Today is not just another day for someone living in the central islands of the Philippines. Instead, it’s another day that a mother waits in desperation for news of a missing a child or another watches helplessly on while her hungry baby gives up crying for nourishment.

On my Facebook stream, my schoolmates and family are volunteering for the relief operations, sharing details of where and how to send money or how to help distribute food. What combination of fate and series of random choices landed me in this place of comfort and ease, while others struggle through such a tragedy.

On the other side of the planet, I wake up in my cozy bed, walk around the block with my dog, and check FB for news from home. It would be easy for me to shut out the images of whole towns washed away, 2,000 feared dead, people looting just to survive.

Really, tragedies are happening all the time. There’s a war in Syria. Human trafficking is taking place right now in all corners of the world. And yeah, the black rhino is officially extinct. I wish such things didn’t affect me and that I could just whine mindlessly about the leak in my ceiling or about getting a speeding ticket or some such stupid snapshot of my life in the Midwest. But it does.

I’m missing the village of my family right now. Some of you might remember that I grew up in the Philippines and that most of my family still lives there. That’s me in the picture with my grandfather.

When I was a girl, during the annual monsoon season, the rains would come. Inevitably, the electricity would go out. My grandmother would have checked the reserves to make sure we had enough rice and canned goods, batteries and candles because there was sure to be flooding, stranded cars and people, and shortages of food.

But the storms also meant we would emerge from our separate rooms and gather together in the dining room and tell stories by candlelight. We would share and laugh and laugh, even as the storm raged around us. In times of tragedy, in the path of destruction, sometimes togetherness is all we have.

Where I am right now, there is no storm forcing us together and we are all living in our separate lives in our separate homes. The way we can feel so disconnected from each other can cause me to despair. I just know that there are hundreds of other people just like me sitting in their own little (or big) houses feeling isolated and alone in our little (or big) tragedies. What if we were to imagine ourselves together for just one moment, all gathered around a big table, with only our stories to sustain us? What kind of strength and hope can we glean from such togetherness?

Grateful for your presence,

p.s. It’s so hard to know what to do in these situations. It’s so easy to feel helpless over here, listening to all the stories of bureaucracy and corruption in Typhoon Yolanda aid distribution. But when I listen to my heart, it tells me that I have to help anyway, and allow things to unfold the way they will. If you feel the same and want to join me, I’m using the Philippine Red Cross.

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