In full view of ‘Paeng’ | Inquirer Opinion
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In full view of ‘Paeng’

In full view of ‘Paeng’

As it was the long weekend heading into Undas, my family decided to spend it in our Batangas home, not quite mindful of the approaching Severe Tropical Storm “Paeng.” With the country experiencing 20 typhoons a year—plus a bit of Manileño ignorance—we’ve grown accustomed to and unperturbed by storm alerts. What we ended up experiencing was a full view of a storm that ravaged multiple regions and killed hundreds of people.

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By the time we were alerted that the next landfall would be in Batangas (San Juan, to be precise), we didn’t have to be told twice. We were already taking in the surround sound experience of the wind battering against our windows. It snapped our banana tree, which finally started bearing fruit, in half. We attempted to rescue the remaining trees and bushes by propping them up with long branches, even as the storm continued to rage on. Our house had outlasted many typhoons in the past but, this time, the wind was so strong that it was forcing water in through all the gaps it could find. I felt like I was living a fable—our house of stone and wood was being huffed and puffed all night long by Paeng the wolf. Electricity was cut off early on, and we were without light for two days. In a way, we were thankful it happened that way, because we heard reports of neighboring towns having their electricity turned on and off throughout the day, which caused damage to their appliances.

When it was over, nature acted as if it didn’t just throw a tantrum the day before. The sea was calm again, though the wide swath of brown water by the shore betrayed the turmoil underneath. The birds were chirping louder than usual, as it seemed the whole lot took refuge on the wooden rafters under our roof. Pretty soon, the snorkelers and the divers were back, maximizing what was left of their long weekend. Boatmen peppered the bay once again, and the sound of their motorized bangka soon replaced Paeng.

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There’s nothing quite like a crisis that forces you to stay in the moment. With nothing more that can be done and with the sense of security that the family was all together, all we could do was sit in that noisy quiet and spend our time as happily as we could. Emails and work didn’t matter. Heck, even getting connected to the outside world didn’t matter. We were safe; that’s what truly matters. Living moment to moment has its pleasures. Dreaming resumed the instant the sun peeked out: We eagerly discussed plans on how to make our house better and stronger, down to the board games and instruments we’ll bring to pass the time away in days of no electricity. “What if night comes and there’s still no electricity?” “Then we sleep.” Problem solved. Living in the moment makes us see our problems in a simple way, which leads to simple solutions. I felt my relationship more closely with our local electric cooperative during the extended power outage. In times of impatience, I would refresh their social media accounts for any update, and witnessed the sharp and dry Batangueño humor under the comments of an ill-timed birthday post for their director. Seeing their frustration expressed in wit and humor made me feel less alone; I wasn’t alone in waiting in the dark. As their complaints turned to cheeky affection after their electricity was restored, I knew we would soon get ours as well. You should’ve heard us scream in excitement when the lights turned on. The last time I felt unadulterated joy like this was at a BTS concert. Living moment to moment means experiencing the highs and lows of the day for simply what they were, not as a verdict for your future or your capabilities. Seeing the full power of nature firsthand reminded me of how many of the things we obsess and worry about ultimately don’t matter. Deadlines can wait. Nature does not. Momentary living also reminds us of our fragility and how transient our time here can be. In this short time, we need to decide on what matters to us.

Our experience is just a mere fraction of what others had to go through. Our roof stayed put. Water didn’t reach our beds. We were all together and, ultimately, we were okay. Most others were not as fortunate. Paeng took too many lives and destroyed too many livelihoods. Our country will need to pull together and do what needs to be done to get our neighbors back on their feet. We can decide that community matters. We can decide that extending generosity and kindness matters. In the meantime, take what life throws you one day at a time. One problem at a time; one solution at a time.

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Safe Space

Anna Cristina Tuazon

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