglguy says:

    Hi Jim, just dropped by to wish you and your family a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

  4. Anonymous says:

    i think your insights are helpful and stir up people to think outside of themselves. there you already make a difference.

    as for the suffering, i seriously doubt they know it’s christmas. like they wouldn’t care about birthdays or other special days like we know them. i guess for the poor, or those at war, or even people with cancer, everyday is just a matter of winging for survival, as tomorrow is another day.

    but gratefully, i know it is christmas, and so would like to wish a happy one for all and for you as well. merry, merry to you 🙂

  5. Jimbo says:

    This is indeed enlightening. Many still fall short on why there’s Christmas, the reason behind it among others. God gave us the greatest gift, i.e., His life and we ought to give it back through our fellowmen.

    Cheers Mr. Jim, many thanks and God bless you this Christmas!

  6. Jim says:

    julia–merry christmas to you and your family. May you have a really good one.

    tricia-yes. we should really pay attention to our blessings.

    snglguy–and to you too. Have a good one.

    poppycock, jimbo–may you speead Christmas cheer wherever you go.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Sir Jim, what happened to Ms. Chinchin reminded me of what my dad was telling my girlfriend and myself when we were at her house way back this year… he said that “everything is temporal.”

    I look around me and I see affirmations of what he said that night, both the good and not-so-good ones. But i would like to believe that in every ending, there is a new beginning waiting to be ventured upon. Wala lang, I just thought I’d share.

    My prayers are with Ms. Chinchin and her family, and yours too. =)

    Merry Christmas po sir.

  8. Amery Celiza says:

    i read this article yesterday, sir, while i was cooking the spagetti sauce. we still get blinded by the whole festivity that we tend to forget why the holiday exists.

    i want to wish you and your family a verry merry christmas and an awesome 2007.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Hello Sir Jim!I just stopped by to greet you and your family a very merry christmas!May the coming year bring you answered prayers and wishes, fulfilled dreams, good health to you and to the rest of your family!

  10. Anonymous says:

    John Donne, a 17th century writer, summed up the notion of connectedness amongst us with the following (from his work called Devotions):
    No man is an island, entire of itself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod were to be washed away by the sea, Europe would be the less. As well as if a promontory were. As well as if the mansion of thy friend’s, or thy own were. Each man’s death diminishes me. For I am involved in mankind. Therefore do not send to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.

  11. Denver the Shullamite says:

    “When I feel united with those who suffer, I feel sad but better at the
    same time.”

    I’ve been reading your column for a number of weeks now, and I must
    say I enjoy it, learn from it, and am reassured about my own
    perspectives and decisions during a number of occasions. This last one, however,
    pushed me to respond because of its timeliness not only of the
    religious season, but because of the present circumstances in my personal life
    as well as in the “greater scheme of things.”

    Many people I’ve met have made a killing proposing religions of
    prosperity or hedonism. A Christian myself, in my reflections, I’ve come to
    terms with the fact that prosperity or a suffering-free existence is
    not a necessary reward to religious conversion or faithfulness. I’m of
    the conviction that in post-Incarnation times, when the Word became
    flesh and took upon Himself the human condition of pain, suffering and
    death — God has made it clear that suffering has its own purpose. And I
    see two purposes: To the one witnessing to the suffering, he or she is
    called to be the Healer and Consoler, to be the sign/sacrament of the
    God Who Heals. To the one suffering, he or she is called to be the
    Crucified, to be the sign/sacrament of the God Who Suffered and Died.

    In a way Christmas is a celebration of God “divinizing” man, and
    everything about man (except sin).

    In this I also agree, that “we honor God when we attempt to think
    great of ourselves.”

    We have been created in God’s image and likeness, we have been
    infinitely honored by the Incarnation, we have been bought at the price of
    the blood of God’s Son. And no angel or spirit was told that “today I
    have begotten you” nor “All these and more shall you do.”

    And so when it comes to both enduring suffering and appeasing the
    suffering of others — in all that solidarity — there is nothing
    impossible with man. All because of Christmas.

    Thanks for sharing that article. It sort of prepared my
    consciousness for the reflections I’ll be making at the turn of the year.

    God bless!


  12. Jim says:

    triccy–thanks. chin chin will be needing your prayers.

    amery, jaja, denver–salamat sa comment at bisita.

  13. sachiko says:

    hay jim…been hollering at gmail,paos nako but you have that Busy icon forever and it’s your bad luck that sach is tipsy while writing an entry and at the same time ,calling you,JIM,JIM!!that i decided to ask you a q on my blog,for all the world to see,i know you’ll forgive me..it’s christmas after all,time for forgiveness. 🙂

    Happy Holidays to you and your lovely family from sach and the kids.and hub.

  14. jade says:

    tried to send you an e-mail in response to this column. I worked with doctors without borders for the last 5 years and know up close what suffering means but not everyone can be a humanitarian worker or an envi activist. The point is each one of us make a difference in people’s lives in our own ways. In your case, your music already makes a difference. Think of the diaspora who lug around your music in different corners of the world. I do – thank you for the music which has kept me company from the hills of kashmir to the refugee camps of chad. And yes, whenever I’m back “home” -my work has made me appreciate many things in life from the mere fact that when you turn on the faucet, water comes out. Belated happy new year.

  15. Jim says:

    jade–very well said. And I am honored that you find our music pleasant company.

    You must write about your experiences. It should be fascinating to read.

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