Remembering a night of waiting

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Saturday, December 21, 2013

WE REMEMBER that holiday season of 2011, when a monster called Sendong came with its heavy rains and its thunders and lightning to devour this city.

It was a night of waiting – for the rain to stop, for the winds to cease, for the thunder to be silent, for the water to subside, for the light of day, for food and water, for word from family and friends.

That Christmas season of 2011, my family became nomads, moving from one friend’s house to another.

Each day we would become like pilgrims going to visit a place that looked like home, but was not.

Armed with gloves, rags, and spades, we battled with the mud that had taken over what was once “home.”

Each day was a letting go: books, pillows, a refrigerator, beds, cabinets, shelves.

My niece would open a box filled with pictures, certificates, mementoes, all of it wet with mud, pick up one card and say, “Oh well, this will have to go, too.”

Christmas and New Year’s Eve were spent away from home.

Every morning after that, I would drink my coffee in tears, while the news flashed the names and faces of missing persons.

I would feel lost myself.

It would be a long time before I would finally put away the unused Christmas wrappers, a long time before I would delete the name of my student who had gone missing.

What do I write as her grade?

Should I write AF for failure due to absence?

Classes would begin once more in January, and life would go on, but not like before.

I would tell my students that they were not the same students I had said goodbye to before the holidays.

One of them would write: “I hope someday we can make some sense out of all these.”

Sense. Perhaps it comes from this telling of my own little story, my own way of taking hold of that day which had ripped all our certainties apart.

I am still waiting for the right words to make sense of it all.
What I have is a picture cut out of torn peso bills clutched by muddy hands, ripped ceilings and broken windows, twisted cars on fences.

Sense. Perhaps it came from the sudden laughter my niece and I shared when we saw how we both could hardly lift the pail of mud at the end of a day of cleaning; maybe an invitation to a much needed dinner from a friend; or another friend waiting up for me till three in the morning when my niece was hospitalized; or being able to wake up again filled with energy after falling into bed each night with all of my muscles aching; or finally putting away the unused Christmas wrappers for another holiday.

I have tried to remember his name, the angel who said yes to my plea for help, and brought me all the way to my brother’s house.

He was the first of many, for at my brother’s house, there were friends already carrying buckets of mud out of the house.

Mine is but a small piece of the greater story that unfolded during the waiting – a patchwork of words telling of untouched saints and a rosary, a Muslim carrying a Christian, people singing praises from rooftops.
Always, this will be part of this city’s Christmas story – that night we all waited for the light.

We celebrate each year knowing that this Light we all seek and wait for will always come.

Merry Christmas everyone!!

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on December 22, 2013.


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