I recently read this article about Facebook's relatively new "On This Day" feature that reminds us of what we were doing on this day last year, two years ago, five years ago, seven years ago. "We generally think of social media as a tool to make grand announcements and to document important times, but just as often – if not more – it’s just a tin can phone, an avenue by which to toss banal witterings into an uncaring universe. Rather, it’s a form of thinking out loud, of asserting a moment for ourselves on to the noisy face of the world," writes Leigh Alexander.
I get that. Most of my updates are pretty predictable. In January, lots of them are smug commentaries on how cozy and warm I am on my tropical island while Stateside friends freeze. But this year, I've been paying special attention to the updates I wrote six years ago, the year of the earthquake. Pardon me if I call it "the earthquake," as though there's only one. For us in Haiti there's only one that is etched in our brains.
Etched in our brains, yes, but it's amazing how many of the little daily details I had forgotten. This year is the first year that the anniversary falls on a Tuesday, just like the original quake. Weirdly, it has felt as though this year is an echo of that one. And the updates on "On This Day" have reinforced that sensation.
Our internet went out when the quake hit, and it wasn't until Thursday the 14th that we were back online. I had idly checked, not expecting a connection, and when I logged into Facebook I saw that many of our friends had written to us as soon as they heard the news. Were we OK? Then when they heard we were alive, through a phone message we were able to get out that night (the phones didn't work either, but someone with us had a US cellphone), people wrote that they were praying for us, that they were with us, that they were waiting to hear from us. I remember reading those messages on that Thursday. I remember typing back as fast as I could, sure that the link to the outside world would flicker out, fueled by adrenaline and hardly any sleep. (The lack of punctuation in my writing testifies to how I was feeling.) I described sitting in my room and hearing voices outside tell their story again and again, and the words "kraze net," destroyed completely, being repeated. I wrote about praying outside with our friends who were sleeping there, still too afraid of collapsing concrete to venture back inside. (I was too afraid too, but I was attempting to sleep inside anyway.) I wrote about our family decision that the children and I would go to the States for a while, and how torn and guilty and conflicted I felt. My friends wrote kind messages back. I know I read them all at the time, but as I read my wall from those days again, it feels as though they are new. You're doing the right thing, they reassure me. Were we? I still don't know. Telling my counselor about it this year still brought floods of tears.
After we got to the States, six years ago last week, my updates are about putting my children in public school, talking to fellow earthquake refugees on the phone while watching my son play in the snow, and today, translating adoption documents for friends whose tenuous situation with their Haitian children was looking hopeful - perhaps something good was about to come out of the earthquake (it did - many adoptions were sped up in those days).
It's difficult to read "On This Day," because it transports me right back to those terrible moments. Leigh Alexander's article mentions others feeling the same: "At best there’s some comedy in the idea that you’d appreciate a tender, wistful reflection on the time you took a picture of a snack. At worst, announcements of job loss, photos of happy days with your now-ex, a pet that has died, or a family illness are suddenly unearthed without warning, served into your day along with Facebook’s chirpy, intimate good-day wishes."
But at the same time, I'm glad those memories are there, because in addition to the pain and fear and sadness (and always, the survivor's guilt), there are memories of new friendships, support, God's care and protection of me. This morning I read a student's post on my wall. "Hey miss," she had written on this day six years ago, "hope you guys are doing okay." We weren't, and yet, strangely, we were. I wrote back to her in the laconic Haitian way: "Nou la." We're here. "How about you?" She didn't answer, then, but I've talked to her many times since, and I'll drop her a note today. Nou la. We're still here. Just like we were On This Day Six Years Ago.
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