By mid-November, I’m usually busy preparing for Christmas, but this year I’ve also been acutely aware of how the typhoon in the Philippines, one of the worst storms on record, has been overshadowed by news of inconvenienced Thanksgiving travelers and all the hoopla around Black Friday.
Over ten million people, as much as the combined populations of Belgium, Belarus and Hungary, or the cities of New York and Houston, were affected. As of this writing, 5632 parents, husbands, wives, sisters, brothers, children and babies were killed, at least 1600 are still missing, and an unknown number of people grieve their loss. The survivors now live in the rubble of the total destruction of life as they knew it and are dependent on government and multinational aid organizations for daily subsistence.
It’s very hard for me to connect so great a need for the basic necessities of life and shoppers standing in long lines or fighting over a large screen TV, Disney’s Infinity game or Bug Hug Elmo.
Is the quest to acquire really what the season of giving is about?
A better holiday message would be to hear more about how the generosity of international aid is alleviating the suffering of those who have lost everything.
I need to be regularly reminded, as I enjoy the luxury of a comfortable home, a full pantry and uninterrupted family and work life, of the hardships my fellow world citizens are enduring and the ways in which others are helping them maintain their physical health (e.g. mass vaccination campaigns against epidemics) and re-establish daily routines (aid workers setting up tents in the school yards so children can go to class).
But since the news media has moved on, information about the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan and those who are rising to meet the challenge doesn’t come to me. I have to seek it out.
I found this a few days ago in Euronews.
Japanese troops have landed on a beach in the Philippines. The Self-Defense force went ashore less than ten kilometers from a memorial commemorating the World War Two landing of US troops who had arrived to liberate the islands from Japanese Forces. Now over sixty years later the battle is against the devastation and disease caused by a natural disaster, Typhoon Haiyan.
Japan has sent more than 1,000 personnel and three naval warships in one of the country’s largest overseas relief operations. Close to Tacloban the Self-Defense Unit went to war with pesticide.
Around 300 families have set up temporary home in the city’s convention centre and many more live in tents. Maintaining healthy sanitary conditions is a key part of the troops work. For some it is a personal mission.
“It really hit me that natural disasters are terrible things. Japan also experienced this during the Great East Japan Earthquake (the tsunami). So it would be wonderful for us Japanese if we could use that experience to help here,” said Lieutenant Hioshi Ito.
Among the rubble and remains of what were once people’s homes lie reminders that the islands were in the middle of preparing for Christmas, a season that stretches for four months in the Philippines.
Despite having no running water or electricity one family who are living in an old shop front is determined to have some Christmas cheer. “Three days after the typhoon my daughter saw a Christmas tree in the rubble. She picked it up and fixed it because it was broken and falling apart,” explained Josephine Llego.
The tree has become a small symbol of hope in a city which bore the brunt of one of the worst storms to hit landfall.
YouTube has a video of the Christmas tree being decorated by children in the rubble that use to be their neighborhood.
I intend to watch it every time I feel myself getting caught up in the worries of the season and forget that reconciliation, compassion and the capacity of a child to bring about the rebirth of hope is the real story.
Thanks for so eloquently reminding us of this perspective. People rush around at this time of year in a frenzy of consumerism, stress and partying, and, as you say, when the media has moved on, it is all too easy to forget the plight of those around the world who are suffering or in need.
Wishing you all the best for an enjoyable, and conscious, holiday season.
@Fredia Woolf, Thank you for your comment Frieda. It’s so helpful to know there are others who take a world view.
I too watch the world around me with interest. I am blessed with good health, loving family (most of the time), and a way to make a living. I may soon come to foreclosure and have to go through another transition but guess what? It doesn’t matter. I will come out the other side and still have good health, loving family and marketable skills. No earthquakes, no typhoons and bad luck coming my way. Not for now at least. As I reach the high side of 50 I listen more, smile easily and know that when I wake up each day, I have a choice. Be happy or sad, mad or glad, giving or taking, serious as needed, light hearted as a young bride or contemplative about something. Life is good. May the Holidays surprise you every minute.
@Lisa Panaccione, Thank you, Lisa, for adding to the discussion of what is truly important in life. You see so clearly that there is always so much to be grateful for even when some parts of our life is not going as we might have hoped. The love the image of a young bride with a light heart and of a holiday surprise.
Thank you for a wonderful perspective on this season. When I read what the professional staff at Mass General (Philippines rotations) and other organizations are providing, it inspires me to do what I can too. So, my husband and I decided that we would substitute buying Christmas presents this year with donations in family members’ names. It’s met with a great response from our family and has reduced unwelcome “hustle and bustle” too.
I’m always so glad to see your name in my “Read Mail” box!! May you receive 100-fold what you so generously share with us.
@Julie Bernardin, and I delight in having a reader like you who practices the art of giving in so many ways.
Bev …. more people than you will ever know agree with you. Life is precarious. As long as we appreciate the moment, cherish our families, and do whatever good we can, life will be good. A wish to you and yours for good health and joy in 2014, Barbara
@Barbara M Traynor, Thank you for affirming that I’m not alone and for your wisdom and holiday good wishes.