About Walking Into the Light

Walking Into the Light originally started out as a “home” for the various writings, projects and programs that I had created. It was a way to organize this part of my life into a workable framework. It has thus grown into the foundation for a 501c3 nonprofit, which is currently pending approval with the United States IRS. Currently it is a registered corporation in Virginia and is approved to solicit funds as a charitable organization.

The Vision
Through initiatives and programs that foster positive change, Walking Into the Light serves as a guide to inspire us all to live a life of inspiration and happiness. Admittedly, this may need some word smithing.

Belief & Purpose
What does this all mean? I’m still working on that, but ultimately I want this organization to be open to do what needs to be done to meet the current need. Currently, the first project is 2nd START, which is a 12-week program developed to spearhead positive change through a series of lectures, in-depth discussions, goal setting projects and physical fitness initiatives. With an initial focus on those of us who are either homeless or in transitional housing, 2nd START will provide participants with an opportunity to create a successful lifestyle by offering the elements for strategic personal development to not just create change, but engage in true life-changing transformation.

Walking Into the Light will also serve as a support system for additional programs and initiatives that may arise. Working in partnership with existing organizations, we can pool our resources to create a greater level of impact in the world. This may range from relief work during national or international disasters or by focusing on a social problem such as homelessness or poverty. The need is great, the opportunities wide open, and I want this organization to be flexible and adaptable as required.

Inspiration Initiatives — Thought Leadership — Inspire Others
Through various Inspiration Initiatives, I will create thought leadership content which is designed to inspire others to action and change. Thus, the purpose of this website and social media efforts is to serve as a vehicle for the thought leadership content derived from the Inspiration Initiatives.

With such a broad goal, how does one decide where to act and create significant change? Simple really. By focusing on one person and one program at a time, assessing capabilities and ensuring we do not spread ourselves too thin. Or in a nutshell: let Inspiration guide the way.

David Carson
President and Founder

Home Sweet Home

Would you find it strange if I told you as I fly back to the states that I feel like I’m leaving home and now heading to a foreign country? Because I think I would if roles were reversed. How could I not find it odd? The thing is I’ve had the same feeling that I was already home since I first boarded my flight on Korean Air bound for the Philippines.

They say home is where the heart is. I believe that to be true to the last word. And although I know it is time for me to return “home” once again, my heart is in Tacloban. It was there days before I first arrived. What I did not know then that I do now is that I was coming to find it, and meet it on its own terms. Sometimes you have to travel far to find what you had all along. Now that I have, I just hope I can bring it back with me.

At home in the states, my life is filled with many ordinary moments mixed in with a few of those that are inspired. It was the complete reverse during my trip to the Philippines. Extraordinary events happened regularly to the point that they became the ordinary occurrence. “Oh, you got an entire evac center water?” was on the same level as asking “How was your day, dear?” And that was an impressive thing to witness as it occurred day in and night out.

During my 9 days at Ground Zero, there was an energy, a passion, a “way” that I have never before experienced. The concepts of life and death are all too real here. One of the True Manila team members said that this devastation is worse than war. In war, there is collateral damage but people have the opportunity to leave. With Typhoon Yolanda, there was little warning, no real opportunity for people to exodus the islands.

Here there exists a sense of urgency and action to fulfill the demands that must be met. Deeds are done in the now because waiting may have detrimental consequences to the lives of the people around you. It’s not always to that serious of a degree but in some cases it very much is. And that, if nothing else along the way, changes you.

“Every day is probably amazing if you look in the right place,” said a good friend of mine. There’s no probably to it, pal. The days are filled with such experience that one sunrise to subsequent sunrise might as well be an entire lifetime. Thankfully I am reincarnated each day (usually by that damn rooster at 4am!) to begin anew. Each day is different in feel and nature. It requires me to be different, to rely on my skills, some of which I possess and others that are acquired on the go. My life has Mr. Miyagi prepared me well for this.

Another person commented that it must be like being a celebrity here. People smile, call out to you, ask you questions, vie for your attention. You have a choice what you do with that. I used it to try to make lives a little bit better.

I met people who were giving the best parts of themselves to the world and asking for nothing in return. If they happened to ask why I’m here doing “this,” it only took a few words before they understood, never needing for me to finish the first sentence. Many didn’t even have to ask. They all knew why. It was the same reason for us all. When you can look someone in the eye and understand them fully without saying a word, it is truly a beautiful thing.

An extremely positive result of this trip is that I don’t feel alone anymore. I have found an inner peace that has eluded me for such a very long time. Ít is because, in part, I now see and know that there are like-hearted people in life and purpose. And many of them were right before my eyes all along. I just didn’t know how to see them.

So I guess the looming question is “what now?” The answer: I have no idea. I have been home for three days now. The majority of my thoughts do center around Tacloban and although I thought that transitioning back to what my life was would be difficult, as of yet it has not been. This concerns me. Although I don’t know what “this” will mean for my future, I do know that I don’t want to return to the monotony where the days are only separated by a date on the calendar. I guess that it is very much up to me to change those pieces of my life and make it what I want it to be, as is true for all of us. Every moment of every day.

But one thing I said to a friend the night before I left for this adventure is that there are some choices that change you and there’s no going back to who you once were. And if you think you can just reinsert yourself into your old life as the version you are now and expect it to be a nice, snug fit, then you’re kidding yourself. You are changed and that means your life, the output of you, will as well. I hope I was right.

The anger and suffering that I brought with me halfway around the world found a home there. I hope that they have run their course. I didn’t have room for them on the plane ride back. As I said in a previous post, I like to travel light. Yet I also left just wanting my world to be safe. It is a naive, childish dream but it is a Dream nonetheless and I do my best to not give up on them no matter what.

To my friends and family, I look forward to seeing you once again. I didn’t come here to observe. I came here to experience. And you can’t “tell” experience, but I will do my best. Know that I bring back (hopefully) the best parts of myself. Take care though, for the days to come may be in many ways some of the hardest I have yet to face. I may be more fragile than I appear. Then again, aren’t we all? :)

So to bring this full circle, I have to address what you first said, Magina — the quote on CNN that in many ways brought me to Tacloban. Is it truly “…Worse Than Hell”?

I have to say that with everything I’ve seen, experienced and been blessed enough to be a part of — the answer is a resounding NO.

It may have been once upon a time but it is no longer. It’s now closer to the other side. There is hope here, with good people willing to put in a hard day’s work over and over again to rebuild their homes and their lives for a land that will rise once again to its former beauty. It is a place that I now name home if but only in spirit.

You called me here, Magina, and I hope I did you proud. So now I’m telling you to come on home. It’s time. And do not worry if you get lost along the path. I’ll show you the way.

Until next we meet, my friends, be safe and Dream well.

David

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The One We Call Casanova

(This one’s for you, pal.)

For those who don’t know (Casanova) Ron, here’s a little about him.

He and I were paired together for our UNFPA work. Actually I kind of asked for him since we had met by chance the day before.

Ron’s a good kid. He’s smart, savvy, analytical, extremely respectful (which to me is one of his most impressive qualities) and is filled with compassion. He’s the kind of person you’d want for a son and the one you’d be glad to find knocking on your door to call on your daughter. You’d be lucky to call him friend, know him as a brother and be blessed to hell and back again to have him at your side during a crisis.

He lives 1 1/2 hours away from Tacloban by bus. When the city was hit by Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan, Ron walked all the way here the very next day to check on the area. It took him 4 hours through what I can only imagine was nothing short of horrifying as he traveled to see his countryside ravaged by Mother Nature. And he’s been here since volunteering in the efforts.

The Filipino people should be proud to name him among them. At the time of this writing, he went home for a couple of days and will be back on Monday. He’s bringing me the best Tuba (coconut wine) that he can find. Safe travels on your way there and back again. I’ll be here when you arrive as I’m extending my stay by a few days.

If they were giving awards for unsung heroes, Ron would blow the competition out of the water. He’s got my vote all day long.

Ron, you’ve got a bright future ahead of you, bud. I see nothing but the best for you. No other deserves it more.

And if you don’t get what you want out of this world, let me know. I’ll rip it in fucking half to ensure that you do. Believe that. Anytime. Any place. I’ve got your back as you’ve had mine this whole time.

You’re all heart, pal, and you give me a shining ideal to strive for as a man and a citizen of the world. You’ve set a high bar and steep slope to climb to the top. I’ll try to meet you there. Just wait for me. I’m not as young as I used to be.

Love ya, man. Be good — I know you will. It’s who you are.

David

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Gabriel the Swift-footed

So Monday I asked for the day “off.” My personal mission has superceded the task I have been given when first I arrived. I said on Monday: it’s time for good things to happen and today is the day. If all goes according to plan, this for me will be a day of great deeds, hope and second chances. We all deserve them, so let’s make them happen together.

As an aside, I found Casanova Ron a very cute girl (and smart as that’s how he likes them) named Christina who is at the LNU Dormitory. We’ll make a pit stop for the introductions now that Ron is back in town. Don’t get me started on the fact he was supposed to come back on Monday and didn’t, then proceeded to not call me until Tuesday night. If I didn’t hear from him by this AM, I was fully prepared to go to his hometown in search.

Crystal joined me for another visit to Cirilo Roy Montejo Evacuation Center, the home of Valeria Gabriel and her group. If you have to ask who Valeria is, please read my blog post: Heroes Among Us from a few days ago. If I had it my way, everyone would know who Valeria is and she be dubbed a 62-year-young national treasure. This was my third visit in four days to Cirilo Roy and it was great to once again see everyone. Yes, I’ve “adopted” them and we will return today after another supply run. My pictures on Facebook show just a portion of the devastation to their school, which has almost 1600 students and many brave and extremely passionate teachers such as Jerry who is also a monster workhorse always with an ear-to-ear grin on his face.

Now from what I gathered during my last visit, Valeria said that word has spread during the principals’ meetings and the other schools are wondering why two Americans are helping out Cirilo Roy Montejo. Apparently I’ve been mentioned by name. What began as a personal mission may very well become a crusade, which could mean a number of schools in need will be knocking on the door of David Carson. Um…resources?

That said, the purpose of this blog post is about Monday morning’s adventures…

There are moments where something inside you “clicks.” Call it life purpose, divine inspiration, or a sense of good ol’ plain humanity — whatever you believe it to be doesn’t change the fact that it is very much real. And when it happens, you have a choice. For me, it was never a choice between two options to do it or not do it. It was a choice of how to open myself up in a way that I am then able to realize what my “true” options are.

A few days ago, which here is like a few lifetimes, Ron and I were at the Abucay Elementary School Evac Center and learned they hadn’t been given any drinking water since the typhoon. I immediately called Jet and because she’s an angel, she got her contacts to supply water for the 95 people there. I’m happy to report that when I went there on Monday they had received their water shipment. That’s so awesome! But that’s not the reason I went to Abucay that morning.

Back up to our first visit to Abucay a few days before in which we were gathering data for the UNFPA medical missions to serve those women who are pregnant and had recently given birth. After our data collection task was done and I was beginning to leave, one of the girls in the last classroom yelled after me. Ron and I went back and he informed me that I had been asked to be the godfather of her son, Gabriel. He’s a beautiful, now four-week-old baby with a left club foot bent inwards. I was touched, honored and a bit unsure. Regardless of the nature of the offer, I accepted it as I take that responsibility seriously. Godfathers are to give the child a gift, which I did. That was that and there was still much to do so we moved on to our next Evacuation Center.

On Sunday, our mission was to go to the hospital with Ron Villas, Humanitarian Coordinator of the UNFPA, to transport the medical supplies that will be used this week for the sessions with the pregnant women/those who had recently given birth. On the way, I had a thought. “Ron, can you introduce me to a surgeon at the hospital? A Filipino one please.” Ron agreed and once we arrived at EVRMC (Eastern Versia Regional Medical Center) he did just that.

Enter Dr. Lito Cablao stage left. I told Dr. Cablao of Gabriel, showing him a picture, and inquired as to the cost of the surgery to correct the alignment of his foot, as I had been told by his mother that it is very, very expensive. Dr. Cablao took a moment to explain the process of casting the foot once a week over a 10-12 week period and then the final surgery to allow for the foot alignment to be corrected. He then said that due to the Typhoon Relief efforts the cost was covered. Um…did you just say FREE?!

If anyone ever tells you not to ask a question, tell them as politely as you can to shut the hell up and then proceed to ask it anyway. “So basically they just need pesos to cover the weekly trike rides?” Correct. Yeah, we got that covered. I’m his Godfather after all. I asked Dr. Cablao if I could bring the mother (I never got her name) and Gabriel into the hospital tomorrow for consultation to which he agreed as long as it was before noon.

Fast forward to Monday with me riding on the back of the motorcycle portion of a trike with a mother, someone I presume to be her husband or brother, and my Godson in the cab part. We arrived around 10:30 at EVRMC. Dr. Cablao was on a navy ship transporting a patient, so we had to wait for about an hour. Waiting for a doctor — I guess some things are universal regardless of borders.

Once Dr. Cablao arrived, he and Dr. Gilbert Ola examined Gabriel and proceeded to discuss the correction options. In a nutshell, he’ll be able to undergo the corrective casting either at the age of or within 1 1/2 months. I wasn’t clear on which timing. I asked Dr. Ola to keep me informed of any additional needs that may occur. We exchanged contact information.

With the initial consultation completed, it was time to get the family back home. I think they were still a little unsure of what was happening, which probably hadn’t changed much since I first showed up a couple hours before in their classroom that was serving as their shelter and asked, “Are you busy? Will you take a ride with me to the hospital?”

As I gave them the trike, I pulled out an envelope with my contact info, enough pesos to cover their trike rides and handed over one of my Under Armor Superman shirts (which was admittedly too tight even for me, and a bit damp from having just been washed.) I told the mother it was for Gabriel and that “he will grow into it. He’ll grow up big and strong.”

Remember, the S stands for Hope.

Gabriel’s mother reached out her hand and shook mine saying, “Thank you.” If you read my previous blog post you know my response was just a nod and a smile.

I am not naive enough to think that I did this alone and want to thank those who helped make it possible, whether you know it or not. Especially UNFPA Humanitarian Ron Villas who took time out of his busy day to introduce me to surgeons. I want to thank Dr. Lito Cablao and Dr. Gilbert Ola for choosing to be doctors and for being open to having a conversation with a big oaf from the United States of America.

But I especially want to thank my guide, who shall forever remain nameless — your secret is safe with me ;) — for leaving just the right amount of bread crumbs for me to be able to do this – you know who you are and, on behalf of Gabriel, you have my eternal gratitude and appreciation. We all, collectively, have been able to give a gift that will hopefully change the course of a life. There is truly hope among the madness, light within the darkness, and strength within us all.

There are a series of scenes in the 90s “buddy” movie The Last Boy Scout with Bruce Willis and Damon Wayans. In it, Damon Wayans’ character makes a toast to Alex the Astronaut, Alex the Accountant and other variations of Alex + insert random profession. When asked about this in the movie, he says that his accountant could have been named Alex. Alex was his son who died in a car wreck along with his wife. While Gabriel is very much alive, like the character in the movie I may never see him grow up or know what kind of man he will become, though I imagine him to achieve greatness no matter what path he chooses. So in true Last Boy Scout fashion, please join me wherever you are in raising a glass in salute to my godson, Gabriel the Swift-footed.

God willing, Gabriel will be able to grow up with two feet planted firmly beneath him. He’ll have the opportunity to walk and run and play with all the other children who will hopefully have no memory of the typhoon that ripped apart their homes and their lives. He will be able to grow brave and strong and serve as a boon to the world if he so chooses. Yet that is his choice to make for himself, just as it is yours to decide for your life. Me? I already made mine long ago. Like Gabriel, it just took me a little while to find my footing.

May your feet be swift and full of purpose as you travel to wherever your heart takes you next.

With much hope for the best of today so that we may have a better tomorrow,

David

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Of Sacks And Men

“Rest,” says one of the ladies in the storage warehouse. I look around. I don’t see anyone else taking a breather. “I can rest when I get home,” I respond. Back to get another sack.

You can’t come here, or anywhere for that matter, expecting to save someone. Try to save one and you’ll think you can save them all. Try to save them all and you’ll fail before you even begin.

You have to understand at the very core of why you’re doing this that it’s not about you. It can’t be. The moment it becomes about you, you lose the ability to see the need. And you *need* to see the need.

Now take that and add in the fact that I have a hero complex. Always have. There, I said it. “My name’s David and I’m a hero addict.” This is where you all welcome me by saying, “Hi, David!”

Willing to stand against impossible odds and sacrifice one’s self for what you believe in. Yeah, I dig it. Glitz, glory, and heroedom. Sign me up. Not really sure what glitz is, but I’m sure it’s part of the hero package.

The thing is these people don’t need a savior. What they need is a friend and a helper, someone who is willing to put others before themselves, knowing that in doing so you are providing yourself with the greatest gift you could possibly give. I fail at this self-sacrificing ideal every day of my life, but I take heart in knowing I will never stop trying to achieve it. That I promise, and I don’t make promises I don’t intend to keep.

We cannot write another’s journey. We can only show them they have the pen.

You see, help isn’t about saving people and when you’re here, you don’t get to choose how you help or who you help. Not if you’re doing it for the right reasons. I’ve done everything from sweeping floors to lifting spirits with a smile to giving away my food to someone who didn’t even acknowledge the gesture. Here’s the thing and you may want to pay attention to this one: You don’t help people because they deserve it. You help them because it’s the right thing to do. The ThunderCats taught me that one, and my Mom and Dad.

“Thank you”s come in wherever you go. You just smile, nod and move on, never really accepting them. You can’t. As I said, it’s not about you and therefore no accolades can be taken. Argue with me all you want. You won’t win. I’m stubborn like that.

<Insert smooth transition to today’s events>

(Casanova) Ron and I started a bit earlier today. What’s it matter? My friend Mr. Rooster and his devout followers woke us up at 4:30am. Thanks for the extra 30 minutes of sleep, bud. Appreciate that.

We had to do more UNFPA due diligence at the remaining Evacuation Centers (ECs) and run some errands. Valeria (my swimming hero) had said that her center needed diapers and lights. We had picked up some of the supplies the day before but needed more. We hit the market first, navigated once again by our trusty Trike driver, Manuel. No Catholic cross signs over the heart today. Guess yesterday’s carried over.

We stopped by to see Ma’am Valeria to drop off the supplies. She didn’t know we were coming so she was surprised to see us. Her smile melts hearts. She still had mine from days ago when we first met. It was good to see the crew there. They had made progress clearing some of the debris. The five pairs of work gloves we brought them will hopefully help in their efforts. We had work to do at the other ECs, so couldn’t stay long. We dropped off what we brought – lighters/lights, diapers and gloves. Yes, Natasha, I need to find an ATM. Sorry, but you knew this was going to happen and you told me not to change. Couldn’t if I wanted to at this point.

I got a hug from Valeria and off we went. We visited two more ECs, one of them containing Ron’s new girl. He left me while I was taking a picture of a rather large pig that was tied up nearby. Guess he didn’t want me to cramp his style after my stunt yesterday when I told her (and everyone else in earshot) that he didn’t ask for her number for the EC data. Yep, that’s how I roll. Got it from my big bro who has no shame at all. I like to think I have at least a little dignity and self-respect.

On to the Astrodome EC which we were sent to by our head UNFPA honcho, Diva Ron. That man’s a machine. He doesn’t eat or sleep. He just works, chipping away for the cause he believes in, every moment he’s awake, which is pretty much 24-8. We’re lucky to have him.

Casanova Ron, the trooper that he is, was doing pretty much all the UNFPA work at this point. It’s hard to be helpful in that situation when everyone’s speaking a different language. You do the best you can but at this point let’s face it, I was dead weight. So I did what I do best. I walked around and talked to people, offering smiles and waves as greetings, answering the questions that the droves of kids would yell from the upper floors or as they walked by. “What’s your name, Joe?” Joe refers to military personnel (which I am not) and is derived from the 80s GI Joe cartoon. Asking someone’s name and offering a smile or handshake/fist bump goes a long way. It sets the stage to have an interaction and trust me, you want to have interactions here. I also get information by walking around, finding out if there are additional ways to help out. I do it at work, too. People just don’t know that’s what I’m doing. Guess some do now. ;)

So at one point there’s a red truck nearby. I noticed people were standing in line to unload large white sacks. I watched for a moment, feeling the pull inside. Sometimes you’re pulled towards something, sometimes called and sometimes you’re sent. They aren’t the same. I’ll let you figure out the difference. Let me know when you do.

Ron looked at me and asked, “You want to help?” Yeah, pal, you know me too well at this point. So Ron went to do the EC work and I got in line to carry a sack of various food items to the nearby storage area. I received more than a few stares and confused looks as I walked up to the back of the truck. I’m used to it at this point. I was told before I came here that I was either going to be the coolest thing people had ever seen or viewed as a target. Well no one’s stepped up to the plate on the latter, so must be the former, at least so far.

The helpers carry the sacks on their heads. That’s the technique. At one point I tried to take one of the sacks in my arms and they wouldn’t give it to me. On the head or not at all.

The sacks weigh about 100 kg, so one of the workers said. I don’t know what that translates into lbs and it doesn’t matter. They were heavy, but I’ll take that over the burden of being able to do something and choosing not to. I’ve carried that one for far too long. I’ll take the sacks any day of the week.

The sacks seemed to get heavier as I made more trips. (Duh!) At some point I noticed a crowd watching me. I can only speculate at what they were thinking, but I hope it was “here’s a guy who’s not like us, but he’s helping out anyway. Maybe we’re not so different after all.”

I carried about 10 sacks in all including the last one. But I didn’t carry the first one and many of the ones in between.

After the final sack, the truck packed up and left. I smiled and shook the hands of those involved in the unloading process. A line formed shortly after as the food was then being distributed. I was a bit worn out and my back and neck stiff, but took satisfaction in the sight that people were being fed by the food in both sacks that I did and did not carry. Yeah, remember:

It’s not about you.

And it’s not about them.

It’s about all of us. Now let’s get it done.

Standing with you in body and spirit — until the end and then some.

David

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Let’s Have a Good, Good Time

(Originally to be posted last night but I crashed instead)

Not all of life has to be heavy, not even in the wake of complete and total destruction. It can’t always be serious. We wouldn’t survive it. And although I tend to gravitate towards the heavy parts, even I know you have to appreciate the lighter side of things and allow yourself to experience it in its full richness. The light times will nourish the soul in ways nothing else can and ensure we have the strength of heart needed for the journey ahead, which I sincerely hope includes the following of Dreams to the end of the road, and then some.

Enough philosophical rhetoric.

I could tell you about the events of the day; about how one of the evac centers didn’t have drinking water and my KUSOG Tacloban contacts found them a supply of 200 bottles to be delivered tomorrow for 95 people in need; or how one of the young mothers of a 3 1/2 week old asked me to be her daughter’s godfather which I accepted (expecting a knock on my door in the future); or even the amazing kids that flocked to see us, following us around in droves, with one group performing a cheer+song choreographed competition to which I graciously accepted the honor of judging. I posted it on Facebook and will do picture updates for my blog once I return to the States. In the meantime, I’ll spoil the ending. It was a tie. :) Or how Casanova Ron (we’ll get to his name in a moment) and I stopped by a market to buy lighters and diapers to deliver to Valeria’s Evac Center, which we did this morning. It’s fun to play the part of the hero.

The devastation here is apparent. There is no denying that, but there is light-heartedness and, dare I say, fun as well. So let’s talk about the good stuff, of the celebration of new friends bound in purpose and forged through good-hearted teasing over (hopefully) some much needed adult beverages.

Tonight we head to Calle Zaragosa, a friend of German Ron’s who is reopening the first restaurant in Tacloban since the typhoon. We have three Rons in our group so we had to figure out names for each to differentiate them. This Ron is from…wait for it…Germany. Bet you didn’t see that one coming. So at the restaurant I am told we will have cold beer and soup. They had me at beer…shared in the presence of good friends of course. It should be a fine time (which it was). I’m from Kentucky after all. Give us a drink and conversation with good people and we’re good to go. That’s how we roll in the South.

So to recap, the day began with a trip to see dead pigs in the water. Exciting I know. I left my phone at the house as the battery was low, so no pictures. I’m sure you’re disappointed. One of the pigs was enormous, severely bloated to the point it didn’t look real. Hungry for pork now?

I was running a little low on emotional energy — yesterday’s events and corresponding blog post took a lot out of me — so I’m recharging a bit today. Refilling the internal tank just as I sit now in line for our Trike (motorcycle + cab) to refill its gas tank so we can partake in the day’s adventures. More UNFPA Evacuation Center data gathering and a few personal errands to run along the way.

It’s raining today but my mood is even keel. At home the rain makes my mood dreary and I long to stay inside. I’m a summer boy at heart which means sand, water and sun are my preferred vacation criteria, but here it’s not the same. Maybe it’s the place. Maybe it’s the people. Maybe it’s the one writing this blog. Don’t know and frankly don’t care to dissect it. My overly analytical mind took a hiatus when I booked this trip. I’m not much missing it these days.

Gas refilled. Our Trike driver Manuel just cranked us up and performed the Catholic cross over his heart (98% of Filipinos are Catholic according to my contacts here). I’m all for a little divine support but hope he always does this and it’s not because he’s expecting we’re going to need it on this particular drive. He just did it again so I think we’re good.

Back on point. As we walked to the dead pig site, I took it as my personal mission to find Simple Ron a date to bring to the restaurant tonight. After yesterday’s car moving experience I tried to dub him Super Ron but he instead chose this variation. After going over his preference in the female department, I pointed out one girl who came up to him to chat. Apparently she was 13 and the daughter of a family friend. Ron’s 21. Strike one. A bit later I saw one that might turn Ron’s head. Pointing her out, Ron looked at me and said tactfully, “Um…that’s not a girl.” Strike two and three. In my defense he was dressed like a girl and who knows, maybe Ron bats that way. No judgment here!

Ron did get a number later that day on his own without my help (well, maybe I helped a tiny bit by asking if we could call her for the missing data we needed). Ron was smooth. I took notes. He also got four texts (that I know of) later that night. You go, big dog. He has rightly been renamed Casanova Ron.

The time we spent that night at Calle Zaragosa was great. Everyone from our group was there: Chris, Crystal (my fellow US volunteers), Firie, Jet, Michael (local volunteer), the three Ron’s and me. Marie, who started KUSOG Tacloban with Magina (we missed you!), had just arrived in town with her husband and two other volunteers. The perfect group comprised of people strong in purpose and filled with the desire to do good for their country and their world. There are people who change you and make you a better version of yourself just by being in their presence. This group has those people in spades. I am honored to be among them. I am blessed to call them friends.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to work beside you and to share this time in my life with you. I will never forget it…or you.

David

Heroes Among Us

“PULL, Fucker!” I screamed at myself in my head. The car barely moved. “What’s the good of all those pull-ups and curls if you can’t move this thing?!”

I heard the count (outside my head) “1…2…3…”

PULL!

I’ve always gotten by. No matter what has happened in my life I’ve made it through and in many cases admittedly fairly easily. High school, college (with a moderate hiccup my freshman year), and grad school were all relatively a breeze. My career? I don’t kill myself. It has it’s place in my life but it’s not at the top by any stretch. My relationships — some have been hard, sure, but that’s to be expected with the ones that don’t work out. So a moderate level of work effort over my life. I give myself a C+, the + just because I’m wickedly sarcastic and I consider that a positive.

I’m not opposed to hard work. I’ve done a fair share of manual labor in my life. It’s not my trade of choice but I can give a good go at it. It’s just I want to know that what I’m giving my blood, sweat and tears to actually matters. There has to be some meaning to it all and despite what the results say, the effort in and of itself must be it’s own reward. It’s the journey, as they say, not the destination, and I’ve found only a few things over my life that have warranted my full effort.

The people here in Tacloban work and they work hard. They work to survive. They work to rebuild. They work to restore “normal” to their lives. Will it ever be the same as it was? No. It cannot be. By it’s very definition the future must be different from the past. But just because it’s different doesn’t mean it can’t be better. We just have to dare believe it to be possible and work (really hard) to make it the new reality of our world.

Today I was given a task by the UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund Activites). They changed the name but not the acronym so it doesn’t match. Along with Crystal, another US volunteer, and two local volunteers, we were charged with visiting the Evacuation Centers to retrieve data from the DSWD reps (it’s something related to social services) about the number of pregnant women at each center as well as those who had recently given birth, and some other macro-level stats. Then the UNFPA can distribute services to the centers. Easy enough. Talk to some people. Get some information. Basic retrieval task. Right up my alley.

We split up into teams: one US and one local volunteer. I grabbed Ron, a kid 21 years of age, who I had met yesterday by happenstance when he was pulling water out of the ground with a bucket to use for laundry. There’s not much running water here and certainly no electricity aside from a few generators in key places throughout the city.

Don’t worry, I’m getting to the car. This is called building the story. You front load it for a dramatic climax.

My partner-in-crime Ron and I cleared our 5 evac centers in about an hour and a half. If we were competing with the other team, it would have been like (insert favorite pro sports team) against an ant. The ant loses in this scenario.

We regrouped and headed out for 3 more evac centers. The second one is where this story takes place.

It was Cirilo Roy Montejo School, which didn’t have a DSWD rep so we met with the principal instead. Imagine the sweetest 62-year-old grandmother you can and then double it. That’s who Valeria Gabriel is.

We talked a bit about the data, then she showed me the mark on the wall signifying the level the water had reached during the typhoon. It was above my head by a good amount, so maybe 8 feet high. She then showed me the cracked hole in the corner of the ceiling where the family including Valeria’s husband, son, pregnant daughter-in-law and I presume their two young girls clamored out of to reach the roof. A typhoon of god-like proportions and their only safety was on a roof in the middle of it. Let that sink in for a moment. Now let this: Valeria couldn’t fit through the hole. Instead she had to swim around the room in 8 ft water, work her way outside of the structure, around the corner and take refuge by floating, holding on for dear life and resting her head on a stretch of bamboo. For 2 hours. In the worst typhoon known to man. Separated from her loved ones while who knows what the hell was happening to them.

Fuck.

I broke inside. I had no choice. I’ve been able to handle everything I’ve seen here thus far including all the stories of heartbreak and tragedy. But not this. This got me and it got me good. My eyes welled up and it took everything I had to not let the tears fall. I had a job to do I told myself, but it had nothing to do with the job at this point.

I had to let Ron continue the UNFPA interview. I couldn’t focus on data. All I could say to her was “You’re my hero.” It was the complete and total truth. She smiled and said her husband was her hero because he helped push her family up through the crack by standing on a ledge inside the complex. He was now sleeping soundly nearby on a wooden table, his rest well deserved.

I asked Valeria how she was able to do what she did. I’m a swimmer, or at least used to pretend to be one. It’s not easy. I can’t begin to imagine what it is like in a typhoon. She must be the Michael Phelps of the Philippines. Valeria smiled warmly and said, “I am 62 and I was feeling young.” Bless this lady and her invincible will. No matter how strong I think I could ever possibly become, it would be but a fraction of the strength of this incredible woman.

I asked her if they needed anything that wasn’t being provided by the DSWD. She said they had all they needed for the 22 people there, but could use more lights/candles and diapers. Fresh out of the latter, I gave her my flashlight. I have an extra and even if I didn’t, there was nothing in me that could possibly refuse any request this woman had. Ron continued the interview for data.

At some point I asked her again if there was more they needed. Her son, who had been there the entire time, had chimed in occasionally to fill in parts of his mother’s story. I don’t remember who said it, but they mentioned “the car.” I looked over at the green car to my left, the front part stuck nicely in a ditch. It needed to be moved to 1) clear the way and 2) so the car could be used in the future by the family. The battery which sat on a nearby table was useless. Another victim of the typhoon.

“The people you need to help will find you and vice versa,” I was told before I left for the Philippines. Well I don’t know who found who but it didn’t matter. I was here and there was work to be done.

“Let’s get this thing moved,” I said to Valeria and her son.

The area came alive. Almost magically Valeria’s husband was outside beside me. Wasn’t he just asleep inside? Must’ve teleported. Her son was there, Ron, and myself. That made five with Valeria. Jerry, one of the teachers of the school, stopped his work clearing the area and came to help. Another young man, maybe late teens, appeared from behind one of the buildings to the side. We were seven in all against the laws of physics and the remnants of a typhoon.

We tried to rock the car back and forth. The wheel was locked, so the tires wouldn’t rotate. Back was the only option and there was very little room between the front of the car and the concrete wall. Oh, it was muddy and wet as well. Probably good to mention that.

We failed to move it from its position the first couple of tries. Well if you can’t push, how about pulling? Jerry got some rope. We tied it to the back of the car, or rather Valeria’s husband did. Old people know how to tie knots. I don’t. I quit Cub Scouts early on in my childhood. Wasn’t my thing.

Okay, pulling time. In fitness, there are two groups: pushers and pullers. Pushers are those who rock at bench press, squats, and all that other jazz. I’m a puller. Back and biceps are my strengths and this was right in my wheelhouse. We got this, I thought.
1…2…3 pull. Nothing. The car barely moved, just rocked back into place.

There are moments in your life when you decide to do something and that’s all there is to it. It’s going to get done. I might not do anything else while I’m here, but by the love of God or the will of David, this fucking car was going to move and I wasn’t leaving until it was finished.

We regrouped, gathered our strength and got into the ready position. “1…2…3…pull,” came the call from Valeria’s husband. Over and over again. The car began to make progress. “1…2…3…pull.” It moved more. I pulled like I’ve never pulled before. “1…2…3…pull!!!”

The car hit level ground.

“Captain America!” came Valeria’s cheer, in response to my Cap’s cap that I was wearing, turned backwards with the star facing her. I smiled at her. How could anyone not?

It was a momentous occasion not just for them but for me as well. I think we all knew at that point this wasn’t about the car. It was about people coming together to re-establish a sense of normal.

We weren’t done, but the wheel would now turn which meant we could maneuver the car. There was a hole right under the vehicle that we had to deal with. If the tire went into that hole, we were done. We moved a rather heavy slab of concrete and eventually were able to wedge it into place. I credit Valeria’s son in his Dolphins jersey with the MVP for that part. Valeria called out “Captain America” on more than one occasion as we hit more milestones along the way. From that point on it was just logistics to move it back and forth to get the car where it needed to be.

We smiled and gave each other praise once the car was finally parked in its new home. The word hero was used quite frequently among us. Ron, for all his 100 lbs, was a trooper and inspiration.

We took a picture to commemorate the event. It was a group selfie. :) Ron and I concluded our visit and it was on to the next Evacuation Center which I prayed to God didn’t have a semi out front. I gave Valeria, my personal champion, a big hug goodbye.

There is still a lot of work to be done. Debris is everywhere at the school and, of the 22 people there, a good percentage are children. But I know that no matter what they’ll get it done. They have the hearts of heroes — unyielding and born of love and devotion to their community, their school, and each other.

Valeria and her friends and family at Cirilo Roy Montejo School will probably look back on this day and tell stories of how Captain America used his heroic strength and determination to help them move a car.

But I know the truth.

They didn’t need Captain America and they certainly didn’t need me. They moved that car on their own and they were always able to do it. They just had to come together as a team, unified in purpose, bound by a common belief that it could be done, and work hard (remember we talked about that waaaay back at the beginning) to make it so. They’re the real heroes. I’m just a guy who likes to wear the apparel.

Much admiration and respect to all the unsung heroes out there, wherever you are. Stay vigilant and brave. The world needs you now more than ever. I’ll be there with you, watching from the sidelines, cheering you on all the while. Just look for me. I’ll be the one wearing the Captain America cap.

David

Amongst the Unseen Ruin

I search for it among the shattered glass and broken foundations of countless lives. It is here. I can feel it, can almost see it, as fleeting as it is. There! Then in a wisp it is gone.

I know it for what it is. Live long enough without it and you come to recognize it immediately. You may have your name for it, but I call it Hope.

An interesting notion, is it not? To believe in something against all odds. To imagine what can be when all logic in the Multiverse supports only what is before our eyes. It’s dangerous, as dangerous as it comes. For as transformative as it can be, it can be lost. And then where would we be?

There is a resilience here that I have not before seen. It’s in their eyes and their hearts. It is that of the human spirit. Devastated by tragedy, there are smiles amongst the sadness. It warms me to no end, nourishes my sometimes weak spirit. And it is quite glorious to witness firsthand.

As soon as Jet, my ground contact in Tacloban, met me at the airport and we entered the back of the UN truck – 8 of us in all; 3 newbie volunteers including myself – I knew I was in the presence of something special. There were laughs shared almost immediately, smiles and warm hearted gestures exchanged. Levity is important in life, but it is never more critical than in the most serious of times. It reminds us that it was not always like this and that one day, universe willing, it may be what it was again.

Hope.

My contacts give us the “tour”, telling us what it used to be like. “This *was* a beautiful view,” Ron says as we stand at the dividing line between earth and sea. It’s always past tense. But the way they describe it you can almost see it. Almost.

The two caskets nearby, one shattered, the other unopened, are stark reminders of what’s at stake here.

It’s not just life. It’s not just ensuring that people are fed, watered and sheltered. It’s not just the satisfaction of the first layer of physical needs of Maslow’s Hierarchy. It’s the top layer — the human spirit. I believe Maslow was wrong. I believe we aren’t linear in our needs and aren’t so predefined as to only achieve the greatest potential of our humanity by first “satisfying” all the needs below it in sequence. No, my friend, we are much greater than that in all regards. The people here prove that when they raise their hands in greeting and smile in all sincerity of human kindness.

It is a tribute to us all that amongst ruin we can be strong. Amongst chaos, we can hold tight to our ideals and our compassion. And in the face of monumental odds, we can band together — whether in the back of an 8-person truck or united as a world shoulder to shoulder — and set out to do some good.

And that, my friend, gives me hope.

All the best tonight on your travels from here to there wherever you decide your “their” to be.

David

Into the Heart of Madness

As I decided to book my flight last Thursday night to the Philippines (originally flying into Manila, now Cebu and hopefully on to Tacloban), I was calm. I wasn’t nervous, anxious or fearful. I was calm because the storm that had been raging within me for some time had finally started to simmer. The wheels inside that were grinding incessantly for months began to turn once again.

As I told people about my trip, there were many reactions. I had initially decided to keep this to myself – that’s what being strong is about, right? Doing things alone, on your own, not needing help from anyone at any time. I think at this point we both know that to be a modestly believable lie at best. The reactions to my news? Support/Acceptance (I know you need to do this, just be careful). Negotiation (why can’t you just help people here?). And of course Disbelief in the form of “You’re crazy.”

I’ve never been part of a relief effort nor have I been to a third world country. I am not medically trained aside from CPR and I don’t know the language. In all respects, I should have a healthy level of fear and anxiety. As I sit on the first leg of my flight which will layover in Seoul, Korea, I can say that I am still calm, collected, focused. I have never felt more sure of where I’m supposed to be than at this moment.

Madness, right?

Well I’m here to tell you that there’s a fine line between Greatness and Madness. And to follow your Dreams, you need a bit of both.

But the question still persists: The “Why?” variation. Why now? Why this? Why…(fill in the blank)? Here is my best attempt at answering that, but as someone once told me: either you get it or you don’t. That is not a reflection on anyone’s insight or intelligence. There are simply things in this world that cannot be explained, but only known through experience and an innate understanding that is often cheapened by the words we use to describe it. I’m going to try my damndest to not dilute its significance in the following paragraphs.

For those closest to me, my decision to do “this” may have come across as impulsive, but not surprising. For others, it may very well have seemed completely out of character and in total contradiction to the dashing, incredibly charming, and stunningly witty person that they have come to know and love. Fear not, for I am still me. But for some time I have hidden a part of myself for reasons of my own. In doing so, I have created distance between myself and many of those I care for, and for that I am truly sorry. I have no right to ask for your forgiveness; I can only hope for your understanding. Eventually you reach a point, often one not of your own choosing, when the pieces of who you are must converge, coupled with the fact that there are simply some things you cannot do from the cover of shadows. That time is now. Is it ever not?

My life has been torn apart before, the pieces of my world shattered. A few know the story. I call this time Darkness. But the Darkness itself, nor the details of my life, are important. What matters is what comes after. For I know that what can be lost can be found. What can be broken can be rebuilt. I’ve seen it. I’ve done it. And I know we’re all capable of it. What I learned from it was a simple, yet incomparable truth: in each and every moment of our lives, we have the power to make “it” better, to choose to become more than we were just seconds before.

Each. And. Every. Moment.

This is a belief that I hold onto with everything that I am, and I will not yield it – not for me, not for you, nor for any amount of Madness that the world may bring.

So as I sat watching the news over the past week, seeing the catastrophic effects of a typhoon that mankind has never before witnessed in recorded history, I saw the following words etched into the bottom thirds of the news broadcast: “…Worse Than Hell.”

To someone of at least moderate to average intelligence, this should have been a clear warning, an evident deterrent. For me, it was an invitation. It was an invite to quell the sadness and anger within me – deep-rooted emotions that up until this point could not be sated no matter how much gym or quiet time I logged. It’s a sadness and anger born of a single purpose that echoes throughout the corners of my soul: I will not live in a world where people suffer and I sit back and do nothing.

Will not. Cannot. Not any longer.

I once believed that the greatest tragedy in life was not knowing what to do next. I now understand that it is knowing what to do and not doing it. I have “slept” for far too long. It is time to awaken. There is work to be done.

Know that I do not tread lightly into the unknown. I have “trained” for many years – strengthening my beliefs, pushing my limits physically, clearing my head and understanding the depths of who I am, but more importantly who I so desperately desire to be. I take all of myself with me, and I carry, too, pieces of you. Though my second suitcase exceeded the 50lb limit at the airport, I travel light these days, thinking all the while that perhaps each of us could use a touch more Madness in our daily lives.

We live in a success-driven world, so might as well ask the question. What is success here? Let’s get down to it. I am fully aware that I may be able to do nothing of any value on this little excursion. It may be a “wasted” trip by all known measures of what we deem makes anything worthy. However, success for me is landing on the ground, taking the first step outside of the airport, and letting the rest be what it may or may not be. At some point the journey is out of your control. At that point, the journey becomes what it was intended to be. You have to let go. This is not something I’m particularly good at, but I am trying.

I don’t know if I’ll continue to do relief work in the future. My 501c3 application is currently pending at the IRS and hopefully will be approved by early next year. What I do know is that you don’t have to travel halfway around the world to give a damn. There is need all around us. We just have to have the compassion to open our eyes and the courage to act upon the call within.

So I now find myself sitting in the Seoul airport, traveling into the Heart of Madness so that I can stand amidst the chaos and say to the world – my world – with every fractured piece of my being:

I am here with you. I believe in you. I believe in us all.

All the best, my friends, wherever you are and whatever your life is at this moment.

Be safe and Dream well.

David

An Unbroken Life

Sometimes it happens in a moment. Sometimes we don’t have a choice. Sometimes we break.

I am a strong believer in the power of choice, our ability to decide what our lives will be and the heavy responsibility that accompanies it all. But regardless of how long I have fought against the notion, I have come to accept that sometimes we don’t have a choice. Sometimes life happens and we are but an involuntary reaction to it. Sometimes all we can do is break.

It is a bitter stark realization and one never more real than when I received the news that a family member’s 37-year-old husband had died suddenly one morning due to heart complications. I knew, as I sat with the news, that my cousin had no choice but to break. After all, how could she not? Her world had changed forever, and continues to change constantly as she immediately lives a life she has never known, one without her beloved spouse.

There’s a fragility and solemn beauty to the human life that we are not always strong, coupled with the fact that we’re not supposed to be. Yet just because we break does not mean we are broken. We are not merely a sum of the choices we have made and the ones that have been made for us. We are not defined by the tragedies of our past, but who we choose to be in the present.

This is evidenced over time through experience as we learn an incomparable truth: what can break can be rebuilt. What once was shattered can be made whole. Perhaps not in the same fashion as it was before, but in a different version of our life, one that exists now – unbroken – because we have found the courage to live it.

Snow Patrol – This Isn’t Everything You Are