Thanksgiving in the worst of times

November 16, 2013

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

The Pilgrims made seven times more graves than huts.
No Americans have been more impoverished than these who,
nevertheless, set aside a day of thanksgiving.

H.U. Westermayer

For Filipino Americans like us this year’s Thanksgiving will be a bittersweet reminder of a moment in history when the worst of times in our people’s lives and country witnessed a beautiful contrast in the best of humanity. Indeed, as we watch in horror and despair the worst ever devastation in lost lives and properties wrought by Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) in Tacloban and nearby towns of Samar, we are also amazed and moved by the swift and robust support of people from all walks of life, races, cultures and beliefs.
It’s a caring community of nations acting in one accord and moving in one direction, in the direction of the hapless typhoon victims in the Philippines.
The challenges of impassable roads, lack of preparation for such eventuality and inexperience in coordinating relief efforts make it even harder for international and local volunteers to reach the victims trapped in the island without food, water, shelter , electricity, etc. Left behind in the island, the living, especially the children are endangered by lack of safe water to drink, food to sustain them and the highly dangerous conditions of their environment. With each day that passes, the sick get sicker as the unfortunate thousands that perished rot with the debris, uncertain if they would ever get identified by their families, let alone get a decent resting place.
Meanwhile, heroic accounts of people and organizations and countries sending millions in relief goods and manpower, along with brief anecdotes of common people in our local communities giving their best is weaving a most colorful fabric of this tapestry we call the best of humankind. These stories will move you to tears.
Al Bascos, former president of the Filipino American Council of Chicago (FACC) with its headquarters at the Dr. Jose Rizal Heritage Center on Irving Park, Chicago, wrote in his email:
The Rizal Center, now on its fifth day in providing the venue for the biggest collection efforts for donation to the typhoon stricken Filipinos of Samar  and Leyte and nearby provinces, has attracted hundreds of Chicagoans, Pinoys,  black, white, Chinese, aldermen, broadcast media people, kids, mothers with children tagging along walk in to volunteer their hands to pack boxes, sort, push and lift heavy boxes of clothes, medicines, canned goods. Motorists slowed downed  traffic  along Rizal Center  as they dropped in the extended  mobile collection box   their share of help for the victims of typhoon.  Then came a man with a walking dog. He made his way to the first floor  amidst commotions of volunteers and big boxes. He is blind. He asked for Ms. Apple,  one of the organizers of this collective effort. He waited but Apple was somewhere in the building or in the parking lot but no one found her.  He could not wait a little longer; he requested one of the lady volunteers to go accompany him to the nearest ATM with his  guide dog leading the way.
 There is an ATM next door in a Shell gas station. He withdrew $500 and gave it to the volunteer, and he said this is my donation to help. 
Rey Villar, another community leader, went to Aldi’s to buy canned goods and non perishable items to donate. As he was checking out, people asked if he was Filipino. Confirming he was, the shoppers just went on giving him their bags, all paid for.
As Dickens put it, it was the worst of times but also the best of times. The age of foolishness but also the age of wisdom… a Season of Darkness but also a Season of Light.
There is hope for all of us. As long as we see humankind in its best elements, there is reason to rejoice, even in the worst of times. If you still don’t get it, just take it from the originators of thanksgiving themselves – the Pilgrims.

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