On Veterans Day fourteen years ago I was in San Francisco with a group of students from UC Davis. We went to attend an event advocating for the rights of Filipino veterans of WWII. Both of my grandfathers served in the war so it was something I felt strongly about. It was a fun day. The city was bright and crisp.
In high school and college I wore my Dad's military coat a lot. I find it comforting. It reminds me of him and has our family name embroidered on the pocket. Truth be told I still wear it a lot. Even at 34 years old I still need my father's love and the comfort of my family name resting over my heart. I wore my coat to the city that day and midway through the day a little old man wobbled up to me, pointed at my coat and exclaimed joyously "I know where you are from! You are from Siquijor! I know because that island is full of your people. They are everywhere!"
It was such a special moment. So often I feel hidden. People rarely know that I am Filipino and the endless conversations about my mixed heritage can be burdensome. I will never forget that little old man who saw my face and name and drew a line straight from my heart to my heritage. I've been thinking of him and replaying that conversation "Your people are from Siquijor"
Siquijor is in the Visayas, the part of the Philippines that was hardest hit by Haiyan. On Veterans Day this year the news is saying Visayas over and over again. The death toll is mounting. The devasatation is unimaginable. I can't deal with the images because my heart has gone numb. I hold each of those Veterans Days in my hands. One experience brings me joy and the second one destroys my heart.
At church this week we talked about generosity and how the comfortable are often isolated from the afflicted. On the other side of the world my people are dying as I sit on my couch futilely blogging about my feelings. It is impossible to understand and shamefully I don't want to deal. I want to retreat to a safe place inside my head where the internet and typhoons don't exist. Part of this is a natural coping mechanism, none of us are designed to conceptually grasp such a terrible thing but are those really good excuses? No.
Tonight I'm asking God to help me be strong enough to sit down and pray for my own people: To sit and witness and mourn with those who are suffering instead of zoning out because it's too terrible to understand. To stand in hope that after the time to fight for survival has passed that something beautiful will be reborn.
Note: As you know the need is great. Our family decided to give to local efforts via NAFCON and a fund set up by a friend who I trust impeccably and of course there is also World Vision, Catholic Relief Services and the American Red Cross.