Batuhan: The error of our ways

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By Allan S. B. Batuhan

Foreign Exchange

Sunday, July 20, 2014

THE scene was one of almost total devastation.

The morning after it happened, I walked around the area to survey the damage that had been done. On the main thoroughfare, trees lay on their side, as if passed through by a giant lawn mower. Large, majestic hardwood trees that had withstood the test of time had now finally met their match, as they lay there dying, motionless in defeat. This was a scene like no other I had witnessed before.

The destruction was not just limited to the vegetation either.


When trees fall, it is anybody’s guess where they may end up. That’s why when lumberjacks hear the cry “timber,’ they scamper quickly in all directions, hoping that the big one would not fall on top of them. But houses stand no such chance to get away. When a tree decides to fall on them, then that is it. There is no escaping the wrath. And so it was that many homes were damaged too – large trunks and branches falling into them, with reckless abandon.

This may seem like a scene from the fighting in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan or some placeviolently similar. But this was the product of no conflict of men, but the result of the fury of nature. This was Typhoon Glenda at her most devastating – the first such storm to directly hit Metro Manila in a long, long while. They say that not since Milenyo all those many years ago, had a howler of such intensity inflicted its damage on the metropolis.

By some accounts, it may even be worse, since many of the old-growth trees that had now been felled, were untouched during Milenyo’s last visit.

Like many of nature’s manifestations, typhoons have a way of reaching out to us, in ways that with so many of the distractions and noise around us – we can hardly be reached anymore.

It’s funny, for example, how so many of us now feel powerless without the convenience of electrical power? People now connect to, and relate with each other through their “gadgets” – those ubiquitous iPhones, iPads and Androids – that life without them would seem unthinkable. And so many did indeed feel lost these last few days. One of my friends at work, for example, complained that he had not been “in touch” with his Facebook friends and he “misses” them already.

How ironic that this is how it should be.

In a world so wired that we can connect instantaneously with people half the world away from where we are, we cannot even make ourselves shift our focus to those around us, who may have been more affected by the calamity, with more than just the simple loss of their connectivity?

Natural calamities are supposed to be nature’s equalizers. They strike have and have-nots with impartial intensity, and do not seem to care whether the victims are princes or paupers. Just as God’s grace extends to all without apparent reason sometimes, so does nature’s fury strike without discrimination.

And yet, even in tragedy, there is still a sense of unfairness, it seems. Glenda passed through the homes of the rich, as well as the shanties of the poor. And while most of the moneyed came away with fallen trees and simple loss of connectivity, majority of the deprived lost entire homes in the process. So while Glenda may have struck with equal fury, she left with unequal suffering behind her.

In the stillness that Glenda leaves behind, there is a lot for us to contemplate – the nature of our relationships, for one. Do we really need our gadgets to live our lives?

Or have we allowed our gadgets to lead our lives? Our good fortunes to have been spared more than minimal devastation, for another. Why, it seems, do calamities seem to hit those who are most vulnerable? And why do they seem to spare the ones who are less so? And finally, what have we done to our world, that it seems nature is telling us to finally mend the error of our ways?

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Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on July 21, 2014.


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