Sometimes, when we least expect it, the world turns our lives upside down. And, for a moment (and moment here could actually be months or longer), it feels like we’ll never be able to make sense of it all. Like a jigsaw puzzle, there are just too many missing pieces.
Talk to someone who’s experienced losing loved ones in a natural calamity or in their conflict-ridden town and you’ll find yourself wanting to take a deep breath. You suddenly get a glimpse of what it means to have the world crumble. You realize those work deadlines, domestic problems, and getting stuck in traffic are truly nothing compared to what a survivor has gone and is going through.
Survivor. I must admit that I often used the term victim, especially during my undergraduate years. Then we were taught as psychosocial workers not to. Survivor—it sounds more positive, doesn’t it? Someone who’s been through unimaginably tough times…but is still here, Alhamdulillah (Praise be to God).
Ironically, while people see me in the helping profession, as someone who allows survivors to take a pause and unload their burdens, I can’t help but see myself as the one being helped, too. Each encounter with them can be, yes, emotionally draining; but in the end, it always is inspiring. They’ve made me ponder on a lot of things. For instance, I found myself pausing when a young six-year detainee mistaken for an Abu Sayyaf, who has not seen any family member since he was ‘abducted’ by armed men, tells me that he has greater freedom than those outside who’ve been imprisoned by their worldly desires—a new cellphone, a car, a promotion, and the like. He even explained to me that we had to be patient with the justice system because we must understand, after all, that there are just too many papers to process and there are not enough people to work on them. Freedom and patience—I can’t recall such concepts being discussed in my psychology or philosophy classes this way.
Then there’s that struggle to fight back my tears as I engage in a testimonial therapy session with a teenager who is still hoping deep inside that one day he’d be reunited with his father. While I wondered if closure was really possible, I found it inspiring how this young man found the strength to face life one day at a time…how he could compare himself to clouds that join the setting sun in creating a breathtakingly beautiful sky which tells everyone, we made it through another day. Another day…thankful that The Most Gracious gave him another day. Imagine that.
Survivors from the Sendong flash floods last December 2011 are no exception. Hearing both adult and children’s stories, you can’t help but wonder how they’ll ever recover. But, I have faith they will. I am reminded of an Australian friend’s remark: “Just being around Pinoys make you feel light already. They always find something to smile about—and there’s always room for merienda and videoke.” And she’s right. Working with Sendong survivors for more than a week, I got to see them smile even as tears flowed. While some confessed that they still can’t make sense of the things that happened, their belief that God always has a reason for allowing things to happen helps them take one step forward.
They may have different extreme life experiences—natural or man-made—but something I find similar among survivors is their humility to admit that they are having a tough time and their faith that they will make it with God’s help. It indeed makes you change your way of viewing your world that I am not surprised to find that it’s not just Pinoys who I find coming back to extend much-needed support. Where else can you find resilience personified, after all?
Survivors. I would never be able to thank them enough for allowing me to journey with them and for (unknowingly) helping me grow much—especially the children who always, always have given me the toughest of times to fight back tears (yes, I admit, I am a softie when it comes to kids). I’ve re-learned the value of each moment and cherishing each person in our lives. Through them, I’ve realized even more that love’s strength is seen not only in the hanging on but also in the letting go. Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi rajioon (To ALLAH we belong and to HIM we shall return).
Yes, life may be tough, but our Creator indeed made us tougher, subhanALLAH (Glory be to God).