stories

While Metro Manila’s streets were being turned into raging, deathly rivers by non-stop torrential rains last Saturday, I was with forty-plus co-workers on board a tourist bus somewhere in Batangas. We were heading back to Manila following an exhilarating and spiritually enriching company retreat at a Batangas resort.

News of the unfolding calamity in Manila reached us in trickles. An officemate got a text (or was it a call?)  from her brother about “rubber boats” on EDSA. I couldn’t believe my ears, and so I clarified: “Did you say ‘rubber boats’ or ‘rubber boots’?”

It didn’t take long before we all began to appreciate the gravity of the situation in the metropolis. One of us gravely reported that the flood had reached their house; a co-worker received a text report that their car had been displaced by the current; flood waters had risen to second-story heights.

We were at a crossroads: to continue our journey home via an alternate route that avoided the express way, or make a U-turn and make good on a co-worker’s offer to house all of us for the night. Some of us were anxious to get home and be with loved ones despite the risks, while some felt that the best course of action was to wait it out away from Metro Manila and then resume the journey when the situation improved.

Before entering the express way our bus driver discovered a problem with our brakes, a setback that proved to be our biggest blessing. After the brakes were fixed (which was nothing short of a miracle!), it became clear to everyone that the wisest decision was to spend the night in Batangas and continue the journey in the morning, hoping that by then the rains have stopped and the floods have been drained out of the major thoroughfares.

Thankfully, everyone in our group was calm, patient, and cooperative. With a few others, I helped lead our pack of marooned travelers—silently pleading for God’s mercy and guidance at every turn, helping to lighten up the mood with a few jokes, updating the group of whatever progress or new setback we were facing…. By God’s grace—and I mean that with all my heart—we were able to make it back to Manila the following morning without any further incident.

Our story is just one of many in the tapestry of stories that last weekend’s calamity has woven all throughout Metro Manila and its neighboring areas. Surely, our story is among the least grave, if at all. The media, the Internet included, tell of harrowing tales of families trapped on rooftops, shivering in the rain for many hours while desperately praying for help that usually came belatedly. Photographs and video clips, both amateur and journalistic, show ghastly images of men, women, and children being subjected to Nature’s stormy wrath. The fatality toll continues to rise, not to mention the cost of damaged properties and displaced lives.

But the stories do not end there. For me and my officemates, the story continued with thanksgiving and praise during the weekly company meeting this morning, followed by an earnest petition on behalf of the calamity victims. In the afternoon, just outside my office room, the conference table was filled with donated clothes, sorted according to their intended wearers. On the floor, next to the steel cabinets, canned goods were neatly arranged, waiting to be packed tomorrow with other relief items. Earlier we were trying to compose a list of more things to buy for inclusion in the relief packs.

The pile of goods doesn’t look a lot. But we pray it will make a difference in the stories of some people in our community.

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retreat

It’s just Wednesday, but we’ve been wrapping up the week’s work here at the office like it was Friday. That’s because tomorrow we all troop to Batangas for the annual staff retreat. Call time for the bus ride is 6AM. Although I live 10 minutes away by foot, I dread not making it on time. Must set the alarm — multiple times, at 15-minute intervals.

Tonight I load my backpack with three days’ worth of clothes and stuff, anticipating a great time by the beach with co-workers, most of whom have become dear friends, even family, through the years. Tonight I also start unloading my heart and my mind of clutter wrought by the past weeks’ busyness, and prepare the inner self to retreat — to actually zoom out, come away, reflect on the ‘big’ issues above the minutiae. And, hopefully, encounter God afresh in whatever way He chooses to reveal Himself to me, to us.

One more task before I go on full retreat mode: set my email’s auto-response.

the question

“You don’t blog anymore, do you?”

The question was posed with a kind smile by Ate Grace last Thursday at the Book Fair. “Ate Grace” is actually Grace D. Chong, multiple Palanca award-winner and among our prized authors at OMF Lit. We were chatting during downtime at our booth where she was doing media interviews and graciously signing copies of her children’s books (much to the delight of awestruck young readers and their parents).

Ate Grace’s question lent voice to a feeling inside of me that has been silently bugging me these past months. I replied with a sheepish grin and mumbled something unremarkable about being too busy with work to blog.

Truth is, I feel guilty about neglecting personal creative pursuits, blogging included. I do enjoy my marketing work at the publishing house. It keeps me on my toes and presents enough creative and leadership challenges to keep middle-brained me engaged. Plus I am blessed with a great staff who work as hard as they laugh.

Without realizing it, or perhaps taking time to acknowledge it, I have let busyness with work take me away from the things that I love doing on my own. And that includes blogging. I have all but ignored the creative “itch” these past months with very sparse writing (it gets sparser if you discount writing status messages on Facebook).

I’m not making any promises with this post. No blog marathons to be launched here either. But it does feel good to be blogging again — just because. There is something invigorating when you submit to the call to create no matter how small the output is. I believe this is divine joy gifted by a loving Creator.

Now I wonder when I will start drawing again.