Wednesday, October 12, 2016

These Days

Lately, my days are lived in a state of double consciousness.  There's the reality of my surroundings, my job, my ordinary life.  And there's the constant awareness that things are not ordinary at all in the south of this country, in the wake of Hurricane Matthew.  Maybe it's a triple consciousness, because the destruction that Matthew has left behind is a reminder of the earthquake of 2010, and I have been having regular flashbacks to those days, too. 

Yesterday as I walked in the gate to work, one of the school employees asked me about my daughter, and then I asked him about his family, and he answered, "Bagay yo terrib."  Things are terrible.  This is not something Haitians say.  Even when things are awful, they will say, "Nou la."  We're here.  This man's mother lost her house in the hurricane, and he's worrying all the time about her.

I sat in my classroom grading before school started, and students started arriving.  One scuttled in with her books, looking as though she had a lot on her mind.

"How are you?" I asked.



"Something my mom asked me to do."

"Hope it works out," I told her.

"Me too."  And then she disappeared.  Later in the day I asked her what had happened, and she smiled and said everything had worked out.  So that was just some seventh grade drama, nothing to do with the life-and-death variety playing out down south.

At some point, a friend posted on Facebook that she was going with the truck of relief supplies her organization was sending out.  I sent her a quick message telling her to be careful, and then kept checking all day as she sent little snippets of information, including a visit to the home of a friend who had lost "most of her children" in the earthquake.  She posted a beautiful photo of herself with the grinning family.

Joy and sorrow, ordinary and catastrophic, all mixed together.

Another friend who is in the south posted photos of destruction, and one of a sign on a hospital, warning people not to enter unless they absolutely had to, because there was cholera inside.  Everyone is drinking contaminated water, and many are already sick.

I taught my classes, and graded papers, and talked with friends, and did my regular things.  After school, my writing group met.  We've just recently started getting together, and so far I'm loving it.  We discussed a Frank O'Hara poem.  People shared the work they had brought.  I shared an earthquake poem I wrote this week, about the images that suddenly appear from my memory. 

Back on Facebook later in the evening, I read more about worries about food insecurity, since so many crops and gardens and fruit trees were destroyed.  I looked at people's photos.  They showed passing out supplies, and the cheerful grins of recipients, people who are living without decent shelter or much to eat.

Throughout the day I listened several times to Sara Groves' song "This Cup." 

"This cup, this cup
I wanna drink it up
To be right here in the middle of it
Right here, right here
This challenging reality
Is better than fear or fantasy.

So take up what we’ve been given
Welcome the edge of our days
Hemmed in by sunrise and sunset
By our youth and by our age
Thank God for our dependence
Here’s to our chasm of need
And how it binds us together
In faith and vulnerability."
(Here are the rest of the lyrics.)
Once again, I have things easy while Haitians struggle with yet another natural disaster, yet another enormous, unfathomable tragedy.   I'm keeping things normal for my students, reading books with them, editing their writing.  I'm meeting with my writing group - what could be more frivolous?  I'm also donating, passing on information on Facebook, asking questions of people around me whose family members are suffering, listening to their answers, sharing their grief.  It's a double consciousness.

Oh yeah, a triple consciousness, because the earthquake is always there.  Today a friend who's in the south now posted that this is worse than the earthquake.  Later she clarified that she's talking about the malnutrition in the future.  Many more people died immediately in the earthquake, those thirty seconds that changed everything in this city, but the hurricane is killing more slowly, killing with cholera and hunger.  
I want to be here, to drink this cup, to live the day as it comes.  This challenging reality.

Lord, have mercy.  Help us in our chasm of need. 

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