A Pale Blue Dot*

These days, two major themes dominate the news: violence and climate change. There is endless news about wars, bomb explosions, vehicles mowing down pedestrians, or armed men shooting or randomly stabbing people to death. Every day, too, you can hear news about how huge parts of forests are being cleared, the thinning ice sheets, the rising temperature, or the extinction of a species. Regardless whether you watch the local or international news, you are sure to find at least one story connected to either of these two.

Times like these, I cannot help feeling fearful for the future — if humankind even still has one considering the rate of how people destroy each other and nature in the name of politics, power, and so-called progress. If only people realized that all those are insignificant in the grander scheme of things.

In 1994, Carl Sagan, an American cosmologist and author wrote the book, “Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space,”* and in it, he gave a different perspective of Earth, a perspective I wish all people would appreciate.

pale blue dot

That tiny speck suspended in a sunbeam is our home.  Photo taken by Voyager 1 in 1990. (NASA)

“From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us.

On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives.

The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every ‘superstar,’ every ‘supreme leader,’ every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner.

How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.

Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark.

In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known, so far, to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate.

Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand. It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world.

To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

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Even the Falling of a Leaf

We may not always understand or discover why things happen the way they do, but there really is a reason for everything… and yes, even the falling of a leaf carries one. I never realized how much grace and beauty were involved in the process until I read this.

* * *

“Professor: Have you ever wondered why some trees shed their leaves during the winter? This occurs for many reasons, but the main reason trees do this is to protect themselves.

humboldthain

photo taken at Volkspark Humboldthain in Berlin (2015)

You know, most tress that lose their leaves are in cold climates. During the long, cold winters, the air in these places becomes very dry. This causes the leaves of trees also to become dry. To keep the leaves alive, the trees have to give them a lot of moisture. The problem with this is that the trees could lose too much moisture and die. So instead of giving moisture to the leaves, the trees keep the moisture inside… They keep it in their trunks and branches. After a while, the leaves start to die. As the leaves die, they fall to ground around the trees. When this happens, the leaves actually help the trees survive. How, you may ask? Well, the leaves form a protective layer around the roots of the trees. This allows the roots to stay warm. So, by losing their leaves, the trees are able to live through the winter.”

(Passage taken from a TOEFL book I read a couple of days ago.)

After Yolanda [part 2]: “Small” Acts of Kindness

[Read Part 1]  

I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay
– small acts of kindness and love.
~Gandalf, “The Hobbit”

It’s been a year since super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) struck the central part of the Philippines, and once again, the news is filled with stories of those who suffered from this exceptional natural disaster.

Indeed, this event produced some of the saddest tales, but amidst this seeming interminable misery, it also showed that compassion still existed.  And it was not only evident in the relief extended by international governments to the Philippines, but also in the everyday people and certain individuals who performed “small” acts of kindness and love.  Their donations and mere show of solidarity might not have been able to feed thousands of people or put a roof over a family’s head, but their humble support somehow restored people’s faith in humanity.

Here are a few of them:

1

kids from Sendai, Japan send messages of hope.

2

photo: PH Red Cross

3  Shoichi Kondoh was a six-year old Japanese boy, who, upon learning about the situation in the Philippines, donated his piggy bank savings of ¥5,000 (roughly P2, 200). As a sign of gratitude, an anonymous group of Filipinos sent Shoichi a gift – 4 jeepney toys and a t-shirt that said “I Love PH”.

Shoichi accompanied by his mother at the PH embassy in Tokyo

Shoichi accompanied by his mother, Miho, at the PH embassy in Tokyo

Shoichi being given his "thank you" gift

Shoichi, being given his “thank you” gift

4  The Empire State in New York lit up using the colors of the Philippine flag as a sign of support

empire

5  Various European football clubs displayed messages of hope during their UEFA Champions League matches.  This was during a match between FC Shakhtar Donetsk and Spanish club Real Sociedad in Ukraine.

“You are not alone, Philippines”

6  Seahawk’s Doug Baldwin before the beginning of a football match

Seattle Seahawks Doug Baldwin

7

photo:  deleonphoto instagram

8  Some families in the poverty-stricken area of Tondo, Manila rummaged through their closets and kitchen cupboards and looked for things that they could donate.  They themselves actually had nothing yet were still able to give out something.

9

photo: when in manila facebook page

10  The countless volunteers who spent their time packing goods, doing admin work, and even driving victims to help them find their relatives in Manila displayed great benevolence. So many volunteers got involved that one charity organization near my place had to refuse my registration to help twice because all the time slots had been fully booked until the next few weeks.  The same organization also had to stop accepting donations several times because they didn’t have any room to keep them anymore – and to think that it was already their second warehouse!

There were thousands more around the world whose modest donations, prayers, and efforts never got on the evening news.  These people remained anonymous, but their “small” act of kindness would always be treasured by those who have received it, for as Aesop once said, “No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted.”

[FINAL INSTALLMENT SOON]

Bridging the (Age) Gap

“Switchfoot frontman and guitarist Jon Foreman celebrates his 37th birthday today!” read the caption on the photo posted by a local radio station on its Facebook account last month.*

I like Jon Foreman. He’s one of the most inspiring musicians I know. I love the music that he and his equally talented buddies in Switchfoot make, and I admire the articles he write every once in a while. Despite my admiration for his work, I must admit I don’t know much about his personal life. I don’t know when his birthday is or even what his full name is. So, when I learned about his age, I was quite surprised!  What? We’re only several years apart?!  All along, I thought he was much older than I was.

Learning about Jon’s age made me think about the ages of some of my other favorite musicians: their ages were all in the line of three… just like mine now! How is that possible? I mean how is it possible that we are all in the same age bracket now? Why are our numbers so close all of a sudden? When did that happen?

I am not in denial; I know I am not getting any younger, but how come when I was younger, say, when I was in my early twenties, Jon Foreman and my other favorite musicians seemed older, but now that I’m older and they’re older too, our age gap doesn’t feel as far as I once thought it was. Even the gap with my sister, who’s almost a decade older than I am, doesn’t feel as distant anymore compared to when she was 20 and I was 11.

Why is it that when you are young and you compare yourself with the older people, the age gap seems so wide, but as you grow older, it can feel as if the distance isn’t that far after all? Is it because the younger one and the older one could now be sharing similar experiences in their lives? For instance, a child and a young adult may have completely different life experiences, but by the time the child reaches 38 and the young adult 48, by then, they would have had some similarities – finding and losing jobs, getting into relationships, etc.  Does that in a way bridges the gap between them?

I suddenly remembered this scene from the movie, Big Fish, where a younger version of Helena Bonham Carter was talking to the character of Ewan McGregor:

JENNY: How old are you?

EDWARD: Eighteen.

JENNY: I’m eight. That means when I’m eighteen, you’ll be 28. And when I’m 28, you’ll only be 38.

EDWARD: (a little wary) You’re pretty good at arithmetic.

JENNY: And when I’m 38, you’ll be 48. And that’s not much difference at all.

(Eager to get off this subject…)

EDWARD: Sure is a lot now, though, huh?

 

Clearly, I can relate to this conversation. How about you? Have you ever felt like this before?

 

*Note: There are a number of entries that I haven’t been able to work on these past several months due largely to time constraints, a lack of focus, and even at times, laziness. The succeeding posts are part of that backlog.

After Yolanda: The International Community Responds to Philippines’ Call for Help

The Philippines is no stranger to natural disasters. Being an archipelagic country and a part of the Ring of Fire, the country has endured earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, lahar flows, landslides, flooding, crazy monsoon rains, and typhoons. Among these natural calamities, typhoons are the Philippines’ most frequent visitor. The country gets an average of 20-22 of them in one year. Some don’t make landfalls, while some are vicious and leave a trail of destruction and death behind – bitter souvenirs for the Filipinos to remember for a long time.

You can say that Filipinos are used to typhoons. We have suffered at their hands repeatedly. In fact, there have been a number of times when these merciless guests have made us drop to our knees and made us wonder if we’d ever be able to get back up again. But we did. Because there was no other choice but to stand up and move on.

Super Typhoon Yolanda's track

Super Typhoon Yolanda’s track

Very recently, however, one typhoon surpassed all the other typhoons that we’ve had before. Its international code name was Haiyan, the 24th typhoon to hit the country, and unfortunately, it’s not going to be the last one for the year. Known locally as Yolanda, this typhoon is said to be the greatest typhoon in the world that has ever made landfall in recorded history. It immediately entered the Philippine Area of Responsibility (PAR) at Storm Signal #4, the highest storm warning, on November 8 and completely left the PAR a couple of days after, leaving behind flattened buildings and houses, crushed telecommunication and transportation systems, and wrecked power grids. Yolanda has killed thousands and left hundreds of thousands more wounded, hungry, thirsty, and homeless. In total, it has affected millions of people. Visayas, the central part of the Philippines, which actually suffered a strong earthquake last October, has been utterly devastated.

infrared image of Yolanda's eye

infrared image of Yolanda’s eye c/o NASA

There are no words to describe how horrible this tragedy is. Everytime I listen to the news and see these reports and images of the aftermath, I am merely speechless. I CANNOT IMAGINE what the survivors are going through. I know the data, the facts, the figures, but they are overwhelming; my mind cannot comprehend the immensity of the destruction. It was “just a storm” and yet it looked like Visayas has been pounded by tsunamis. It is quite shocking. Seeing the survivors’ plight and hearing the people’s stories simply break my heart.

Many other hearts got broken, too not only here in the Philippines but also in other parts of the world. Many tragedies that have struck the Philippines have prompted other countries to offer assistance before, but I don’t think I have seen anything of this scale and magnitude. If there’s anything good to mention amidst this tremendous calamity, it would be that the help coming from the international community is equally so.

Below is the list of countries that have generously given their resources to help the victims of Super Typhoon Yolanda as of November 16, 2013.

(For the full document please view this Philippine Government Matrix. The document is updated often.)

The amount is indeed staggering! That list only documents the aid coming from governments and big international organizations; however, there are still numerous private organizations that are helping as well, whose assistance are yet to be officially recognized.  Countless ordinary citizens whose names will not even likely enter official public records anymore are pooling their donations and rendering their service to help people whom they don’t even know.

As a Filipina, I am deeply touched and grateful to know that the whole world is behind my country, that millions of people care. It’s amazing to see that many countries from different corners of the world have been mobilized for a single reason. A huge misfortune may be upon the Philippines right now, but the kindness and generosity shown by the world at least give us a glimmer of hope.

(credit goes to the owner of the image)

(credit goes to the owner of the image)

In a Facebook post by the Philippine Red Cross last week appealing for volunteers and donations, it included this line: “It takes a nation to rebuild a nation.” Clearly, the appeal primarily targeted the Filipinos. But now, looking at the amount of support other nations have given to the Philippines, it seems like sometimes, it would take a slew of nations to rebuild just one.

[TO BE CONTINUED]

Don’t Do It

“Grrrr. Trying to finish lyrics. Sorry my album is taking forever,” posted Swedish singer-songwriter, Lykke Li on her Facebook account last September 22.  She then followed it with a quote from writer Charles Bukowski to justify her statement.

I read the quote and I found it applicable to my situation because at that time, I was also suffering from the inability to put down my thoughts on paper.  I will share this quote to you, my transient visitor, because you might benefit from its wisdom, and apply it not only on situations wherein you are unable to articulate your thoughts and emotions, but also on life in general.

Ponder on this:

” Don’t do it. unless it comes out of your soul like a rocket, unless being still would drive you to madness or suicide or murder, don’t do it. unless the sun inside you is burning your gut, don’t do it. when it is truly time, and if you have been chosen, it will do it by itself and it will keep on doing it until you die or it dies in you. there is no other way. and there never was. “

– Charles Bukowski