On November 8, 2013, the deadliest natural disaster in Philippines’ history, Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), stole the lives of over 6,000 mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, brothers and sisters, and countless children.
More than 16 million people have been affected by this horrific tragedy, their world ripped apart with every loss… their hopes torn from tortured hearts.
Though we are scattered across the globe, we are connected to their anguish, we feel their sorrow as if it were our own. They need our help, our empathy, our compassion, our action!
Thirty composers from sixteen countries joined their musical talents and produced an album of hope. To complement their efforts, writers from around the world wrote stories inspired by the songs. 100% of the funds raised by the album and companion e-book (the book will be released in January) will go to the non-profit group Gawad Kalinga (“Give Care”) to support the victims of Yolanda.
My song inspiration is Renaissance, composed by child prodigy Ainan Celeste Cawley. Listen to his song here (the playlist is on the right-hand sidebar). The melody is hauntingly brief, with lighter notes of hope chasing the lower reaches of despair. As to what story rose from the watery depths… dare to come along with me on the journey to find out. And thank you.
The entire tribe came out for my Fledging, dropping gifts of fish and baby squid at my parents’ trembling feet. There was something both exciting and unsettling about finally seeing a Fledging ceremony—the first in ten years, they said. Aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, wove in and out of our island’s glowing black rocks, singing (how did they do that??), bowing, and clapping their bills in the grandest of displays. The singing and dancing would go on for hours, and then…. I would fly.
But for now I cocked my head and just watched. The ceremony murmured, its patterns of song and drumming blurring with the sounds of crashing waves and the island’s own gentle rumblings. No one seemed to mind I slept. I couldn’t sing or dance myself yet, anyway, and though my mother tossed a few wry grins my way, she said nothing. There would be time enough for learning the songs over my family’s years of glorious exploration.
“Mana, daughter, are you ready?” My father’s voice shattered my dreams like a fragile eggshell.
I started guiltily. The ceremony was over; had I been that deeply asleep?
“Yes. Yes, of course, Father.” I stretched out one wing, then the other. They were still baby ash-brown, and would be for some time yet. A light breeze tickled my under-feathers; I swallowed a giggle.
“The flight will be long,” said my mother. “We will show you how to eat and sleep and rest. There are dangers, and you must listen and obey now more than ever.”
“I will obey, Mother.”
Her grin returned, and she nipped at my shoulder. “I know you will, Mana. You always do, when it counts. Just make sure it always counts this time.”
I wish I had taken that grin and wrapped it in something strong enough to last forever.
My awkward feet followed my parents to the cliff’s edge. Their wings (why did they suddenly look so frail?) clung to each other briefly before they flung themselves into the air and circled gently, waiting for me, smiling.
It was everything I had imagined. The air dipped soft like sand in places, clenched hard like rock in others, and though the wind faithfully kept me above the dark sea, it took me some hours until I managed to stop fighting it. And when I did, flying was wonderful. One could roll, or dive, or soar, or simply keep the wings outstretched and sleep, safe. What dangers could there be? This sacred expanse above the sea belonged to us alone.
My strength grew with each passing season; joyous was the day I found two brown feathers had turned pale peach.
“You must go back soon,” said my father one day. We were lying full-bellied on a narrow piece of driftwood sunning ourselves, a rare quiet moment in their tireless search for whatever they seemed so desperate to find.
“I know. Someday.”
“You have a job to do there.”
“I’d do a better job if you taught me to sing,” I said, eyeing him. “How can I raise the next generation of chicks without knowing a single melody? And anyway, you know more songs than the rest of the tribe combined.”
Something changed in the air, a sudden darkness as a cloud dragged itself across the sun.
“Tell her,” said my father, standing. “It is time.”
My mother twisted to look first at him, then at me, her delicate blood-red feathers tense as she nodded. “It’s not as simple as you think, Mana-chick. Things are not as they once were, when many eggs came from the fire.”
Distant thunder rolled. “What do you mean?”
“The tribe is dying.” My father’s sky-blue feathers fell dully to his side. “Each time we return to the island, fewer remain. You were the only chick in a decade, and no eggs have risen since. Your task is crucial: you must lead the tribe. You will find a way.”
“But you could—”
“This is our last flight, starlight, your mother’s and mine. We tried finding a new home for our people, but we lacked the strength to fly far enough. Take heart, Mana; you are young and will triumph where we could not.”
“Next year, surely?”
The answer buried itself in my heart like sharks’ teeth. “At the end of this season,” said my mother.
I squawked. “You mean I must return alone??”
My parents tried over the final weeks to comfort me, to no avail. How could mere words ease this new and awful terror? As we said our goodbyes and I plunged into stormy air, their words of hope beat in my ears as fruitlessly as my wings against the gale.
After weeks of pushing through howling tempests and angry rains, at long last I saw the island rising up, a dark shadow against a darker sky. I pushed faster, desperately, my eyes darting this way and that, searching for familiar faces and welcoming voices.
None met me.
The island lay empty. Empty??
It looked as though the very heart of the island had exploded. Black rivers of dried flame tangled across each other, and a gaping chasm of nothingness replaced my very home. Giant, angry boulders carved new mountains for themselves. Nothing remained but ash.
I was alone in truth.
Who knows how long I stood weeping; the sun rose and fell many times until the ache in my stomach burned more than the ache in my heart. Enough. I shook off the tears and wandered the island, rapping at holes, chirping at shadows. I would find a little something to eat and begin my own final journey toward death.
Perhaps I could even find a way to fly it with courage, as my parents had. That, I would do, in their honor.
I stretched out my wings, thin layers of ash dancing on my peach and orange (!) feathers, which glimmered like cold fire. I was the last of the great phoenix; I would give the world a death such as it had never seen.
My talons clutched the cliff’s edge, and I readied myself for one last flight.
Then I saw it: the tiniest of golden flashes, from behind a rock. Could it be— Yes.
Chipped, dented, and buried almost entirely in soot.
But it was an egg.
From somewhere deep inside me, a song erupted.
A phoenix…the greatest imagery of hope! Gorgeous description and the perfect closing words.
I love this–such a unique POV with powerful imagery and glowing message of hope! A fitting tribute to the message harbored in the music:)
Thank you for this wonderful story – so condensed yet impactful. I can’t wait to show it to my son, Ainan. Well done!
Thanks Rebekah, for a magical tale full of hope and wonder!
A unique perspective in this wonderful story of rebirth and revival… really refreshing!
Happy New Year, Rebekah!
I love your description of the air upon first flight. Soft in some places and hard in others.
I absolutely love that last line 🙂