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Tales from the storm: Love Stories in a time of disaster

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It’s been weeks since one of the most heartbreaking disasters in the form of a category 5 typhoon named Haiyan/Yolanda struck the earth. Among the stories that are now being told from it are tales of survival, charity, (even) conspiracy and politics, but the most enchanting of all are the stories of love.

One story that captivates our hearts is about a young man’s love and determination that brought him to travel 8000 miles to find her fiancée in the ravaged and devastated city of Ormoc, a few days after typhoon Yolanda hit. The story that was featured in Cebu Daily News last November 22, and had been circulating over different social media sites, narrates how an engineer, Houssam Hammoudi, 31, travelled all the way from Montreal, Canada to the province of Ormoc, Philippines in order to find her Filipina fiancee Grace Acojedo, 22. Grace was in terrible shape when Houssam found her at a nearby clinic in Ormoc. The chivalrous prince charming came rushing to her damsel in distress, took care of her and launched a fund raising project through social media, named Operation Saving Grace. The said project received positive responses from the netizens and helped pay for Grace’s medical bills. And to add to their poetic journey, the love-struck couple got married last Saturday, November 23.

Love stories like these are likely to cause romantics and even naysayers gushing with a chorused “awwww…” We get quite amused with seemingly real-life “Romeos and Juliets” whose love prevailed through tumultuous times and real characters that proved their relentless love until their last breath.

Maybe it’s the drama, but there is something immensely striking about survival stories especially those that have a romantic twist to it. Perhaps it gives light to the idea that surviving a tragedy is one thing but surviving it as a couple is another, and it takes more than just the need to get through the disaster alive. Because the goal to pull through as one ultimately puts your vows into action and calls your faith in your spouse to practice. The stories below are testimonies to this challenge:

“When disaster the breeds romance” (The Oklahoma Love Story)

It was love at first sight for Tim Sickel, a disaster relief volunteer from Florida who met his one great love after the Great Flood of 1993 in West Des Moines. Sickel’s love story started when he was temporarily volunteering for a flood clean up wherein one of the ruined houses was owned by one devastated, overwhelmed and beautiful woman, Vicki Stringham, who later on became his wife. On July 13, 1993, Sickel saw Vicki stricken by grief and frustration and on the verge of tears as she stood by her doorstep looking at the debris of her shattered home. That moment, Sickel knew there was no other place he wants to be than beside Vicki. In the midst of that catastrophic time, the two became friends and dated for six months. Three years after, on the anniversary of their first meeting, the two eloped to Las Vegas and got married. Tim and Vicki Sickel have been married 17 years now and are fully active in disaster relief programs.

“Afloat the sea of Loneliness” (The Hirumitsu Shinkawa Story)

Adrift alone at sea for two days, Hirumitsu Shinkawa, 60, was clinging to his roof when rescuers found him about 10 miles away from the northern east coast. Hirumitsu was found cold, dehydrated and mourning the loss of his wife, Yuko, also 60, who got swept away by the tsunami that followed the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and devoured the town of Minami soma, Japan last March 11, 2011. In an article posted by GQ.com, Hirumitsu recalled that before the giant waves took his wife, his last words to her were, “We will be fine.” The thought of his wife fueled his will to survive while he was floating at sea and desperately hoping for rescue. He held on to the roof of his house like he held on to the hope of possibly seeing his wife when all of it was over. Yuko's memories kept him alive as he faced his loneliest and scariest moment. In remembrance of Yuko, he later wrote this poem for her:

Missing:
How many days later
Will you appear in my dream
My beloved
Wife?

“Along came Katrina” (The Hurricane Katrina Love Story)

For Monique Cavasher, 20, a lot has come out of hurricane Katrina but one of the few good things that came out of it was her husband, Raymond Montgomery, 28. Monique and Raymond were just starting a relationship when Katrina struck Louisiana on that fateful day of August 29, 2005. Cavasher recalled how they both swam to survive the huge waves and gusting wind until a boat picked them up and a truck brought them to Baton Rouge where they both decided to stay. They will never forget everything they went through that tragic day and the hurricane that brought them closer and stronger as a couple.

These tales of survival are the real-life a la telenovela love stories that inspire us to believe in "rainbows after the storm" or in loving against all odds. But behind the good that comes out of these natural calamities lies the overwhelming truth that in the face of uncontrollable circumstances such as natural disasters, we are rendered powerless over everything; over our lives, our spouse, our marriage, our material possessions, and our future. One minute you are building your dream home, the next thing you know you’re going through the rubble and the remains of your shattered dreams. You build your whole life around your marriage and just like that it could fall apart (due to crises or tragedy) right before your eyes; or yesterday you were in your honeymoon, then in the blink of an eye you find yourself alone.

Disasters don’t just test our survival instincts or lay the ground for lovers to prove their undying love. It proves the reality of life's mortality. It brings us to a realization of these important things that the writer herself is reminded of as well: That first, life is indeed short and we don’t have control over how long we'll live or when we'll die. Only God does (Job 14:5). Second, He spared our life and (in other instances) even our spouse’s for His purpose and that is to seek and follow Him, not so that we can waste it over our selfish desires and live sinful lives (Romans 2:4). Third, we should focus our life not on temporal things for "we are to set [our] minds on things above" (Colossians 3:2). And that God should always be the center of our life, and that includes our marriage (Matthew 6:19-21).

Finally, when disasters strike our very core and challenges the foundation by which we build our lives, it should be an opportunity to examine our faith and take a closer look at how we wish to spend the remainder of our life in this world. “For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)

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