When the heart trembles

It’s hard to command the in-sides of my heart not to tremble when the wind howls like a very angry and very hungry monster, while the rain pours and thunder roars and when the only light you see around you that is not artificial is the magnificent, if intermittent, streaks of silver lightning. It is especially hard to command the heart not to tremble when all of these are happening simultaneously, and when images of Ondoy and Pepeng still float clearly in the mind, like the memory of a bad first kiss.

A blackout. Because of a storm named after a fabled gentle grandmother who never ran out of stories to tell. It did not quite add up  this gentle name attached to not so gentle ways. But like it or not, Basyang was upon us all. I started fretting over how long the power shortage would punish us, all the food that could spoil in the refrigerator and freezer, if the floods would come again. But what is that compared to the peril of those who do not even have decent shelter to begin with? What level of fear were they grappling with?

The more I rationalized, the scarier reality presented itself. How do you quiet the adult mind that just knows too much? As I assured my daughter all would be okay I prayed quietly I could believe that, too. All the emergency lights were already switched on; I had brought out dozens of candles, too. The house looked serene and almost romantic with all the flickering candlelight, a picture of calm that did not quite reflect the uncertainty of the night… We munched on chips and dehydrated guavas my mom had brought in from a recent trip, we craved for hot chocolate we did not make, we tossed random stories back and forth, we desired the generator we have yet to buy. There was little else to do but wait for sleep, or light (whichever happened first) to come.

The rain was strong but not so much that it did not allow for windows to be left open. Juliana spent some time by the front door, her face tilted up into the wet night, smiling as drops of rain touched her face in a gentle smatter. Her daddy let her be. She rearranged the candles here and there; she went up and down the stairs to get this and that, a rechargeable lamp hanging from one hand. She peered into faces and dark rooms. She was having her own brand of fun.

It soon became evident that because of the cross-ventilation, the living room was the coolest place to crash for this stormy night. Richard and my brother stretched out on a couch each while Juliana and I snuggled on the single mattress she somehow managed to drag down with some help from our bedroom upstairs. The night felt new, and strange.

Both our heads sharing one pillow (we were too lazy to go up and get more, we also did not want to sweat too much going up and down), I started reading Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, which I had bought months back but never got the chance to devour just yet. I asked her if she wanted me to read aloud to her till she fell asleep. She said she did and because the introduction was quite long she was already snoring softly right before I reached the first chapter. I made a game out of skipping sentences I felt were inappropriate for her age. This Anne Lamott promises to be witty and funny.

What is left to do when you really cannot do anything but hope for the best? You melt into the situation and… just let it be. Just like that. Unconsciously, my rational fears of what the night could possibly bring made me putty under my daughter’s leading. Like the child that she is, she seized the moments, the many that were there  to get wet in the rain (even if it was just on the tip of her nose and maybe her chin and outstretched hands as she stayed safely indoors), to make a game of it all; pretending we were just camping, and dreaming out loud what we would do if we were ever caught in another situation like this. And in a place she has passed through hundreds of times before, she knew how to make it feel new, by simply dragging a mattress that naturally did not belong there and falling into it confidently like it had to be there. Oh, the positive qualities of a child. Taking an adult’s word at face value, focusing on the fun and not the fear, relishing the spontaneity that flows in and out of all our days as opposed to being caught up always in how things should be and getting so upset when it does not play out that way. How liberating to just be totally in the moment, to not think too far ahead and not worry about too many things (most of which do not really happen anyway), to not have to struggle and instead make friends with the fluidity of life which also accounts for much of its beauty.

Getting the heart to not tremble could really be as simple as remembering how easy it is to be a child all over again. It is a choice we all can make.

 

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