The Map of One Human Face

 E ach known tragedy raises a mirror in front of us, reflecting the core of our humanity regardless of race, culture, gender, or class. If we weren’t victimized, we may fear the probability of such tragedy happening to us. Pity becomes an impediment as lines are blurred and compassion shapes us all into one human face. It is this face which now becomes visible in the aftermath of super typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan).

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Photo credit: Getty Images

Yolanda’s wrath did not only destroy lives, infrastructure, and resources. As we witness news and private accounts of its survivors, it also destroyed much dignity and much human spirit as well. In their quest for survival, the living victims could have been straight out of the Walking Dead and other stories on the zombie apocalypse. Some victims are scavenging from the dead and the ruins, fiercely looting establishments left standing, and perhaps battling with morality as they are reduced down to their knees begging the heavens to put an end to their misery. Some of them can even be described as zombie-like. They walk in flocks without a known destination. They are almost mindless in hopelessness, almost like the un-dead with an autopilot desire of feeding the self.

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Photo credit: Paula Bronstein/Getty images

With dirt, hunger, and thirst amidst a ruined surrounding strewn with decaying corpses, it is too much to expect them uphold the same moral yardstick they held prior to the catastrophe. Though some of their stories are inspiring, with emphasis on the resilience of the human spirit and unbreakable dignity, they are now primarily defined by the instinct for survival that the challenge to uphold what humanity stands for is also posed on us who are witnessing their sufferings.

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As we become aware of their sufferings based on what the news and the social media feed us, we respond differently. Some of us may respond to the tragedy based on fear. We are frightened for ourselves, though arguably grateful for not having been victimized, we now find ourselves vulnerable to similar situations. Behind putting the blame on other people is that hope that man-made calamities could be prevented if people will just learn from previous mistakes. But if the catastrophe comes from Mother Nature, the experience is so humbling that it jolts us into an epiphany: we do not control our destiny.

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Photo credit: AP Photo

Some of us may respond – and may have already responded – out of a psychic command brought about by altruism. We may extend help – and may have already extended help – to the victims as a means of pacifying our inner need to be relevant in times of tragedy. That it doesn’t matter if our help is based on what is convenient to us, it doesn’t matter if what we send are those that will de-clutter our closets. What is important is the gesture of having extended our hands to pull people from the rubble of suffering, even if our hands are slippery and thus almost worthless.

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Photo credit: Epa/Dennis Sabangan

And then there are some who equate helping out to an investment. When the time comes – though we’re praying hard it won’t – that a similar tragedy befalls us, we may also receive help as we have rendered it now. There are those who respond in so much as blocking off a traumatic experience, while there are those who respond with utter nonchalance.

AP Photo

We cannot discount those who render help out of sincere intentions, those who do not care about the bandwagon for they could simply not stand other people’s sufferings.
The different ways we respond to a known tragedy are little features that shape the face of humanity. The tragedy caused by super typhoon Yolanda is not exclusive to its direct victims. As we all share this space called Earth, each natural disaster is a poignant mark on the map towards one human face.

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The history of mankind is not alien to tragedy – man made or not. It is in tragedy that human nature is continuously being defined and understood. Though Yolanda may have brought out the worst in us, it is also able to make the best of human nature emerge. Yolanda makes a lot of us put our differences aside. It makes us empathize with total strangers. Whatever our motivation is for helping out Yolanda’s victims, the super typhoon makes us pause from our individual lives and makes these lives intertwine with the lives of those who directly felt its wrath.

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Photo credit: Telegraph UK

The pouring of help from all over the globe is touching. It underscores mankind’s ability to prioritize similarities over differences. The obvious similarity is that direct victims and non victims alike are both humans. As the self takes a backseat, we connect with one another, though unfortunately through other people’s sufferings, we become one blanket of faces trying to restore a ruined portion, trying to restore humanity as a whole. And hopefully, there won’t be loose threads in the restoration. Hopefully, there won’t be torn parts for the faces are a collage of what defines what truly is to be human.

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What reflection do we see in Yolanda’s tragic mirror? Is it the kind of reflection we want to see once we ourselves fall victims to an unstoppable catastrophe? Is it the kind of reflection we want future generations of mankind to uphold? Is it the kind of reflection we want to be known and be remembered for?

Enmeshed with the destruction Yolanda leaves behind, similar to Pandora’s box, is all powerful hope. As we continue empathizing and pitying others while fearing for our own probably uncontrollable bleak future where morality, wealth, education, stature or even power are no match against the randomness of death and suffering from Mother Nature’s wrath, there is hope that, as Virginia Woolf once puts it: “… there will still be people, it is consoling to reflect, to hang absorbed over the map of one human face.” And that face makes clear, the map towards humanity’s heart.

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Written by: Layeta Bucoy, Edited by Joanna Mendoza

Lallie is a four-time Palanca awardee, a prolific playwright, a screenplay writer, a tabloid erotic columnist, and a chicklit novelist.

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