Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Magical Thinking

Sometimes when I am listening to music on iTunes, I see a song coming up whose "Last Played" date is 1/12/10. I usually hit Refresh when that happens. (If you don't use iTunes, when you use the DJ function, you get songs randomly, and if you hit Refresh, you get a new list from your music library.) I know it's irrational, but somehow I don't want to listen to those songs. There's one coming up right now that I last listened to at 3:53 that afternoon, as I was working in my classroom. About an hour before the earth shook. It feels as though that was a time when everything was all right.

What kind of magical thinking am I engaging in? Do I want to believe that if I just save that music and don't listen to it again, the earthquake didn't happen? I know it happened; I saw it, I felt it.

This morning I watched the rest of the Frontline documentary on Haiti (see the last post for a link); I started it last night but realized I wouldn't sleep if I watched it all right before going to bed. I already knew about everything on the program, but I hadn't seen the piles of bodies in the street. In those first days I stayed home with my children, because I couldn't bear to have them out of my sight and I didn't want them to see what was out there. O. went out to buy vegetables the day after the quake, and when she got back she said she had to go take a bath, because there was blood running in the streets. My husband cried when he described it to me. But I hadn't seen it with my own eyes; when I first arrived in the States I watched no footage at all.

There were piles of bodies. Each one belonged to a human being, someone who was born into the difficult world of Haiti and survived and lived, someone who loved and was loved. They had flies on them; they were piled like firewood. I read an article yesterday about people working on finding and identifying all the bodies of US citizens who died in the earthquake. But while the US citizens were handled with care and DNA tested and treated with respect,

Looney says there was often no way of distinguishing Americans from Haitians, so each body would be dug up at a site. "The number of Haitians far exceeded the number of Americans recovered," says Looney. "We would hand them over to the Port-au-Prince morgue" — a morgue he described as a "hellhole" with hundreds of bodies stacked on top of one another. "They didn't even use rubber gloves to handle the bodies until we gave them some," says Looney. The Americans found the bodies they had turned over to the Haitians lying in the same overcrowded morgue weeks later.

Many bodies were dumped in mass graves at Titayen. My friend John McHoul blogged (in a post I now can't find) about how people heard cell phones ringing in a mass grave and dug them up, so that a frantic wife calling her husband's phone reached someone who said yes, he had found the phone in Titayen. That's how she knew her husband was dead.

Why must Haitians suffer so much?

Maybe if I don't listen to the song I was listening to when I was working my classroom that afternoon, all of that will not be true? Maybe I can just imagine it away? Maybe all those perhaps 300,000 (the president's estimate) who died will be back?

Of course not. What a ridiculous idea. And yet I just hit Refresh.

Frontline on Haiti

You can watch the PBS documentary on Haiti and the earthquake here.

Monday, March 29, 2010


I emailed my husband this morning that I was feeling about fourteen emotions today. After that I made a list of what I was feeling, and I came up with seventeen separate emotions. This must be an improvement on the constant gray of a few weeks ago, and several of the words on my list are positive ones. Now there's a palette to work with. Still, I think I might burst from all of it.

A couple of people have told me that my sensitivity is part of what makes me who I am, and that feeling emotion deeply is a gift. It often doesn't feel like a gift, but a curse. I am tired of it. I'm tired of talking about it, and thinking about it, and my frequent taking of my emotional temperature. It bores me to tears. Part of this is a function of having no job to go to, and spending an inordinate amount of time thinking. I'm working on that, finding myself places to be during the day and other things to focus on.

Yesterday the Palm Sunday service in the morning was so beautiful, and I was filled with joy as we sang "Hosanna." At the same time, I missed our celebration at home, and remembered why I wasn't there, and was filled with sorrow. And that's a lot of filling. Too much.

Holy Week is an appropriate time for mixed emotions, as it careens from the giddy excitement of Palm Sunday to the stress and anguish of the middle of the week, the devastating grief of Friday to the delirious joy of Easter morning. I have to believe that God understands all of it, and that as I cast it all on Him, He will give me what I need to get through it.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Dispatches from my Classroom

I got a wonderful email on Saturday from Dave Carter, a friend and psychologist who just came back from Haiti. He did a lot of debriefing and counseling with our staff and students who had been through the trauma of the earthquake - wonderful work that was so needed. He stayed much of the time at our house but what I did not realize was that he also worked in my classroom. Here's part of what he wrote (shared with his permission):

I was aware of how much you miss your class. Several of the other teachers mentioned how much they miss their classrooms. I think for so many dedicated teachers the actual room - the way it is laid out and decorated - is like a second home... and it means so much.

At first I was down in the basement of the secondary school. Then I was kindly moved to one of the army air conditioned tents; in fact the pharmacy storage tent, and it was very nice and cool and the air much fresher. The basement backed on to the dump and both the school and US Army were using it and it attracted a goodly share of the mosquitoes in Haiti - most of whom have a preference for tender Canadian ankles.

Then, when the army took away their tents, I was moved into your classroom. Your name is on the door and while there are medical supplies there, I sat in a student desk and the person I met with did the same. One day, while waiting for a child to take a bathroom break, I wandered around your room and looked more closely.

I picked up a copy of 1984 and within a minute I fell right back into that wonderful book.... the clocks struck 13!

Then I noticed the board. And there was work put up in a lovely script (yours I presume).... and the date "Jan. 13, 2010." I guessed that is what you wrote before you closed up for the day and walked home...

I thought about that a lot. We go about "normal" days never knowing that for some reason, that date may be marked down as in some way extraordinary. Then I thought that your fingerprints are in and throughout that room, and that it is patiently waiting for you to fill it with learning. The boxes of "catheters - bladder - medium" will be replaced with children and their teacher....

How well I remember that afternoon, cleaning everything up, setting things in order, and right before leaving, writing the next day's date on the white board. And there it still is.

I love the image of my fingerprints in my room and the idea that some day I will be in there again, teaching students I love.

My Song is Love Unknown

This hymn is one I haven't heard sung since I was in elementary school. It is appropriate for Palm Sunday, which is today, or any day during Holy Week, or really anytime. (Perhaps not Easter Sunday, since it stops before the Resurrection.) I love it and I don't know why people don't sing it more. The words are all about the paradoxes inherent in Christian belief. "Love to the loveless" is what Christ's ministry was all about, and it's what He calls us to, as well.

This link is the tune I know. After the lyrics I've included a link to the Cyberhymnal page they came from. That link plays a different tune.

My song is love unknown,
My Savior’s love to me;
Love to the loveless shown,
That they might lovely be.
O who am I, that for my sake
My Lord should take frail flesh and die?

He came from His blest throne
Salvation to bestow;
But men made strange, and none
The longed-for Christ would know:
But O! my Friend, my Friend indeed,
Who at my need His life did spend.

Sometimes they strew His way,
And His sweet praises sing;
Resounding all the day
Hosannas to their King:
Then “Crucify!” is all their breath,
And for His death they thirst and cry.

Why, what hath my Lord done?
What makes this rage and spite?
He made the lame to run,
He gave the blind their sight,
Sweet injuries! Yet they at these
Themselves displease, and ’gainst Him rise.

They rise and needs will have
My dear Lord made away;
A murderer they saved,
The Prince of life they slay,
Yet cheerful He to suffering goes,
That He His foes from thence might free.

In life, no house, no home
My Lord on earth might have;
In death no friendly tomb
But what a stranger gave.
What may I say? Heav’n was His home;
But mine the tomb wherein He lay.

Here might I stay and sing,
No story so divine;
Never was love, dear King!
Never was grief like Thine.
This is my Friend, in Whose sweet praise
I all my days could gladly spend.

This link plays a different tune.
And here is the Wikipedia article about the hymn.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Of Love and the Barn Roof

The summer I was twenty, I stayed with my cousins and my aunt and uncle on their farm in New Jersey. I looked for a job for a while and finally found one, slicing meat at a supermarket deli. I learned the names of meats and cheeses, the number to type into the scale for each one so it would figure out the price (esoterically known as the PLU number), and how to use a huge, humming deli-slicer without amputating my fingers. I came home at night smelling of bologna.

Meanwhile, my boyfriend, who has since become my husband, was having a better summer. He was doing a study abroad program in London, England. He was studying history, sightseeing, riding his bicycle.

The one connection between us that summer was letter writing. This was in the dark time before Facebook, before the Internet, even before cell phones. We might have talked on the phone a couple of times but that cost a lot of money. He had spent all his to go on the trip – in fact, I think we’re still paying for that trip in the form of one last student loan – and I didn’t have a lot either, even though I was earning union wages as a deli-worker. (Yes, I was a member of the AFL-CIO.)

Those letters that he wrote me were my lifeline. Before I would go to my job in the afternoon, I would keep watch over the mailbox. It was a good long way from the house and so I couldn’t see the flag without going a little distance out. So I would make that trip as early as I thought it was possible for the letter carrier to have passed by. Sometimes I’d take a little stroll out there a couple of times before I’d find some mail in the mailbox. Nonchalantly, as though I was just walking, not for any real purpose.

Of course, some days there wouldn’t be any mail for me at all, but when there was, my heart would pound as I grabbed it. I would rip the letter open and read it at high speed, then go back over it two or three more times, then put it away carefully to read it again later. Sometimes I would take the letters to work in the pocket of my white deli coat so that I could read them on my break instead of the old issues of the National Enquirer people left in the break room.

In his letters, he told me about what he was learning, where he had been, how much he missed me. Sometimes he sent me poems. I felt special when I read those letters, irreplaceable, cherished.

One day, as I was walking back to the house from the mailbox, clutching my prize, a brand new letter, my cousin Bobby ran out. Bobby is around two years younger than I am, and he’s one of three kids in his family. I had been teased quite a bit by Bobby and his sisters that summer over my attachment to those letters. On this day, as I headed for the house, Bobby grabbed my letter from me and ran.

I wanted that letter back but I couldn’t catch Bobby. I chased him all over the yard but he was much faster than I was. I was frustrated, but things got worse. Bobby took my letter, climbed up onto the barn roof, and stuck it right up at the top.

I stood there on the ground and looked up at that letter. I wanted it. No, I needed it. I don’t think I hesitated. I didn't stop to consider that the barn was two stories high and that I was afraid of heights. I immediately started climbing up the ladder on the side of the barn. And I didn’t stop until I was right up there next to the letter, on the top of the roof. My cousin couldn’t believe it. He asked me to stay put until he could run and get the camera.

Never mind that the piece of paper I found up there wasn’t my letter at all – “I wouldn’t really have done that to you,” said Bobby. The point is that I loved my far-off love enough that I was willing to go to ridiculous lengths to read a letter he had written.

I have been thinking about our courtship and marriage as we have been going through this time of separation due to the earthquake. Next year we will have been married as long as I was single. We have been through illness, celebration, birth, death. We have been through unpredictable life in Haiti. We have lived in eleven houses or apartments. We have argued and made up, traveled and returned home, stayed awake with sleepless children, talked and been silent. We are roommates and companions, co-parents and lovers and friends. I can hardly remember a time before I knew him, before his family was my family and mine was his.

The other day I took my children for a walk on the campus where I met my husband and told them some stories about how we got together, the way he asked to borrow my notes to get to meet me the first time (which didn't seem strange to me, even though his roommate was in the class too - I did, after all, take excellent notes), and how we went on an skating outing for MK Fellowship and I found out he was an MK like me, and how a guy named Ben sat between us as we tried to talk, and how he asked me out on a hike, and then there was an ice-storm and we went to a bookstore instead. I thought about the uncertainty of those days, how I waited for him to call and wondered what he was thinking and agonized over whether we would have a second date, let alone be together over twenty years later.

If I had known then that this would be our future, would I have hesitated? If I had known that those beautiful letters would morph into hurried phone conversations (after the kids took their turn and before the minutes ran out on the prepaid Haitian cellphone) or brief matter-of-fact emails or looking at the pixels that make up his face on Skype as we talk about practical details? If I had seen myself grieving, caring for two children without their dad, living a life which will be forever haunted by what happened on January 12th, 2010, forever darkened by those seconds when the earth shook and so many died and so many others lost limbs and dreams? If that terribly young, naive girl that was me had seen these difficult days, would she have chosen differently?

Of course not. I would have climbed up the side of that barn anyway, desperate to read his thoughts on paper, the thoughts of my love, mailed to me and only me, across the ocean.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Poetry Friday: Daffodils

Wandering lonely as a cloud? Check.

Crowds of golden daffodils? Everywhere.

Relevance of the rest of the poem to my life right now? Not much.

Posting something with nothing to do with Haiti? Priceless.

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud


I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

You can see other people's Poetry Friday posts for today here.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Ayiti Leve Kanpe (Haiti Get Back Up)

This is a beautiful video with footage of Haiti pre and post-earthquake. The music is performed by the Dominican Republic Symphonic Orchestra and the Dominican Republic National Choir. The composer/producer is Jean Jean-Pierre.


My husband, who is in Haiti, sent me flowers for my birthday. They were beautiful: two dozen red roses in a silver vase. As I looked at them, I started thinking about other flowers he has given me through the years: the time in college when the local florist ran out of roses on Valentine’s Day and he had to give me carnations instead, the Queen Anne’s lace he and my daughter used to pick for me when they would go out for a walk. Most of the flowers he’s given me, though, were bought in Haiti, where we've spent two thirds of our marriage.

I hate it that everything beautiful and ordinary about Haiti has now been tainted by destruction and pain. There was a lot that was beautiful about our lives there. And there still is a lot there that is beautiful, or so they say; I’m fifteen hundred miles away now.

I used to love buying flowers on the street. You could go to the flower market in Petionville, but we usually bought from the young men on the street near our house. They sat outside the grocery store with buckets full of bouquets they had already made, tying them up with long strips of bark.

For a few years I had “my own” flower guy, who used to come to my house every Saturday with his bucket full of flowers. I was his pratik, or regular customer. I would pay twelve Haitian dollars – under $2 US – for a bouquet every week. I probably could have bought it cheaper on the street, but there’s something to be said for home delivery, and guaranteed color on my table at Sunday dinner without having to go out looking for it.

When I first met my flower guy, he told me that he lived in Robin, high above the city. He said he got up at four in the morning to carry his flowers down the mountain. He got his flowers from a gardener, and some day hoped to be a gardener himself. I saw all of this as a symbol of hope, of beauty in the middle of hardship. I tend to do that, trying to sort random difficulties into some kind of narrative that heads in a direction that makes me more comfortable. I'm not alone in that, either. After the earthquake I read several stories that posited different symbols of hope. The Montana Hotel, which was completely flattened. A dancer who lost her leg. Apparently we're all desperate for hope and try to find it in the most unlikely places.

Usually it was just flowers that the flower merchant brought, but once he brought me a joumou – a Haitian pumpkin – and a little packet of herbs for making soup. The next week he asked me for money because someone in his family had died, and I wondered if there was a connection, if he had given me the extra gift to turn our relationship into one where he could ask me for something. Sometimes I bought a bunch of eucalyptus leaves because I like the smell and because Haitians say they keep mosquitoes away.

I don’t remember my flower guy’s name, or if I ever knew a name apart from “machan flè,” – flower merchant – which is what he used to yell as he banged on my gate on Saturday mornings. It’s been a while since I’ve seen him, because his story, like all of them on this earth I suppose, got infected with pain well before the earthquake. About four years ago, he stopped showing up. Weeks went by. I decided he was dead, since I couldn’t believe he was passing up an opportunity to make money. I asked around and nobody seemed to know what had happened, though most people laughed at my gloomy speculations.

As it turned out, I was right. The word was, he had been shot and his body burned. Why? Well, he had been “with some guys who were involved in some activities.” And that was the non-answer we had to accept. So much for my symbol of hope.

My husband says the flower merchants are back on the street. Now relief workers eat at our school’s outdoor cafeteria where we used to have our lunch. Last week someone bought bouquets and put one on each table. I can imagine the doctors, fresh from dealing with the kind of pain I’ve been reading about in article after article about the wounded and amputees, looking at those bouquets. Flowers. Are they a symbol of hope or do they just cover up the bareness of the table?

Now my children and I have been evacuated from Haiti and are waiting to go back. We’re in that same little town where my boyfriend bought me flowers and was annoyed the roses were gone, the same little town where my small daughter picked Queen Anne’s lace. The spring flowers are starting to come up, but there’s snow in the forecast.

Meanwhile I had to throw away my birthday flowers. I kept them until the red turned purple, then black. If I were at home in Haiti, I would have thrown them into the compost pile, but here I just put them in the trash.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

How Haiti Saved America

This is a fabulous article from the Boston Globe about the history of Haiti's interactions with the United States - and why the US owes its very existence in part to Haiti.

One Little Word: LOVED

I was reading my archives today - I know I read my blog way more than anyone else does - and came across a post from the beginning of January. I had forgotten all about this. 2010 was the third year that I encouraged my eighth graders to choose "one little word" to focus on. In 2009 I chose the word "LOOK" (here's what I wrote about it) but I hadn't chosen anything for 2010. I see now, though, that I wrote in my comments section that I was considering the word "LOVED." I wrote: "I am thinking of 'loved' this year - just a constant reminder of how much God loves me, not based on my performance but based on His character."

That feels ironic now. LOVED? Some people would say that God showed His love for me by saving my life and my family during the earthquake. But if that's true, what does that mean about the way He views the 230,000+ who died in those moments? Doesn't He love them? I might feel loved because of the way I have been taken in by the church and community where I am now, the help I have been given. But again, what about the millions who don't have those opportunities? At my worst, I'd have said that a better word for 2010 - for me and for Haiti - would be "ABANDONED" or even "FORSAKEN" (given the title of my blog).

I don't know how it all works, but I do know that in the middle of everything, and even in the depths of grief, I am loved. I am loved by people around me and I am loved by God. "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39). And if He loves me like that, He loves everyone like that. That love is there for the people in the tent cities too.

LOVED. I know that I am. I don't always feel it. It's hard to, when I'm away from my support systems - my husband, my friends, my church. And my job. We always say that it matters more who you are than what you do. Of course that's true, but I think we all get a large measure of our self-concept from what we do every day, and when that's ripped away without a chance to say goodbye, we don't feel as useful or significant as before. Or I should say, I don't feel useful or significant. I'm lonely. I'm sad. I'm a little bit pitiful, really. And yet, I'm LOVED. Whether I feel it or not. And for the rest of 2010, I'm going to try to remember it.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

It's Going to Be All Right

This morning when I walked I decided to listen to music instead of a podcast. I'm not sure that's such a smart thing to do. I ended up crying almost the whole time, and not even always being aware of what I was crying about. There are so many feelings connected to this whole time in my life that I suppress - because they are silly or trivial or seem wrong, or because I shouldn't feel that way. I have found from the beginning that music bypasses my brain, and things I can't really let myself think about come out in emotions.

Anybody who's reading this blog knows I'm still struggling. Anybody who sees me knows that. At church on Sunday I got overwhelmed in my Sunday School class and couldn't face people and couldn't get hold of myself. I went to find somewhere I could be alone but that's not so easy on a Sunday morning. I finally ended up in the pastor's office, and he handed me a box of tissues and left me after I begged him not to be nice to me, since that would just make me worse. I was able to control myself enough to get through the service mostly dry-eyed.

I feel so foolish writing all that. I feel I should be past this sobbing part of the process, I should be strong. But there are so many aspects to it, so many things I grieve over. I know I will never be completely over this, that for the rest of my life I will suffer over what happened in Haiti and the aftermath of it. But I also know that these feelings will get less intense. At least, that's what everyone tells me.

So this morning as I walked, and as I wrestled with my emotions and cried and generally made a spectacle of myself (but that's OK because unlike in Haiti, the road wasn't filled with others walking, and nobody was looking at me), this Sara Groves song came on. I've taken the liberty of changing "alright" to "all right." My pedantic English teacher ways will not allow anything else, and I choose to look at that as a good sign that the real me is still inside somewhere.

It's Going to Be All Right
By Sara Groves and Gordon Kennedy

It's going to be all right
It's going to be all right

I can tell by your eyes that you're not getting any sleep
And you try to rise above it, but feel you're sinking in too deep
Oh, oh I believe, I believe that

It's going to be all right
It's going to be all right

I believe you'll outlive this pain in your heart
And you'll gain such a strength from what is tearing you apart
Oh, oh I believe I believe that

It's going to be all right
It's going to be all right

When some time has passed us, and the story is retold
It will mirror the strength and the courage in your soul
Oh, oh, I believe I believe,

I believe
I believe

I did not come here to offer you clichés
I will not pretend to know of all your pain
Just when you cannot, then I will hold out faith, for you

It's going to be all right
It's going to be all right

It really is going to be all right. Sara Groves says so. And everyone else says so, so many wonderful people that God has put in my life during this time. It helps that others are holding out faith for me. Because some days I just can't do it for myself.

Monday, March 22, 2010


A dear friend shares her earthquake experiences here.

The Resentment

I thought that Tara and I were going to keep this secret, but she blogged about it today, calling me only "a friend" - way to keep me anonymous, Tara! - so I thought I should blog about it too.

The Resentment.

As Tara puts it,

We've recently (with the help of a friend) coined the phrase "The resentment" - also known simply as "T.R." This is the deep and somewhat (or entirely?) irrational dislike for anyone who gets to be in Haiti right now. "T. R." is amplified if they are with our friends, doing "our" jobs, or sleeping in our bedrooms. Now, you might be saying to yourself - "Come on guys, it is helping the Haitian people that you claim to love so much - how can you be resentful? How old are you, six?" - And in response we would say, "We WERE six once - and yes, you are right - we want good people to do good things for Haitian people -- but also - yes - we are immature and jealous and a bit resentful that it is them and not us." So be it. We're confessing. It seems T.R. waxes and wanes depending on the day and the amount of rest we've gotten the night before. :)

See the smiley? That shows how nice Tara and I really are. But yes, we do have a hard time reading about other people teaching OUR students (oh wait, that's just me). Case in point. "Best English teacher in Haiti." Ouch.

I really do love Katie and I know she is doing a great job teaching my kids, but those are MY kids. MINE. I feel territorial about my classroom and my students. At least she's not in my classroom, since, as I learned from my brother-in-law who just got back from Haiti on Saturday, my classroom is being used to store medications. The middle school science room is a prosthetics workroom. My husband is working in the elementary library instead of his office.

Deal with it. There was an earthquake. You're still alive.

My brother-in-law also told me that he spent some time sorting books, including MY classroom library with the number 23 lovingly written on each book with a Sharpie. (I already blogged here about my grief over my classroom library.) So I have some hope that some day my books will be reunited in one room again.

What can I say? I WAS six once.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

"I don’t even want to be right now
I don’t want to think another thought
I don’t want to feel this pain I feel
But right now pain is all I’ve got
It feels like it's all I’ve got
But I know it's not
Oh I know You’re all I’ve got"

Steven Curtis Chapman

Friday, March 19, 2010

Poetry Friday: Spring

Spring appears to be on its way. Just when you think you can't survive one more gloomy day, the sun comes out and there are flowers and the color green reappears. I haven't gone through this in ten years, since I live in a tropical country when I'm not displaced by an earthquake. But I remember now how it feels, the way everything comes back to life.

I have to admit that the whole spring/rebirth/"now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer" metaphor sometimes seems a bit too easy. Part of me identifies with Edna St. Vincent Millay's take on the season.



To what purpose, April, do you return again?
Beauty is not enough.
You can no longer quiet me with the redness
Of little leaves opening stickily.
I know what I know.
The sun is hot on my neck as I observe
The spikes of the crocus.
The smell of the earth is good.
It is apparent that there is no death.
But what does that signify?
Not only under ground are the brains of men
Eaten by maggots.
Life in itself
Is nothing,
An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs.
It is not enough that yearly, down this hill,
Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.

Yes, I know what I know. It's not winter in Haiti, but you can have beautiful weather and sunshine and still suffer abject misery. Soon it will be the summer of our discontent, the hurricane season of our discontent.

And yet, spring is still irresistible, even to me, with all my years of loving a seasonless tropical life. Look around! The flowers really are coming up. The dead brown really is turning green. Miracles really do happen. I can't help believing it.

So here's another take on spring, this one by Gerard Manley Hopkins, himself no stranger to grief and depression. Apparently spring was irresistible to him, too.



Nothing is so beautiful as Spring –
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.

What is all this juice and all this joy?
A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden. – Have, get, before it cloy,
Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.

"What is all this juice and all this joy?" "I know what I know." I'm holding both thoughts in my mind these days.

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Sunshine and the Human Heart

Today was the first day since Monday that both of my children went to school. My son has been home with a cold and I was trapped in the house with him. I did go for a brief walk with my daughter each day when she got home from school, but today when the sick one returned to school, I was able to take a long, vigorous walk, just me and my iPod. I am constantly surprised by how much good that does me. Today I feel much more human and able to cope with what comes up.

On my iPod this morning was a sermon by Rob Bell. (Tell me I'm not the only person that listens to sermons during exercise - I think that might be weird.) It was called "The Human Heart is a Mystery." Boy, is it ever. You can download the sermon here; it's the one from February 28th.

I know some people have theological problems with Rob Bell, but what can I say: I am a sucker for a preacher who uses the word "archetype" and quotes Dostoevsky. And this sermon spoke to me deeply. It's about how life overturns our categories and doesn't work the way it is supposed to, but God can still be trusted. And it includes the line: "Only when you have come face to face with the deadness of things can you truly appreciate life." The context is Lent and springtime, which brings me back to where I started, with the sunshine.

The kids had an early release day from school, and after they got home we went to the park and walked and played. A bike with training wheels was involved. The sun was shining. It looked as though winter was over (not that I am fully convinced of that). The world looked more hopeful than it has for a while.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

What's Going On

There have been many developments in Haiti, some of which, of course, I'm not comfortable sharing in such a public place. But now that Haiti is hardly in the news at all, I feel responsible to keep the situation in people's minds as much as I can, so I'm going to try to write a post about some of the articles I've posted on Facebook in the last few weeks.

I don't by any means post everything I read. Now there are many people coming back from short-term visits to Haiti and giving interviews to their local news outlets. I think it's great that they are talking about what they have seen and helping others to understand what is happening, but some of the things they say are hard to read. I have lived in Haiti for over thirteen years, and I try very hard to avoid making sweeping generalizations about Haitians and their culture. Some people have no trouble drawing such conclusions after a couple of weeks. If you don't speak the language, and you're working with an interpreter whose effectiveness you are completely unequipped to gauge, maybe you shouldn't speak out quite so confidently about what you think you observed. Maybe you don't have the whole story.

Similarly, at this distance from Haiti, I don't always know how to interpret everything I read. The New York Times published a scathing indictment of the relief effort so far in the same week as the LA Times said that it had mostly been a success. Which is true? Probably both. Here's what the New York Times had to say, and here's the LA Times' take.

Here's a report on the situation in the tent camps. It's in French, and it's the most complete report I've seen. Here are the headings: Insecurity in the Camps, Sexual Violence, Sorcery, Environment of the Camps, and Distribution of Humanitarian Aid. You probably weren't expecting that third one, Sorcery. Here's an excerpt in French and an English translation follows:

...les mères et pères de famille occupant les camps se plaignent de l'absence du courant électrique, ce qui favorise le phénomène de la sorcellerie. Il est rapporté que le soir, des enfants en bas âge ont du mal à dormir alors que d'autres tombent malades. De plus, des animaux tels que des chiens, des poules, des cochons, des couleuvres, rodant autour des camps, attaquent au cours de la nuit, les nouveau-nés, les femmes enceintes, les enfants en bas âge. Si certaines personnes en âge avancé, persécutées par la population, sont arrêtées pour sorcellerie et conduites dans les commissariats, d'autres sont purement et simplement lynchées par la population. Au moins deux (2) cas de lynchage respectivement à Carrefour et à Delmas ont été rapportés au RNDDH.

My translation:

Parents in the camps complain about the lack of electricity, which encourages the occurrence of sorcery. It's reported that at night, young children have a hard time sleeping while others become sick. In addition, animals like dogs, hens, pigs, and snakes, wandering around the camps, attack newborns, pregnant women, and young children during the night. If certain older people, accused by the people, are arrested for sorcery and taken to the police stations, others are simply lynched by the people. At least two cases of lynchings in Carrefour and Delmas have been reported to the Réseau National de Défense des Droits Humains (National Network for the Defense of Human Rights).

I don't know about you but I find that a haunting passage for many reasons.

Other articles about the tent camps include this one, this one, and this one. This one tells about a wedding in a tent city, and includes this quote:

Their home is a pile of rubble, their church in ruins and their honeymoon suite a tent shared with eight relatives.

But Emmanuel Beauzile and Mary Leon found plenty to celebrate as they exchanged vows under a blue tarp in the ruins of Haiti's capital.

"We're still here," Beauzile said. "No matter what the situation is, we are going to be together."

The couple tied the knot in the shadow of the Notre Dame d'Haiti Cathedral, where they attended Mass and the bride sang in the choir before the earthquake caved in the roof and two sides.

The occasion was not entirely joyful: It was hard not think about those who would have attended had they survived the quake, but the ceremony had already been postponed once and the bride and groom felt it was important to go ahead.

This one, about the future of competitive soccer in Haiti, raises an issue that many people in Haiti are talking about: just how temporary are these tent cities? Now that the main soccer stadium in Port-au-Prince is a refugee camp,

the tent cities that have set up in the stadiums are slowly turning into semi-permanent lodging. People are replacing improvised tents with wooden shelters and they're naming the alleys between them, like city streets.

"How are we going to get them off?" Gilles said. "And where are we going to put them?"

And of course, as wherever Haitian children congregate, there are kites.

I have been interested in articles about the arts in Haiti, and there have been many. This heartbreaking article is about a professional violinist who was injured in the earthquake and lost his pregnant wife. This update on Romel's condition is more hopeful, but still recognizes what a huge job is before him. This one is about a Haitian singer and this one is about a dancer. This one talks about preserving Haiti's cultural heritage.

I have read several articles about efforts to help people with their mental health issues after the trauma. Here's one. There is a lot to mourn when, as this article puts it, many of the best and brightest were lost.

One heartening development has been the engagement of Haitians living around the world. There are many articles on this topic. Here's one about a summit in Miami to discuss rebuilding. Here's another about Haitian Americans going to help and here's another about the Diaspora.

Many people have left Port-au-Prince for the rural areas, but things are not easy there either. This article deals with some of the challenges facing the rest of Haiti.

It's always been hard to be an orphan in Haiti. This story shows how things have become even worse. Injustice is the topic of this blog post, written by an eyewitness to corruption in post-quake Haiti.

These missionaries were badly injured and now are returning to help. I was touched by her comment that as amputees themselves, they will be more able to minister to others who suffer in the same way.

I loved this article because of its personal focus and its tale of life returning to the Haitian streets.

It's hard to connect YA literature (a more common topic on this blog) with the aftermath of Haiti's earthquake, but this article manages, telling as it does about aid going into the country on the Harry Potter plane.

In my place here in the US as a refugee, I am doing my best to Haitian up through my own challenges, and to remind others that "Haiti still suffers when cameras are gone."

Friday, March 12, 2010

Poetry Friday: Separation from those we love

A friend sent me the following this week. It is appropriate to all of us earthquake refugees and to many others as well.

Separation from those we love

Nothing can fill the gap when we are away from those we love,
And it would be wrong to try and find anything.
We must simply hold out and win through.
That sounds very hard at first
but at the same time is is a great consolation,
since leaving the gap unfilled preserves the bonds between us.
It is nonsense to say God fills the gap;
he does not fill it, but keeps it empty so that our communion
with another may be kept alive,
even at the cost of pain.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The Poetry Friday roundup is here this week.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Nothing Can Separate

A friend sent me an iTunes gift certificate and I was shopping for songs. I downloaded several I'd never heard before. I've been a Carolyn Arends fan for a long time (in fact, the title of my blog comes from one of her songs) so I randomly chose a few from her latest album.

When I listened to this one, I thought, No way. It's about an earthquake? What are the odds of that?

I googled the lyrics and found out that not only is it (partly) about an earthquake, but Carolyn Arends played it in a Haiti benefit. And not only that, but I could have downloaded it for free! But I thought I'd tell you about it just in case you wanted to. Go here for more information.

Here are the lyrics:


Carolyn Arends

Somewhere there's a mother waking up
To news in the night that she cannot bear
And somewhere the whole earth is quaking
Making dust of the city that was standing there
Well who can say if the trouble comes from
Above or below or the hands of fate
I just pray when the trouble does come
You help us to remember the promise you make

I know - neither death nor life
Not the past nor the present nor
Things to come
No foe - neither depth nor height
Can separate us
From the love of Christ

Today there's a church group meeting
Though the government already burned their building down
They say there's no kind of beating
That can take away the peace and the joy they've found

They know - Chorus
Though we go through the valley's shadow
And we live out our lives in these dangerous times
Still we know every step that we go
We don't have to walk alone, You walk by our side

We know - Chorus

Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ

Monday, March 08, 2010


I went out shopping with my parents today, and I was watching the GPS as we drove. There's a part of the trip where the software isn't up to date with the road work that has been done, and the little screen shows the car driving in the middle of a field. Occasionally the GPS voice calmly suggests turning left or right to get back on the road, and sometimes it even recommends, "Turn around as soon as possible."

Often these days I feel like that car, driving across a bumpy field, narrowly missing cows and horses, while calm, rational voices tell me what I should be doing. This is all new to me. I never fled a natural disaster in a private jet before. I never passed overnight from being constantly busy six days a week to having next to nothing to do. I never tried to parent my traumatized kids on my own and with contact with my husband reduced to only the briefest, most unsatisfactory phone conversations.

And yet some things are familiar. Like when my daughter told me she had been daydreaming about her bedroom. And when my son yells every time there's something he doesn't want to do, "I hate it here!"

Homesickness. I'm something of an expert on it. It's an occupational hazard for TCKs like my kids and me because we are from more than one place, so there's always somewhere to miss. (TCK Jean Fritz even called her memoir Homesick: My Own Story.) Besides, I spent seven years in boarding school as a child. I understand how my daughter can conjure up every detail of a beloved place in her mind. I understand how my son can be perfectly fine, and then a setback or difficult moment can plunge him into that reservoir of sadness that is always just below the surface.

What to do about it is another matter. I remember trying to focus on something else, and I've encouraged my kids to do that, too; this evening we talked about the good things about being in the US right now. I remember crying, and that's happened too, to all of us. To a certain extent I toughened up, and I remember sneering (not visibly, I hope) when I went to college and my fellow freshmen lined up, sobbing, in droves to use the one payphone in the hall (yes, my children, this was before cell phones) to call their parents who lived within a few hours of the campus. My parents were three thousand miles away and I was certainly not putting on such a display.

As my husband and I have continued to live an expat lifestyle as adults (he is also a TCK), we haven't spent our time just sitting around bemoaning places we have left, although both of us go through times where our homesickness is strong. We make a home quickly. When we are staying in a motel, we unpack and put our clothes in the drawers. (I have left pyjamas under pillows in hotel rooms around the world.) We try to be fully wherever we are. Where our family is together, we are home.

Right now, though, we aren't together, and home isn't clearly defined. I know it will never be as it was before; everyone keeps using the phrase "new normal," and I believe that will come some day. Meanwhile perhaps the best thing I can do for my homesick children is hug them and say, "I know. I know. It's really hard."

This article from the New York Times tells of other kids who are dealing with being in a new place. I love this line: "Dozens of households are vibrating with relief, worry and claustrophobia as Haitians take refuge with relatives in the United States."

Saturday, March 06, 2010


One of the things I do regularly at home is ride my exercise bike. I used to walk first thing in the morning, the coolest time of the day and the time when the fewest people are out to observe my odd behavior (it's a bit strange to walk for exercise in a country where most people walk wherever they go out of necessity), but when I got the bike I was able to switch to exercising after school, which is a much better time for me than 5:30 AM. For the first couple of weeks after the earthquake I didn't exercise at all, and I find that I deal much better with stress (even ordinary everyday stress) when I'm active. So I started walking with a friend three times a week, and now I am walking every week day unless it's raining.

The town I'm in has a beautiful walking trail (though it looks very different this time of year from when I use it in the summer, when it's lined with huge baskets of flowers) and it's a pure pleasure to walk here, except for the cold. I bundle myself up in many many layers of clothing before heading out each day. (I wrote a post here about some of the things I really enjoy in the US, and one of the things was exercising here.)

Every time I exercise I think of my friend Tara and her post about the first time she ran after the earthquake. She wrote:

The path we run looks very different now. Where there used to be buildings there are giant piles of cement spilling into the street. Where there used to be an open space to stretch and get away from the intensely populated area of Tabarre, there are now hundreds of people living in their cars, trucks, and along the side of the road. As we ran another missionary drove by and rolled his window down and said, "Doing something normal again, God Bless you!"

We cannot make this go away, we cannot wish Haiti back to her pre January 12 state. We cannot make any of this "normal." We can only keep running the race. By God's grace and provision we've been able to do that so far.

My race has taken me a long way away from Haiti for the moment, but I feel the same as Tara. We have to keep going, one foot in front of the other. Part of doing that is exercising, wearing myself out so that I'll be healthier, sleep better, and deal better with stress. Sometimes I look around me and think, How did this happen? What am I doing here? But I remember what Tara said: "We cannot make any of this 'normal.' We can only keep running the race."

Friday, March 05, 2010

Poetry Friday: Tears

While I'm not crying all the time like I was when I first got to the States from Haiti, I do still have times when I am overwhelmed with grief and start to cry - and then have a lot of trouble stopping. Psalm 56 says that God puts our tears in a bottle, and Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672) quotes that in the poem below. The image is one of love and concern, and a God who cares about the things that grieve us.

A friend who was also in the earthquake and suffered much more than I did (she lost her home and all her possessions and was also physically injured) said that she hasn't cried yet. She said I needed to teach her to cry. I am certainly very good at crying; that is, I do a lot of it. If only it were a useful skill. And yet, surely God isn't saving my tears in a bottle for nothing. Anne Bradstreet wrote, "In vain I did not seek or cry." I hope the same is true for me, that my tears are not in vain, and that somehow God will bring good from them.

By Night when Others Soundly Slept

by Anne Bradstreet
By night when others soundly slept
And hath at once both ease and Rest,
My waking eyes were open kept
And so to lie I found it best.

I sought him whom my Soul did Love,
With tears I sought him earnestly.
He bow’d his ear down from Above.
In vain I did not seek or cry.

My hungry Soul he fill’d with Good;
He in his Bottle put my tears,
My smarting wounds washt in his blood,
And banisht thence my Doubts and fears.

What to my Saviour shall I give
Who freely hath done this for me?
I’ll serve him here whilst I shall live
And Loue him to Eternity.

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

That word is popping up everywhere!

This evening I was reading The Trumpet of the Swan, by E.B. White, to my son, and we came across the following passage, which made my son remark, "That word is popping up everywhere!":

"Well, cat is easy too," muttered the teacher. "Cat is easy because it is short. Can anyone think of a word that is longer than cat?"

"Catastrophe," said Charlie Nelson, who sat in the front row.

"Good!" said Mrs. Hammerbotham. "That's a good hard word. But does anyone know what it means? What is a catastrophe?"

"An earthquake," said one of the girls.

"Correct!" replied the teacher. "What else?"

"War is a catastrophe," said Charlie Nelson.

"Correct!" replied Mrs. Hammerbotham. "What else is?"

A very small, redheaded girl named Jennie raised her hand.

"Yes, Jennie? What is a catastrophe?"

In a very small, high voice, Jennie said, "When you get ready to go on a picnic with your father and mother and you make peanut-butter sandwiches and jelly rolls and put them in a thermos box with bananas and an apple and some raisin cookies and paper napkins and some bottles of pop and a few hard-boiled eggs and then you put the thermos box in your car and just as you are starting out it starts to rain and your parents say there is no point in having a picnic in the rain, that's a catastrophe."

"Very good, Jennie," said Mrs. Hammerbotham. "It isn't as bad as an earthquake, and it isn't as bad as war. But when a picnic gets called on account of rain, it is a catastrophe for a child, I guess..."