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Merry Christmas!

ONE of the greatest ironies of the month is being able to afford Christmas lights but not the electricity that makes it twinkle deep in the night.Susan V. Ople That is the kind of Christmas that we have this year. It is a year of paradox – thankful to be alive when so many passed away in a single storm; political feuds happening right before our eyes, assaulting our ears, and going viral while Christmas carols play to our better natures.

Super typhoon Yolanda defined our year and continues to define Christmas. It’s hard not to think about those who perished, and the survivors with hardly anything left to call their own. Yet, Christmas is all about love and love is what we all felt for the families left behind by so much destruction.

I thought that the “bayanihan” spirit that all Filipinos showed for Eastern Visayas exemplified the best in us. Facebook is full of stories of such compassion and volunteerism – from volunteers driving typhoon victims from Villamor Air Base to relatives in Metro Manila and beyond; to donors of large and small amounts giving what they can, including school kids offering their weekly allowances.

For us at the Ople Center, we helped our own staffmember, an OFW repatriate, and the caretaker of my father’s grave with transport fare and financial help so that they in turn can help their families in Leyte. We also coordinated with An Waray Party List in providing them with names of relatives of OFWs whom they couldn’t contact days after the storm.

Private corporations lent a helping hand, including our very own Manila Bulletin with its daily fund
drive. Doctors and nurses, chefs, social workers, and civil society volunteers trooped to devastated communities bringing skills and resources that were specialized and badly needed. Media establishments reported both the good stories and the bad, with every prime telecast a report card of what has transpired.

Christmas has a deeper meaning now because of typhoon Yolanda. Noche buenas hold special meanings; family gatherings remind us about the people we love and who love us back. Each prayer uttered has in its wings, a hymn for those struggling through a griefstricken Christmas. We love each other more now, because of typhoon Yolanda.

Perhaps it is for this reason that all the acrimony arising from who erred more in the relief and recovery efforts has become extremely offensive to those who selflessly helped out during the calamity. We must stop framing the post-Yolanda efforts as a political debate about 2016. This trivializes the pain of so many, while distracting us from the bigger picture of what more needs to be done.

It is Christmas, a gift so precious as the event it celebrates: the birth of our savior Jesus Christ. Time to think good thoughts, and be loving towards others. Our country has much to look forward to in 2014. Peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front has achieved unprecedented milestones; our
economy is stable; our modern-day heroes remain in demand all over the world; and the business sector is driven to compete with products and services at par with our neighbors.

Let us resist the temptation to belittle our own worth and to smash our own potential with rhetorical sledgehammers. We are Filipinos, and this is our Christmas. We are who we are. Be proud of it. It took a super typhoon for the world to see how much we love each other. While it exposed a lot of operational weaknesses, through it all, the Filipino spirit of compassion and kindness shone like the brightest star in the sky. A joyful Christmas is what every one deserves to have, and that joy must be defined in spiritual, rather than material terms.

If there was a lesson to be learned from super typhoon Yolanda, it is that life is fleeting and we must make every moment count. For those affected by the calamity, this is the most difficult and painful Christmas ever. To them go our prayers. For now, we must truly love one another and lift everything and everyone to the Lord. God bless you, dear Reader.

Merry Christmas, everyone!