A month ago, one of my favorite teachers was asked, “If there was one thing in the world that could magically be changed overnight, what would it have to be to make the maximum impact towards the good?”
His answer was straightforward: “We take care of ourselves, and if there is extra (food, money, time, energy) then we take care of others. Switch the paradigm. Make sure everyone else is cared for, and trust that someone will take care of you.”
Two reactions at one time: “If only!” and “What if?”
What if it were a matter of cultural norm to help one another all the time? Not just a matter of discretion, not a case-to-case basis, not about conscience or anything else besides that it’s the way it has always been for us?
The aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda broke my heart. I could barely help with relief efforts because I was always haunted by the feeling that nothing I did would ever be enough. I wanted people in their homes with food and water, not fearing for their lives. I wanted people reunited with their families, in places that make them feel safe, where they can find the space to properly mourn what was lost. I wanted everyone to step away from the damages, and until that happened, I felt inadequate.
But there were things that healed.
Being a part foreigner at heart, I teared up every time I found a news story reporting another country that donated generous amounts of relief money to the Philippines. The United States. Japan. UAE.
My teacher today, talking about former war enemies sending incredible measures of aid, said to us, “There are no enemies when it comes to devastation like that. How do you explain that? ‘Moral obligation?'”
It tells a great deal about people to look at what they choose to give, in what amount, and when. It also tells a great deal about people when they ask — almost as if they know that their requests will be answered, that they will be taken care of somehow.
I was telling somebody that what I really wanted to do, if it would mean anything at all, was to send a message to all the survivors and tell them, Help is coming. It’s difficult to reach you right now, but we have not forgotten you and we will not leave you alone. You will be safe soon.
Sure, what they’d really want is security and safety, but if I could just tell them that. If I could just inject it into their hearts and minds so they could have some kind of hope — I’d do it in an instant. Because everyone deserves a bit of light, no matter how faint or fleeting. They need to know that it’s there.
If I could turn back time a week or so, I’d pull myself out of my frozen helpless state and get myself to participate in packing efforts. I may still have felt that it wasn’t enough or that there was still so much more work we needed to do as a country. But it wouldn’t have mattered because I would have been doing something, one small thing at a time with great love every time.
And some may say — heck, I would have said — that it’s not love the survivors want. That’s true; and that’s why we’re not shipping them empty boxes filled with “love.” But I’m pretty sure it’s love that’s getting them the things they need.
One of my favorite parts in one of my favorite books (The Fault in Our Stars by John Green) goes like this: Hazel Grace recounted a time when she was rushed to the ER, and she described her pain as a nine on the scale from one to ten. Later, a nurse came in and said to her, “You know how I know you’re a fighter? You called a ten a nine.” Hazel corrected the nurse in her memory, explaining that she only called it a nine because she was “saving her ten” for a worse kind of pain. At that moment, she pulled out the “ten” she had been saving to deal with the loss of a person close to her.
Our worst pains are not damages or discomfort; our worst pains are losses, especially of life. There is no amount of sympathy or empathy that can bring me to understand the kind of sadness or pain you may be feeling. But if there was anyway I could lighten your burden by sharing it with you, I would have tried it already. To all survivors of Yolanda, I know you will never read this — but I mourn with you.
I will not talk about hope, positivity or moving forward. Only you who are still in the dark can tell me what the light looks like or where you think it is coming from. Only you who are suffering the wound can talk about how long you think it will take to heal. But I hope you find it in your hearts to want to heal.
I hope you never feel forgotten, neglected, or alone. We are fighting to reach you and help you. We mourn with you and, should you one day find it in you to defeat despair and love life again, we will celebrate with you.
Until that day comes for you, I hope you’ll find comfort in our tiny efforts of love.