"Our wounds will heal one day, but the scars will remain."
The third chapter of the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible poetically captures the often indiscernible rhythm of life and nature. “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2)
On that fateful morning of November 8, 2013, super typhoon Yolanda (international name, Haiyan) came and caused an unprecedented devastation, with thousands of lives lost in an instant. The annual commemoration of one of the deadliest natural calamities in recorded human history are uncharacteristically subdued this year, given the restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic.
But it does not mean we have forgotten. It does not mean that the grief and pain are any less than they were on that tragic morning.
The official count puts the death toll at 6,000 but with thousands still missing, months and years after the storm. But we may never know exactly how many lost their lives that day.
Each and every one from Eastern Visayas has a Yolanda story. For most of us, it is a story of grief and pain. For some of us, it is a tale of an irreparable loss—a means of livelihood that could have assured a family a secure future and the comforts of a home and a roof over their heads—and for many still, the lives of people they come to know and those dear to them.
When November 8 comes every year, we bring back to mind these stories—of the sadness and sorrow—especially over lives that were lost and that we now commend to God’s mercy.
But there were also stories of survival. Typhoon Yolanda brought destruction never before seen in the country. The deadly tidal surge and high winds washed away entire communities, leaving a trail of death and devastation in their wake. Once the storm had dissipated, what was left was the shattered infrastructure of a once-thriving regional center. People were left hopeless and desperate—not knowing how they can ever rise again. Businesses looted by hungry victims as security forces—the few among who were left—stood by and watched helplessly.
There were stories of ineptitude and corruption. What was harder for many was to see the loss and hunger of our people yet learn about allegations of incompetent and disorganized efforts to help them. The leadership of the country at that time was found ill-prepared and unable to provide the timely relief needed by the affected communities.
These stories, mostly now untold all throughout the year, are often repeated many times every November 8—as if to remind ourselves to never forget.
Seven years have passed, and now we have more than just cleared away the rubble. New buildings have risen where there used to be piles of damaged infrastructure. New businesses have emerged to replace what has been lost. With the relief aid that came from different parts of the country and the world, we have established partnerships that have helped our communities to build back better.
More stories are being retold, including stories of gratitude for surviving the super typhoon and for being alive, despite losing everything. What the people had to go through after the typhoon was not easy. It took hard work to ensure that our families recovered from the death of a family member or a friend, from the loss of their properties and means of livelihood. In all of these, there were stories of hope, brought by people who came from across the world not only to bring us relief aid but to assure us that in this difficult moment, we are not alone. Finally, there were stories of faith – in God, in humanity and in our own frail selves – that life was good and worth living and that soon enough, the darkness of the night would have to give way to the dawn of a new day.
This day, as we do every year, we remember our own Yolanda stories. Let us remember the kindness and selflessness that inspired many of our foreign and local friends to help us with the immense effort of rebuilding our homes and lives. May these stories of survival and hope remind us constantly that even amid disaster and suffering, our God is always at work, making all things new, giving us the strength and wisdom to make things better.
Our wounds will heal one day, but the scars will remain. But instead of the tragedy and loss, these scars will remind us of the hard work that it took to be whole again and that in our time of greatest need, we found the courage that we never thought we had in us.
Our Yolanda stories don’t have to end with the grief and loss. While we can never take away the pain, let us never lose sight of the optimism and resilience that have given us the strength to move on and get back on our feet. In the last seven years, we have surprised ourselves and the world with the strength and hard work that have inspired our fellow Filipinos and the rest of the world.
Indeed, the natural rhythm of things may have come to a full circle. The time to survive is done and the time to thrive has come. The time to move on from helplessness and the time to build on our newfound strength.
The lessons left by typhoon Yolanda, may we never forget; our newly found strength and solidarity, may we always remember!