Monday, February 3, 2014

Letter from Home

Despite my living Beyond the Pale (the entirety of Ireland outside Dublin that Queen Elizabeth I designated as beyond her control) - blown beyond the rainbow by a super-typhoon, I have always prided myself with staying up to date, keeping abreast of the news of my homeland and the wider world. I have mentioned that loss has become like a litany here, and Haiyan took away with her (assuming it's a girl's name) countless things, and every day since then has been a painful step in the progress of a recovering patient. 

Electrical power was restored to my island province after nearly six weeks of living in more than just figurative darkness. Other deprivations continue. Almost every day, the grocery stores in the capital city look like Vikings got there moments ahead of me - shelves are empty, prices are jacked up. The local company that has provided me with cable TV since 2009 has been making repairs at a snail's pace, so slowly that in my outlying barangay there is still nothing to watch on television except dvds. The only alternatives are satellite TV at an unreachable price or a primitive TV antenna to hoist above my roof just so I can receive the only two Pinoy stations available over the air (they are, frankly, unwatchable). This doesn't just mean that I have no television entertainment among the screaming coconut palms. Most importantly, it means that I have no access to news of the world whatsoever. Yes, I can now (since January 15) go online to find news, but limitations of both time and money (not to mention a ridiculously tiny bandwidth) make it impossible to find out what I need to know on the few occasions in which I can go online any given week.

Imagine what I felt when, just a few minutes ago, I went online to find out that Philip Seymour Hoffmann was dead at the age of 46. Or when I was informed on Facebook that the Super Bowl, which I believed was being played tomorrow, was nearly over and that my home team was being crushed. It was like being kicked in the stomach. That was the news for today. But what was the news for the two months I lived here without any source of information whatsoever. The people here live in a darkness that is both imposed from without and self-perpetuated. They have lived in this darkness for so long that their minds have adjusted perfectly to it. I have been forced to live in that same darkness against my will.

The comparison may seem odious, but I don't feel much different from a Russian caught in Leningrad during the German siege who longs for news of the world outside that isn't tainted by propaganda; or a Berliner living under the Soviet blockade; or a North Korean today who looks out every day at his occluded horizon and wonders what's going on in a world he isn't permitted to see.

Or, more likely, I'm like a soldier on a far frontier, standing his post, who waits every day for mail call in vain for nearly three months, with no news of his family in so long that he feels almost like he's been forgotten. Letters, dozens of them, have been written and mailed. He may get them all at once or not at all.

On the 50th commemoration of a World War Two battle (Anzio, perhaps, or Salerno - I don't remember which), I heard a beautiful story about a woman in the States who got a letter from her newlywed husband, written on the eve of that battle. Except that he had been killed in the battle fifty years before. The letter, along with many others, had lain forgotten in a mail sack that a mailman had simply neglected to deliver. The mailman had died, and his son, not knowing what to do with the sack of forgotten mail, handed it over to the post office. Working diligently to locate as may of the letters' recipients as possible, the post office discovered that most of them had died or couldn't be located. 

The woman who got her lost sweetheart's letter had neither moved nor remarried, so the latter was delivered along with a letter of explanation and an apology. Upon reading the letter, she confessed that what upset her the most about the mix-up was that it made her aware, for the first time, of how her husband hadn't altered in fifty years, but that she was now an old woman.

I want to know about everything I've missed - and continue to miss - since a natural disaster (and human incompetence) took the world away from me. What famous people whom I've followed and loved over the years have died? There must have been a few - unless Death took a holiday along with this country's disgraceful government. Have there been any more mass shootings in the States? What have people been saying about them? Is there another Fiscal Cliff Looming?

I had my finger on the pulse of the world - whose vital signs are vital to me - when the lights went out, and now I can't find it. I know that its heart cannot have stopped.

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