Monday, October 21, 2013
10:27 PM |
Life Quake (Expanded Version)
I finally went home last Tuesday, October 15, at around 7:30 AM, after having grappled with writing an article about Siquijor witches for Smile Magazine
and editing a friend’s short story for an anthology, all of Monday night till the early hours of Tuesday morning, at Qyosko. I have always been a night owl; I work best around the quiet dictates of the midnight candle. And I like how it is when I alone am wide-awake while the rest of the world becomes quiet in sleep. It makes me think of how fragile the world really is, and how beautiful it can be in that fragility. The night reminds me there is an end to all things, and what makes us human is our furious pursuit of loving something that will never last. As the poet J. Neil C. Garcia once said, “It is finitude that makes beauty possible. I guess the beloved is beautiful precisely because he cannot be possessed, or because he can easily be lost.”
And so I was tired that Tuesday morning, and I was more than ready to sleep till noon. That was the plan.
I was beginning to slumber away when the earthquake hit at 8:12 AM. I bolted out of bed, every instinct telling me this was no dream, and the shaking of the floors—a quick dizzying spell that lasted forever—was no nightmare. I could hear people shouting outside.
I live on the first floor of a bulky house, and I could easily imagine myself flattened by all the concrete above me. We have been educated well by the Hollywood School of Disasters—that cinematic language of adversity where we see our movie heroes come to grips with being trapped in a collapsed building, or faced with the yawning knowledge of mortality as natural disasters vent their rage. I did not want to become like one of those movie heroes.
Every human instinct gets boiled down to one imperative: live
Getting up, I saw my MacAir by my bedside. For a split second, my heart weighed the consequence of saving possession—but I found there was quiet pride and surprising dignity in instantly letting go of materials things when I found myself thinking: “F*ck the laptop.” I wanted to live
I grabbed my keys, rushed to my padlocked gate—only to find the whole thing jammed as the earth quaked some more, and I remember thinking as my fingers fumbled with panicked key and stubborn lock: “Why do I have to die this way, dressed only in my shirt and blue underpants, trapped by this steel gate, with a full view of sky and street?” It seemed comedic, almost—but the quaking did not allow me to laugh. I wanted to live
I jimmied away at the lock, turning it this way and that way, until it finally did give way. But by then, the earthquake—which did not seem to wane—was over.
How do you describe the dizziness that comes after an earthquake? And I don’t just mean the physical kind, as your inner sense of balance grapples with the unexpected rattling to your system. Your body, you realize, is perfectly attuned to the earth where it comes from. Your skin senses now the slightest shake. Or perhaps, you tell yourself, those are just your nerves talking. There are aftershocks, yes, but you get to realize your mind creates their own aftershocks as your body settles down to the knowledge it has survived a potential disaster.
My senses were alert—but ultimately my body demanded sleep. Still, it took a while to go back to a slumbering state. It was easier though with the knowledge that my gate was now fully opened, unlocked. Never mind the potential thieves. There was only potential earthquakes still to come to deal with.
The aftershocks rocked. And I did not wake up at 12 noon as planned. My body woke up to the dimness of late afternoon, knowing I have slept away the entire day—and perhaps for the better. For how to deal with a day that had began with dizzying fear? The bed proved to be a comfortable companion. Later on, I would learn the day had darkened with rain clouds, and then it had rained hard. Later on, I would learn from my feed in Facebook and Twitter that people had talked of a possible Apocalypse.
If I weren’t hungry, I wouldn’t have gone outside after waking, but I needed dinner. I had already missed out on lunch. And food was what I needed as a kind of confirmation of life after the news of destruction somewhere else. The death toll was rising by the hour. And my heart bled for Bohol. I scroll down my social network feed, and see the damage of the old churches in Loon, in Loboc, in Dauis, in Baclyaon. All that history and beauty gone in an instant.
When I went downtown, the lights were off—a blackout, I was told. Later, safe in the bright lights of a café, life went on as I booted up the same MacAir I had readily abandoned to the welcome feed of the wifi. There was food before me, there were people I knew around me as well.
And all the while I thought of how life could be so random, so fragile, like the night. I thought of how things could meet their end in an instant even after centuries of having braved everything else.
I thought of how important it finally was to start living in the now. These are not life lessons from an earthquake, just an underscoring of what we already know but often forget.
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