Thursday, April 15, 2010

Braver Five Minutes Earlier

I'm still finishing my travelogues tonight so I won't be able to share any reviews for Smoke and Mirrors. Perhaps I'll post the articles when I finish them, but for the mean time I'll just put up this article I wrote last year. It's supposed to be a contribution to the second issue of Lyceum Independent Sentinel last semester, but the whole paper wasn't published for some reason (hmm?). It's about Ondoy.

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Braver Five Minutes Earlier
by Amalia Airiz Casta

It was during my high school days when the sound of pounding rain topped my personal list of music-that-isn’t. My view of the best morning then is when I would be yanked out of dreamland by the hammering downpour on our roof instead of the mechanical ringing of my alarm clock. “Yes! It’s raining, it’s raining,” I’d say, repeating it like a mantra as I tumble out of bed and run pell-mell into the living room. I’d huddle against my sister as we gawk at the TV, waiting for that “eargasm” moment, waiting for the news anchor to please, say it now, say it now, and voila— “Classes in all levels are suspended due to the typhoon. Signal number 3 is raised in Metro Manila.”

This immaturity clung to me even when I entered college, though it has drastically ebbed. Rainy days became commonplace, sending some people ranting (ano ba yan, ang lakas-lakas na ng ulan di pa i-kat ang klase!) and sending a few relieved (buti naman umulan…parang malaking oven ang Pinas eh!). Sometimes I complain, sometimes I sigh in relief, but after one particular stormy day, I never celebrated a suspended class again.

His name is “Ondoy”. He barged into the country like a berserk beast, wreaking havoc in some of the major cities in Luzon, including Metro Manila. People are oblivious at first, being used to heavy rainfalls and flash floods. I myself didn’t think so much about the storm; I was too engrossed in relieving my ennui as our whole community was engulfed in blackout. When the rain slashed almost horizontally against the rising waters, when it didn’t cease the whole afternoon, that was when I realized it was getting really serious.

At one point I thought about Revelation. It is one of my favorite books in the Bible, but for some reason, at that very moment, I seemed to forget why I like it. After almost an hour being clobbered by the images of the Four Horsemen racing through the wrathful winds, the power was back, and the first thing I did was turn the TV on.

The TV was suddenly not an appliance anymore; it was a window, and through it I saw how the world outside the comforts of my home changed after six hours of nonstop rain and how an abused and neglected Mother Nature annihilated social strata. I witnessed how people—rich and poor—wept and begged for help as they hunched together on their roofs; how cars were pitchpoled like toys by the monstrous waves; how homes were destroyed effortlessly by powerful winds, as though they were just cardboard pop-ups on a turbulent diorama. In that small square, I was given a bird’s eye view of a tragedy that readily drained my energy.

The death toll and damage cost shot up one notch and another as days passed. Heartbreaking stories rose, ones that could rival the most tragic novels I’ve read. In any stories, though, there should be heroes: men who sacrificed their lives for the sake of others, the donors and volunteer workers.

“Where I came from, everyone is a hero,” so reads a sign someone made on Facebook.

Let me rephrase: “Where I came from, everyone could’ve been a hero.”

Let’s face it, we’re not all heroes—but yes, we could’ve been. I heard somewhere before that a brave man is not much different from an ordinary man, only he is braver five minutes earlier. Wouldn’t we be more entitled to don the tag “hero” if we acted beforehand?

Metaphorically speaking, the child’s idea of rain as God’s tears is true—He wouldn’t be happy to see what violations we did (and is still doing) to nature, a gift He gave us. Isn’t it a clear wake up call (the hundredth one, perhaps)? Political figures offered help and solutions, but do we need to lose hundreds of lives before dredging up a bill for disaster preparedness that has been stuck in Congress for nine years? Do we need to have the waters rise to second floors of subdivision houses before we follow up the request for the right weather equipment?

Where I came from, everyone has a heart of a real hero—they only need to wake it up.

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