A friend clicked up her Facebook profile to show candid shots of her sister and sister’s husband.
Her message, in Tagalog, explained that they hadn’t been seen since Typhoon Haiyan blew away their village on Samar and LeyteIslands – and if anyone out there might know of their whereabouts, please contact the family.
Typhoon Haiyan, said to be the strongest ever recorded, has caused misery and heartache of Biblical proportions.
During Sunday services at Hà Nội International Fellowship, before a congregation that includes many Filipinos, Pastor Jacob initiated a second offering to provide aid to the Philippines.
My wife and I made a modest contribution.
Since then, a smaller storm called Podul hit southern central Việt Nam and caused floods that claimed more than 30 lives and inundated some 100,000 homes.
These were the area’s “worst-ever floods,” according to chairman of Bình Định Province.
But on the global news scale, Podul ranks as a local story.
Pi Nature’s lethal caprice – be it storms, earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes, volcanoes – is a cause for reflection, a reason for even the spiritually ambivalent to think:
“There but for the grace of God go I.”
Or not-God, if you prefer.
If not God’s grace, call it luck – which can be good or bad, great or tragic.
All of this is obvious – and yet some people seem unaware.
It starts at conception.
Nobody gets to choose their parents and their DNA.
Nobody gets to choose where they were born, or their social circumstances.
I’ve found that living the privileged expatriate life has inspired more reflection – and mostly a reason to thank my lucky stars.
Had I been born in Tacloban, or in a village in Bình Định Province, perhaps I’d have never left and be among the casualties.
Before Typhoon Hainan struck, I’d been thinking of the islands as a potential vacation destination, enticed by those TV commercials promising “more fun in the Philippines.”
Now the TV shows images of devastation and relief efforts.
With the American holiday of Thanksgiving approaching, it seems fitting to express my own gratitude while so many people are suffering at no fault of their own.
I’m grateful I was born to parents who loved me, and grateful for sound health.
I’m grateful that I was not born into either poverty or great material wealth.
Middleclass – having neither too little nor too much – was just fine.
I’m grateful I was born in a country that was founded on the notion of equality, even if that ideal remains a work in progress.
I’m grateful for friends and colleagues who helped bring out the best in me.
I’m grateful for the love of my wife and our children, and to love them in return.
I’m grateful for Việt Nam and the Vietnamese for the opportunities afforded by our life here.
Having said all this, having thought about how fortunate I’ve been in a world where many people have suffered tragic misfortune, I feel the impulse to knock on wood.
I feel a need for some superstitious ritual that won’t cause my luck to change.
I just rapped my knuckles on the wooden table I’m sitting at as I write these words.
Whether this will influence the cosmos, well, I seriously doubt it.
But I also don’t know, for sure, that making donations to people in need will really help get to the right destination and help make a difference.
But it seems like the least that we lucky ones can do, to help make things better.
Whether you believe in God or don’t, doing the right thing is often an act of faith.
By SCOTT HARRIS