My husband and I are thinking of skipping Christmas this year—at least the frivolity and excess about it that have become somehow excusable. It just doesn’t seem right amid the massive tragedy visited upon our people.
A week after “Yolanda”—the most powerful, the deadliest, the most devastating typhoon in anyone’s memory—I still remain stunned, uncomprehending, but I know I cannot emotionally and morally detach myself from it. And Christmas—with, in particular, the overspending and the overeating that attend it—has become unconscionable for me, confronted as I am in the news every day with the faces of famine, desperation and death in Leyte and around it.
If anything has come clear enough to me, it’s the timeliness of the visitation. What better time to be given the opportunity for us to be generous and caring toward those stripped of all but life, if not all life itself. Indeed, it falls in the proper context of Christmas, of the prophesied baby born with nothing and attracting kings from foreign land bearing gifts.
Leyte, in that sense, is our own Bethlehem, with its hope and promise of salvation for both stricken and spared.
Test of understanding
At any rate, in my own puny case, I’m not even putting up a tree as I had planned; only my lone white capiz shell parol will hang in our small condominium balcony. I may as well skip shopping, too (in a mundane, practical sense, that’s one car less on the road and one impatient elderly less in the crowd).
This means, of course, no gifts to anyone for whom gifts are no big loss, the loss that is precisely the typhoon victims’ gain. To them go instead no more than greetings, but with no less affection—although, again, with a test of understanding and a sense of humanity.
I see that I’m not alone in this manner of commiseration. This time being definitely no time for making whoopee, parties are being canceled, and the money for these set aside for typhoon charity. Our own yearly get-together of college friends has been simplified and much downgraded in expense, and our gifts for one another similarly diverted.
My classmate and friend Susan Macuja has just told me her daughter Lisa’s ballet company is doing away with the traditional preshow dinner for the rest of her “Swan Song” series and donating the money likewise.
It’s just not possible to not be affected, to not be moved to tears—and charity. My husband objects, usage- and conscience-wise, to the use of the word charity or philanthropy in any general case that involves the have-nones, who have been put in their precise situation, he says, by those who now have and can thus afford what they like to call charity. The proper word is payback, Vergel says: “an obligation, a debt owed, for something not even borrowed, but in fact unconscionably taken.”
Seeing the desperation in those faces and hearing those desperate pleas, for one thing, make me see the shamelessness in my own take on consumption.
A long-running joke I’ve found ridiculous is one that makes some connection between finishing the food on one’s plate and the people starving in India. Now I see it: It’s the very connection that links the entire human race, the connection in the sharing of this one world we all live in, and the basic humanity in being aware of others, especially those who have nothing or less in life, wherever they may be.
Such lesson in linked fates is delivered so starkly and severely I can’t imagine anyone missing it. I may not be seen as a generous person myself, but I always try to be fair—on my own terms, of course. Well, I happen to have a husband especially good at pricking consciences and peeling disguises. In fact, it was one such effort of his that I have written a check equivalent to our total budget for Christmas—giving to my alumnae association’s bank account for its project Tubig ng Buhay.
It’s no way near the P5 million that the lovely person Sharon Cuneta has parted with, but it should buy a fair supply of bottled water.
Life has its share of mysteries, if it’s not mostly mysteries, to be taken on faith. The true essence of Christianity is sometimes hidden in paradoxes, in the very mysteries that Pope Francis himself defines as God’s space, which man, in his own act of humility, accepts on faith.
Thus, on Nov. 7, humbled by the force of nature, man turns to prayer. As the saying goes, “There are no atheists in foxholes.” The Filipino is known to be prayerful by tradition, but if he at all forgets praying before a meal or sleeping, he will not need reminding in his deluged foxhole.
Meanwhile, those of us never in any physical danger are not spared in our consciences. We see ourselves and our own children and grandchildren in the faces of the stricken. We sense their desperate situation as our own. It’s the poet John Donne once again haunting us, in words that ring ever so true: