Fragility of Life

This article by Michael O’Riordan from his column Outside Looking In was first published on the 29th of October 2017 in the Dumaguete Metropost

I’ve just experienced my first tropical storm, cyclone, typhoon, whatever term you want to call it. The following are notes I wrote about this interesting experience as it unfolded.

THURSDAY It’s almost dark everywhere even though it’s morning. I’m writing with the assistance of candlelight. We’ve had a brown-out on the mountain since yesterday. Shortly before dawn today, thunder began rolling angrily over the mountain while steaks of lightning briefly lit the darkness. A temporary silence before heavy sheets of first rain then hailstones followed. Looking out, I noticed a cloak of mist descend in ominous silence. The valley and mountainside disappeared, then inevitably, the ocean and Cebu island beyond that.

Sometimes I’m a complete fool! I’d forgotten to learn from previous experiences when bad weather prohibited me from getting down the mountain to Valencia Proper. So, apart from a bag of brown rice, I’ve no food in the house. Meals, cooked on a camping primus stove will be limited to rice, rice, and more rice until this weather system blows over.

When I explain mountain life to friends in Ireland and America, they sympathize with me. They think I’m crazy and believe my existence is primitive. I completely disagree. I believe most aspects of my life on the mountain are brilliant! For me, the noise, the huge numbers of bustling people, and the pollution in cities are what’s primitive. I’ll now go and meditate upstairs for an hour while mother nature runs wild. Aum indeed!

FRIDAY It’s impossible to get out of here for a 7.30 am meeting at the university. Waves of never-ending rain cheered on by violent winds make it impossible to go outside. Big coconut trees have been uprooted and tossed around like leaves. I hear Dumaguete has major problems with flooding and important bridges have been destroyed.

I’ve experienced the last major earthquake in San Francisco. I’ve been stuck high on a mountain range when weather conditions suddenly changed within minutes creating deadly conditions. And I’ve sailing under gale-force winds. This experience above Valencia Proper was the closest to the nautical adventure because of the rains and winds. But, at sea, we would have had difficulty surviving the power presently being unleashed.

I feel a sense of helplessness as I watch the turmoil outside. Tree branches slap the structure on all sides but pay special attention to punishing the large window panes. The winds howl even angrier than yesterday until it seems inevitable this solid building will soon lift up then be thrown down the mountainside. Occasionally an eerie silence settles over everything. The winds briefly quieten as do the rains, but comfort is soon dispelled when the process begins again but with even more intense ferocity. Angry banshees raise their skeletal arms demanding destruction. I sit nervously observing the momentum build, the noise level more unrestrained then before. My earlier sense of euphoria is replaced by butterflies dancing a wild, Irish gig in my stomach.

SATURDAY I wake to a deafening silence. Oh joy! No howling winds or lashing rain! But the gentleness doesn’t last long. Back comes the madness, somehow angrier, wilder than before. My initial intrigue with this experience is quickly waning.

I still have some rice left. And I’m grateful to have something to eat. I’m also fully aware that I’m one of the few privileged people up on the mountain and, to a lesser extent, in Dumaguete. Almost everyone else up here is wet, have no warm clothes, have limited, or no food. Many, even before the event, didn’t have a solid roof over their heads. Because, in my earlier life I’ve been a homeless, street person, I always appreciate having a roof over my head. I rejoice in having the basic life necessities many others do not have.

SUNDAY Still not good, but it’s slightly better. Now the rice is all gone so I have to somehow get to Dumaguete for supplies. But it’s also horrible down there with severe rains and lots of flooding.

MONDAY I woke to a deafening silence. Looking out the window I was surprised to see occasional fingers of blue sky behind slowing moving clouds that soon turned brighter. Mist still floats over the mountainside but now I can see parts of the valley again for the first time in days. Eventually, the ocean appears, and soon after Cebu is there. It’s over!

Now birds are twittering excitedly while other mountain species join them rejoicing in the return to normality. Soon, for the first time in days, I hear scooters puttering down from above. I welcome the exhilarating sounds of children squealing in delight while their parents simultaneously talk. These simple acts are joyful to my ear.

So what, if anything, did I learn from this experience? It reminded me of the fragility of human existence. It also confirmed how insignificant we humans are compared to the incomparable power of Mother Nature. I feel nauseated when I hear mountain climbers, after summiting, vainly boast about “conquering the mountain.” The glorious mountain will exist long after these insignificant morons are dust. I cringe when I hear scientists arrogantly claim to have conquered Natures’ secrets. I sigh when I read of well-intentioned environmentalists begging for us to “save the planet.” They have nothing to fear. Long after homo sapiens, theoretically the most evolved of all species, has finally destroyed itself and all other life forms on earth, this planet will still turn on its axis, the sun will still rise in the east and set in the west. And, in a few million years, barely a millisecond in the measurement of time, our planet will eventually restore itself to its original magnificent beauty, but this time without the destructive force of man to darken the horizon.

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The author’s latest book “More Almost True Irish Stories” may be purchased from the Amazon

michael's life in dumaguete

Shortly after arriving into Dumaguete, Michael  intuitively knew it was the right place for him. Everything seemed to be right. It was and is. In addition to enjoying the way of life, he also met a special Pinay, and is living contentedly with her near the city.

He now operates Veritas Consulting Group, a company dedicated to helping other expats and Returning Filipinos with their transition to life in Dumaguete City and surrounding areas

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