The storm has passed. You look at the ripped out papaya trees, the mass of leaves and branches that are now your garden, the mud spattered floor, the puddles and the rags you mopped them with, and already you feel uprooted out of your day-to-day.
I am grateful I only had to weather fallen trees and no power, and that the aftermath has given me ten things to write about in candlelight.
- You’re never prepared enough. The roof leaks. You didn’t lop off overarching branches that are suddenly way too close. You forgot about the dogs, the chicken coop, and if only you remembered to lay a sheet over the vegetable beds. The flashlights require 3A not 2! The gas stove needs electricity to start. Except it’s the day after and a day too late.
- Nature is uprooted too. We often think it’s us against nature. But the storm rages against its own kind too. The ancient trees that used to greet me are now lying by the roadside. The ones that remain stand with lost limbs, their barks scrapped to naked flesh, their crowns half gone, and they stand bent and broken. I found a family of crows wandering about, displaced. They have lost their homes too. There was a Shrike that perched on the branch of my Kalachuchi. The tree’s gone. I run into a disoriented gecko in the middle of the road. She’s probably lost her bearings too.
- Suddenly everyone you meet is a fellow human being. I find myself smiling at people on the road. Nodding my head, raising a reluctant hand in greeting, as if to say: “Yes, us too. But we’re fine. And glad you are.” Suddenly, there’s a shared story and you’re bound by a common ordeal. Part of the same space the storm has passed. (And because you have nothing else to do but brood, you realize every one on earth is sharing the same space, bound by the common experience of living here. But I’m saving existential musings for another day. )
- You have friends and you look out for each other. As the storm passes, and while it is huffing and puffing, someone will ask: “Are you guys ok? And you reply: “Yes we are. You?”
- Perspectives change. You don’t mind the stains on the wall and the puddles on the floor, that your house is now painted green, and that the garden is a heap of gnarled trees ornamented with a crooked swing. Perfection’s gone with the wind. You’re fine and there’s a roof over your head. You learn patience. I asked our village engineer: “How are you going to restore all this?” He responds: “One day at a time. Today we clear the road, tomorrow, another task.” And your otherwise impatient self replies with a nod: “Yes, just do it slowly.” You’re not even distressed about another night of lighting candles or welcoming mosquitoes with open windows. You’re fine and there’s a roof over your head.
- You’re truly mindful, careful about excesses. You care to turn off the tap, you draw only what you need, and you fix simple dishes to conserve gas. Suddenly you don’t need bright lights on your laptop, you just need one phone, and you’re not a mouse potato, checking the net only for news. Now when did that happen? And you begin to see how prone you are to excess: to too much energy, too much water; too much of the World Wide Web, when you could walk this earth on much less.
- You spend time together. By candlelight. Singing rounds and doing shadow plays. Taking that old book on crafts off the shelf so you can make a matchbox doll together.
- You sense more. Absent the bright fluorescent or the glaring screen, you feel the rhythm of day and night. So you clock waking hours to the sun and wind-up at sundown. Then there’s a starrier night sky and more fireflies about. It’s so quiet you hear everything. Chattering birds, an axe swinging against a stump, the distant drone of a generator, and someone’s conversation a kilometer away. These sights and sounds are there all the time except you’ve been awash in light, drowned in sound and you didn’t notice.
- The world needs every one. We just don’t need people high up, seated at round tables, making policy or money grow. We need the brute force of men who are now sawing off the trunks that block our path. We need the skilled hands of the carpenter who’s going to patch up our roofs, the professional A licenses of men driving complex machines, the pluck of the Meralco guy atop a tiny box, plucking cables off trees just hoping it won’t explode. We even need the girl at the check-out counter to report for work despite the storm. Suddenly you appreciate the invisible world that gives you tree-lined paths, electricity, and a 24/7 grocery.
- You pin your hopes on one day after Wednesday afternoon, I saw a dove soaring against the grey and remembered Noah. The dove was looking for one dry leaf to tell us the storm had passed. Our boondocks have been stripped to the wilds. The proud trees that lined our paths are bowed down, torn in parts, without arms to reach up the sky. Except you know they will grow limbs again. You can replant the Guava tree and if you tend to it, it will bear fruit anew. The birds will find the branches to build new nests. Already, the impassable roads have been made clear. The school sandbox is being rebuilt. In a few hours (I hope) or maybe a day, the steady whir of my fan will assure me that my day-to-day is taking shape. And while I had to say goodbye to the grandiose palms on my front yard, the house now looks brighter. There’s more room for the light to come in.
DISCLAIMER: I am not trivialising the storm or its aftermath elsewhere. These are just the musings of a girl who luckily only had to weather fallen trees and no power.