On the Guilt of Survivors

(TACLOBAN City) Yep, that's me right on top of the water buffalo next to my brother. (Photo taken by the author's father.)

(TACLOBAN City) Yep, that’s me right on top of the water buffalo next to my brother Fred. Lainey’s settled on the horn and Mum’s the one standing. Dad, as always, took the shot.

Obviously, I’ve got a bit of time on my hands again.

This return to the surface has been marred by reports of Yolanda-wrought desolation sent by my parents from Cebu. Mum is from Tacloban and Dad grew up in Dulag. The Waray of Leyte was the first native language my siblings and I learned to understand.

My parents have stayed mostly silent, but close friends of theirs have died. My paternal grandfather’s house in Dulag (the house my family lived in for many, many summers) lost its roof and a wall—just weeks after my paternal grandmother’s hometown of Maribojoc was leveled by the earthquake that hit Bohol.

You come up from under the surface only to find that the crust of the earth has shifted, that water has rent the land, that the cares that keep you perpetually submerged have been rendered buoyant by an infinitely weightier tragedy and grief.

(And then you count the days until your mother’s and father’s brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews surface one by one…)

There is guilt in living, and in continuing to live, and in continuing to have the preoccupations of life. How do you welcome death to your doorstep? How do you befriend it without being seduced, without being enthralled, without being turned to stone? How do you bear the sure knowledge of your demise without being bowed, without being cowed, without being crushed by it? How do you carry on with the hundreds of middling, everyday, pedestrian concerns without feeling the need to apologize to the ones who’ve gone ahead?

I don’t know. There’s life and there’s death; there’s relief and there’s regret. We live (and we die) in the midst of paradoxes that preclude resolution and contradictions that refuse reconciliation. We do the best we can.

May it be enough.

This is for my godfather who lost his wife and for my father whose continued existence I—and many, many others—celebrate today. Happy happy birthday, Dad. I love you!


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