Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes

No ‘me’ and no ‘other’

Posted on October 03, 2009 by jimparedes

Just 24 hours before Typhoon before Ondoy brought those torrential rains to Metro Manila and neighboring provinces, everyone in its path was living life in their usual ordinary way. In less than half a day, most everyone’s circumstances turned upside down. Things we took for granted — our homes and shelters, the streets we ply, our physical safety, our cars, the availability of food, cell phones, and other things that hold up the sky of our physical and mental well-being were suddenly threatened.

More importantly, the safety and lives of our friends and loved ones that we have taken for granted are all suddenly unsure. Since September 26, every person I have talked to has spoken about his or her experience of personal survival during the great flood. It’s almost like everyone is in a state of shock and has to talk about their ordeal to feel better.

I have very few stories to tell about my own “suffering” since the worst that happened to my family was ankle-deep water inside the house. It was painful to see things floating around but, at worst, it was a minor inconvenience. Most of my family’s pain comes from the fact that many of our friends, and the community we live in, are suffering heavily.

So many have been deprived of their homes and belongings; some have even lost loved ones. Where are they to go? How will they pick up their lives after such a devastating loss? So many walking wounded, lost souls, people we know and love, are living a hellish nightmare right now.

This whole sordid episode has struck me as a painful but ever-so-real lesson in detachment, the first of three lessons that I have learned in the past week. In a blink of an eye, the conditions of our world can change drastically from a comfortable one to something grotesquely unrecognizable.

* * *

There is ultimately no means of safeguarding anything in this world; anything you gain can be lost, destroyed, or taken away. For this reason if you make the acquisition and retention of goods or status your aim in life, this is a way to anxiety and sorrow. — Muso Kokushi

This was the reading from Dailyzen.com that greeted me this morning. It is rude and insensitive, something one doesn’t want to read when one is trying to take stock of what has been lost or what can still be saved. But it carries the thud of truth.

My daughter Erica was so moved by the devastation brought by the typhoon that she organized a few friends through Twitter and Facebook to set up a small sandwich-making operation in our house.

“The world is not going to heal itself,” she tweeted. Not too long after they got going, other volunteers who were “friends of friends,” or people who just heard about what was going on in our house, began to show up bringing supplies and volunteering their services. At times, there were close to 25 people packing meals, cooking and making deliveries to areas in need but have not been serviced by other efforts.

From an initial fund of a few thousand pesos that she and her friends put together, the operation has become quite big with supplies donated by kind souls from everywhere. Erica even received a call at 3 a.m. from someone asking how they could help, or telling her what they needed.

The volunteers, ranging from her close friends to celebrity basketball players and other strangers, have been putting in real work to make sure that they feed as many people as possible. On the third day of operation, they had reached four to five thousand people.

What took me totally by surprise was Erica herself. I know she has many virtues that I love; but I did not have any idea that she could expand her world quite willingly and easily to include the less fortunate and the suffering. I say this not to denigrate her in any way. I am simply pleasantly amazed since I also know her and her friends to be die-hard fashionistas, party animals, mall and club habitués, whose world revolves around the glamorous world of print fashion. And here they are helping people whom they would never encounter at work or in their social lives. Yesterday, they came home all muddy and dirty but with hearts aglow knowing they had done something good and significant for their fellowmen.

Which brings me to the second lesson that this crisis has taught me, and that is, that people are not static creatures. There is much potential in everyone to be and do great things. Often we look outside ourselves for the heroes we need when the truth is, heroism and greatness lie in each one of us just waiting to be expressed. We are greater than what we imagine ourselves to be. Catalysts such as Ondoy can spring this greatness to life and, in the process, surprise the world and ourselves.

I am inspired by the number of people who have taken it upon themselves to look after their neighbors. One of Erica’s friends took in 40 orphans in her house. There is much sharing of homes and resources, and genuine concern being extended by people to strangers. It was quite touching but somewhat funny when a Brit came to my house to donate some goods. He explained that he had a jeepload of supplies that he had bought and wanted to distribute himself until he realized it wasn’t that easy. So he turned them over to Erica’s team. To the group’s surprise, the goods consisted of Evian bottled water, imported corned beef, Play-Doh for kids, and other expensive stuff!

This brings me to the third lesson, a tenet shared by both Christians and Buddhists which, though expressed differently, seem to have common ground. “Love thy neighbor as thy self,” said Jesus. Buddha too spoke about compassion.

Because of my Jesuit education, the term “a man for others” always plays in my head, especially in times of crisis. In these times, the genuine outpouring of compassion from most everyone seems to validate these teachings not just as a tenet that will lead us to the right path, but more importantly, it is an apt description of what we really are as humans.

Joseph Campbell wrote that the first rule of life is that we are all one. Survival is only the second. Maybe it is true. After all, the wounds of suffering are the same everywhere. There is no peace in our hearts when others suffer.

I know a lot of people abroad who have expressed their wish to leave the comfort of their lives there and come here to be one with the suffering, if only they could. They know that suffering makes them feel solidarity, somehow, with the rest of humanity.

Maybe, the Jesuit mantra of “a man for others,” while true, is somehow not just a metaphor of what we are seeing these days. I am referring to the spirit of volunteerism and how many people are so selflessly helping any way they can. More than an ideal, or a figure of speech, it is a literal, accurate description of much of humanity in our part of the world especially under these circumstances. We have all heard of the young man who saved 30 people before he was swept away by raging waters and drowned. God bless him. The stories of countless people risking their lives to save others continue to inspire us.

On a much deeper level, it seems that all this suffering and how we have responded to it is telling us that there really is no “me” and no “other” to speak of. The separation is an illusion. No one is saving anyone. It is only Oneness awakening and expressing itself.

8 to “No ‘me’ and no ‘other’”

  1. A truly wonderful post and sentiment. God bless all those people who help and make a difference to one, let alone to thousands.

  2. Jey-aiy says:

    we found heroes among ourselves, and it is truly inspiring how everyone can give so much resources, time, energy, love and encouragement to those stricken by the calamity.

    hats off to erica for spearheading the expanded sandwich making operations.

  3. jimparedes says:

    Thanks Craig.. Indee, God bless them.

    Jey-aiy– I will pass on your comment to Erica.

  4. pam says:

    if there is one great thing about ondoy, that is it brought out our being selfless. it brought out our being compassionate to our fellowmen.

    to your daughter mr. jim and to all the people who helped the victims of the typhoon, no doubt, they’re all heroes, which we should really be proud of.

    God bless!

  5. God bless you and your family for helping so many people.

    On a lighter note, I voted for you in Nuffnang’s Blogger Awards. Good luck–I do hope you win! See you in Singapore!

  6. shariel says:

    when are you coming to Singapore..sana may meet and greet..hehehe

  7. Congratulations on the win — Best Personal Blog 2009! Great post! Just thought I’d add this information from Hawaii:

    Monetary donations are being accepted in Hawaii until October 24th at certain locations. Go to http://www.filcom.org for more information. This is the official website of the Filipino Community Center in Hawaii.

    Also, the US Pacific Command (www.pacom.mil) is located in Hawaii and has sent aid to the Philippines during these disasters. The PACOM Disaster Relief Fact Sheet is updated daily and can be found at: http://bit.ly/2SIfk

    I hope this helps.

  8. ondoy did a lot of damage to the econmoy and also to the lives of people’:~

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