Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Disabled and Some Comparisons with Chile

Today's Lenten prayer focus is the disabled.

Last week I linked to this article, which says there may be 150,000 amputees in Haiti by year's end, or 2% of the entire Haitian population. This article uses the figure of 4,000, which would already be a high number. I think the higher number is more likely, but either way, this is going to be a huge problem in a society where survival is challenging enough for the able-bodied.

I have been on crutches in Port-au-Prince and I know it's not easy to get around that way; there's very little completely level ground and stairs are often uneven. That was pre-earthquake. And getting around is only one of the difficulties. There aren't jobs for people with all their limbs; how will people make a living when they are disabled? No wonder my friend told me on the phone that she and her family are happy to be alive and to have their arms and legs.

The second article above mentions, as do most of the articles, how courageous the Haitian patients are.

Hospital workers say they've rarely seen patients so stoic in the face of horrific loss and adversity. "We've created the phrase, 'Haitian up,'" says Dr. Justine Crowley, meaning "toughen up or buck up."

It's true that Haitians are incredibly strong and put up with more on a good day than most people in the developed world could handle. And yet I don't want anyone to interpret that fact by concluding that the people going through these terrible injuries and losses are somehow not feeling them. They are still suffering - just as much as you would. They have learned that there isn't much point whining about it, though. What's that going to change?

I am following news about the Chilean earthquake as well, of course. Someone at church this morning said that he feared the worldwide focus on the problems in Haiti would deprive Chile of help. I don't worry about that; it's a big world and there's enough aid for both countries. I don't think it's useful to frame it in terms of a contest. But I can't help but compare the situations in the two earthquakes. Here's an article that concludes that poverty is the real killer. The Chilean earthquake was 500 times as strong as the Haitian one, but when people live in buildings that are well-constructed and have access to immediate emergency services, they are much more likely to survive. And here's an NPR story which explains some of the geological factors that made the Haitian earthquake more destructive.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Earthquakes Everywhere

I woke up to the news of the 8.8 earthquake in Chile. I have always paid attention to earthquake stories - part of my policy of being obsessed with the news - and I even had earthquake and tsunami nightmares prior to January 12th. But now my reaction to a story like this has a whole different intensity.

As I talk to people about what happened in Haiti, I am finding that many people have earthquake stories that I never heard before. I have talked to people who were in, or had relatives who were in this one, this one, this one and this one. I remember a huge one when I was in graduate school, and someone responding, "At least it's not here." But it certainly could be - there have been large earthquakes in the American heartland.

Yesterday I discovered this page, which is part of the USGS site: Did You Feel It? Apparently everyone connected with Haiti and connected to the internet has already been watching this, except for me. This is where you can see aftershocks, very shortly after they happen. I am horrified to see how many earthquakes there are, all over the world, every single day. Now I'm watching aftershocks in Chile, and aftershocks off the Ryukyu Islands of Japan.

How did I ever get the idea that the ground was stable under my feet? Obviously terra firma is a complete misnomer.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Poetry Friday: Alive

I read once, years ago, that nothing makes you feel more alive than a good sunburn. I've thought about that many times. It's true that sunburn makes you painfully aware of your body, and when you're in pain, you're not likely to forget that you exist.

I am alive. I survived an earthquake in which over 200,000 people lost their lives. Today I am overwhelmed with gratitude to be alive. I walked down the street this morning in my woolly hat (the kind of thing I would never ever wear at home) and felt dazed, light-headed at the sheer joy of survival. I could have been dead. Much worse, I could have lost part or all of my little family. I am alive, and so are they.

One of my college professors once said that most poetry is about death, because most poetry is about beauty, and when we think about beauty, we know that it will not last forever. The poem I've chosen for Poetry Friday today is about death, but it's also about life. The Book of Common Prayer says: "In the midst of life we are in death." As I live each day, aware of the gift it is, I feel that pain that reminds me both that I am alive, and that so many others are not. While I believe in life after death, I also know that the dead are lost to us, that we do not know, as Wallace Stevens puts it, how they felt at what they saw.

A Postcard from the Volcano

by Wallace Stevens

Children picking up our bones
Will never know that these were once
As quick as foxes on the hill;

And that in autumn, when the grapes
Made sharp air sharper by their smell
These had a being, breathing frost;

And least will guess that with our bones
We left much more, left what still is
The look of things, left what we felt

At what we saw. The spring clouds blow
Above the shuttered mansion house,
Beyond our gate and the windy sky

Cries out a literate despair.

The rest of the poem is here.

And here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Love is Still a Worthy Cause

by Sara Groves

Have you listed all the times you've tried
Do you call on all your alibis
When somebody asks the question why are you hiding

Did you feel the pull, did you hear the call
Did you take a chance and lose it all
Do you fear there's no collateral left for trying


Friend I know your heart is raw
But love is still a worthy cause
Picking up and pressing on
Oh love is still a worthy cause
Like the touch that starts the thaw
Oh, love is such a worthy cause
Or the word that breaks the pause

In the midst of passing bravery
In the face of our own injuries
Is the constant generosity of grace

It's the beauty in the tales we tell
It's the pressing on and ending well
It’s the joy that comes when we give ourselves away

I love because He loved me when I had nothing
I love because You loved me when I had nothing
I love because He loved me when I had nothing
I had nothing

When you count the cost and all seems lost
Love is still a worthy cause
When you're pressing on though your strength is gone
Love is still a worthy cause

Oh, love is still a worthy cause
Oh, love is still a worthy cause
Oh, love

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Pride and Prejudice

I read another book! Best of all, I can foresee a time when it won't be such an event to read a book. I've started another one, and this one is a murder mystery, so I know there will be some adrenaline-filled moments. I think I can handle it. We'll see.

But the book I just finished? Pride and Prejudice. I chose it because I know exactly what's coming around every corner. And sure enough, Lizzie and Mr. Darcy, Bingley and Miss Bennet, Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, Mr. Collins, Charlotte, Lady Catherine...all were just as expected. Not only that, but the book ended just as it always did before. Ahhhhhh.

I can focus better than I could right after the earthquake, but I still jump up from the book more often than a person really should, whether from an urge to check Facebook one more time to see if anybody posted any recent events in Haiti, or to do some research which comes to mind. For example, I started to wonder if Jane Austen was alive for the earthquake in London in 1750. Turns out she was born in 1775, so that earthquake (actually, there were two, and Charles Wesley wrote some hymns about them) took place twenty-five years before her birth. Which would explain why there aren't any earthquakes in Pride and Prejudice. An important feature in a book if I'm going to choose it these days.

So that was book #4 of this year.

Come Together Now

My friend Tara posted this yesterday. Many of these songs have been done to raise money, and I am grateful for each one. This one, though, seemed special to me as soon as I saw Steven Curtis Chapman singing. His album Beauty Will Rise (do they use the word album any more in the modern world?) has been so helpful to me during this time that he now feels like an old friend.

Come Together Now - Music City Unites For Haiti from Provident Label Group on Vimeo.


After the earthquake, when the internet connection came back up, I wrote to a friend who is a psychologist and asked him, essentially, how to talk to my kids about it. He sent me two PDF files which you can download at the very bottom of this post. One is labeled "Children Coping with Earthquakes" and the other is "NASP Responding to Natural Disasters."

One of the things I remember reading right away in one of those articles was that an earthquake was different from other natural disasters because of the aftershocks. You couldn't just say, "Now this is over and we can get over it and start rebuilding." You had to keep reliving it again and again because the earth would keep shaking.

When I read that I thought of our first night sleeping on the soccer field at school. The earth never seemed to stop moving that night, and later we found out there were more than thirty aftershocks. I may have slept thirty minutes. I also thought of the following nights, when again and again the noise and the motion would return. Sometimes I felt it when it wasn't happening. The people in the yard said they could tell when it was real because the dogs would bark and the gate would rattle. Another friend told about setting up a pencil, and if it fell, the shock was real; if it didn't, he was imagining it.

I never thought all those weeks ago that the aftershocks would still be continuing, but they are. Information I read from the USGS ( said that they can continue for a year. A year!

Yesterday morning my Haiti friends were posting on Facebook about a large aftershock, and this morning, the same thing. My husband said that people he had just recently convinced to go inside are sleeping in our yard again. He slept through the one Monday morning (perhaps because he had taken Nyquil) but the one this morning woke him up.

My husband is always a lot calmer than I am. Since the earthquake I have seen that even more. For me there was no question of sleeping through aftershocks. Every time, the adrenaline hit me again, and I jumped to my feet, and rushed out the door, trying to escape the collapse of the house that I just knew would come next. It was hard to relax enough to sleep. That's why many people whose houses are fine are still sleeping outside in Haiti. Of course, now it's raining at night, so there are some uncomfortable choices to be made. And then for hundreds of thousands, there is no choice: they have nowhere to sleep except outdoors.

The metaphorical aftershocks are also enormous, of course, for everyone. I don't think they will ever go away for any of us, or for Haiti. Not when some estimate that up to 2% of the population will be amputees. Not when this earthquake has been called "the worst disaster in modern history." Not when up to 300,000 people may have lost their lives. And not when I walk down a quiet street of small-town America and imagine it all shaking, shaking.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Deep, Deep Love

Last night at church we sang "Oh, the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus." We had this song at our wedding. It's a bit of an unusual song for a wedding because it's in a minor key. So much of life seems to be in a minor key, though, especially lately. The words, if true, make all of life's trials bearable.

Oh, the deep, deep love of Jesus,
Vast, unmeasured, boundless, free!
Rolling as a mighty ocean
In its fullness over me,
Underneath me, all around me,
Is the current of Thy love;
Leading onward, leading homeward
To my glorious rest above.

Oh, the deep, deep love of Jesus,
Spread His praise from shore to shore!
How He loveth, ever loveth,
Changeth never, nevermore;
How He watches o'er His loved ones,
Died to call them all His own;
How for them He intercedeth,
Watcheth o'er them from the throne.

Oh, the deep, deep love of Jesus,
Love of every love the best;
'Tis an ocean vast of blessing,
'Tis a haven sweet of rest,
Oh, the deep, deep love of Jesus,
'Tis a Heav'n of Heav'ns to me;
And it lifts me up to glory,
For it lifts me up to Thee.

S. Trevor Francis, 1834-1925

Here's a link that plays music.

The tune, Ebenezer, is often used for funerals in Haiti, so I'd imagine this has been heard frequently in the last few weeks.

The Center for Church Music, Songs, and Hymns tells the story of this hymn; the author, Francis,

experienced that love in an especially compelling way one cold, winter night. At a point in life when his faith had wavered, Francis found himself walking across London's Hungerford Bridge. Mulling over his sadness and loneliness, he heard a whisper tempting him to end his misery and jump into the churning waters below.

Fortunately, Francis didn't heed the dark voice. Instead, he heard God's reassuring words speaking to him in the night. On that bridge, he reaffirmed his faith in Jesus Christ, and put complete trust in him as his Savior.

I talked to someone today who lost his wife in the earthquake, and while his grief is great, he told me that the love of Jesus has been very real to him. Like the story of Francis, there's no huge event, just an impression, a feeling. It may not seem like much. And yet in the darkness, when you have nothing else to cling to, somehow that love is there. Believe it or don't believe it, but for me there's no substitute for that deep, deep love.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Hungering and Thirsting

Today's Lenten prayer focus in the guide produced by the church I'm attending now is The Poor.

A couple of weeks ago I linked to this article about the collapse of the Montana Hotel. I took the time to read some of the comments, and many of them reminded me of one of the big reasons I remained anonymous, and kept Haiti anonymous, when I first started this blog. Judgment. What, some commenters wondered, were people in Haiti on a mission team doing at a luxury hotel like the Montana? What was Haiti doing even having such a hotel when so many struggled for the basic necessities of life? I cringe at such questions, not because I disagree with them, but because they form a daily part of my thoughts. Living in a third world country as a privileged person (and let's be honest, my American passport and my education and the fact that I can afford to feed and clothe my children and live in a nice house - all these things and so much more make me privileged) forces you to ask these questions constantly. How can I justify anything I own? How can I make a frivolous purchase when someone at my gate hasn't eaten today? How can I go to the beach for a rest when others must work every day?

Throughout my time in Haiti I have gone back and forth on these issues and how to deal with the needs in front of me every single day. When I first got there, I used to stand at my gate and listen to these stories and cry and hand out cash. Later I tried to help people in a more focused way, or through organizations. I started saying no a lot more, honestly out of self-preservation sometimes. I felt I couldn't continue living there if I were so emotionally involved in everyone else's pain all the time. Sometimes I just didn't look; I couldn't. Sometimes I justified luxuries in my life (like eating chocolate, like having an air conditioner in our bedroom which we hardly ever used, and I won't go on because I don't want you to judge me) by saying, But I'm staying. I'm not just camping out for a year or two. This is where I live and I need to find a way to make it work.

Others are struggling with these issues. Ben and Katie just experienced their first time leaving Haiti and going somewhere richer, and also read a book detailing some of the history of Haiti's poverty and explaining how the US and France had a lot to do with it. Tara's been grocery shopping in Texas and taken her kids out for shaved ice and is finding all the choices to be overwhelming. John and Beth are telling wrenching stories, day after day, about people whose already difficult lives have been thrown into worse chaos and suffering after the earthquake.

How to deal with it, the mess and injustice and deep, deep sadness of it all? I don't know.

I have been working through the sermons about the Beatitudes from Mars Hill in Grand Rapids. I listen to them when I'm going to sleep because I've learned that I can't lie awake and think. Last night I listened to the one about hungering and thirsting for righteousness. I don't know that I have ever heard this interpreted the way Bell did but it struck a chord with me. (I can't seem to find a way to link you to it but I got it for free on iTunes.) He said that it doesn't say: blessed are you when you have it all figured out. It says you are blessed when you hunger and thirst for things to be different, when you struggle with it. He used the example of a couple trying to figure out which couch to buy, knowing what they know about how so many in the world don't have clean water to drink. A couch might seem like a silly example but it isn't. That's the kind of thing I struggle with. Why do I have a comfortable couch when I've visited in a home where there were no chairs at all, and someone went to overturn a bucket for me to sit on?

Today, as I focus on praying for the poor, in Haiti and everywhere else (and oh, they are everywhere), I hunger and thirst for things to be different. I long for a world where everyone has enough to eat, and shelter, and, yes, books to read. Don't judge me because I sometimes ate at the Hotel Montana. I do that enough to myself. I think all of us on this planet are under the same obligation to remember the poor. In Haiti we see them everywhere and it's a lot more obvious to us that life isn't fair. But Haiti is our neighbor, even when we're here in the United States. There are people living in fields there, with no more shelter than some sheets or old clothes (and yes, the rainy season has started). And I hunger and thirst for that to change.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Ala peyi byen organize, wi! (What a well-organized country!)

Today my children took buses to their public schools. I paid nothing for this service and only had to request for it to happen. They went to school all day, again for free.

While they were at school I had to get some things done, requiring me to visit three separate government offices. I had to renew my driver's license, pay a tax, and drop off my children's vaccination records so they could be put into the correct format for the schools here. All three of those tasks were accomplished with no frustration and very little cost in less than an hour. (And the computer wasn't working right in the DMV, so that part took longer than usual!)

I also went to the grocery store, and saw dozens of choices for each type of item. There was abundance everywhere I looked. I got a bit mesmerized by a display of stuffed toys for dogs.

I know, the schools aren't really free and neither are the buses. All those things come from taxes like the one I had to pay today. And I know, there are many people out of work in this country and life is not easy for everyone. But I wonder if people who live here in the US all the time realize how amazing, and rich, this country is. The stores are full. The parks are beautiful. The libraries are stocked and accessible. The emergency services are there when you need them. Things work and are efficient.

This is not the way it is everywhere in the world.

Poetry Friday: Identifying with Lucasta

I posted recently about how this earthquake situation feels like a war to me. You can read that post here.

The whole time my husband was visiting, I kept thinking about the poem below, "To Lucasta, Going to the Wars," by Richard Lovelace. Richard Lovelace looked something like this:

My husband doesn't look anything like that. No flowing black locks. (Not much hair at all, actually.) No armor. And, unlike the persona of the poem, not even any sword, horse, or shield. He's altogether more rumpled than Lovelace and doesn't have that same superior look on his face. Yet for the first time in my life, as I watch my husband go back to an earthquake zone (he's not going to fight a war, but he is going to do important work in this earthquake "war"), leaving my children and me behind, I feel that Lovelace's words could be spoken to me.

To Lucasta, going to the Wars

Tell me not, Sweet, I am unkind,
That from the nunnery
Of thy chaste breast and quiet mind
To war and arms I fly.

True, a new mistress now I chase,
The first foe in the field;
And with a stronger faith embrace
A sword, a horse, a shield.

Yet this inconstancy is such
As thou too shalt adore;
I could not love thee, Dear, so much,
Loved I not Honour more.

I would paraphrase that last stanza as: "You should love me more for loving honor so much, because if I weren't that kind of person, I wouldn't be as faithful to you as I am." You could also turn that around and say, "You wouldn't love me as much as you do if I were the kind of person to ignore my duty."

And I wouldn't - much as I wish my husband could stay here with us, I know he is going back to Haiti because of honor, and love, and a desire to do what God wants him to do. We have always worked side by side but now I'm left behind, a bit more like Lucasta than I would like.

I used to read this poem with my students (yes, even though it's always a challenge to read something with the word "breast" in it with middle schoolers) and talk about honor, but I never identified with this poem the way I do now.

Here's a song about Haiti that also uses the image of a war, saying, "We won't lose the battle."

Here's a translation of the lyrics of the song. There are a couple of spots where I couldn't hear very well and I'm not sure I've got it right, so Kreyol speakers, please leave a comment and correct me as needed.

In this moment, pain wants to suffocate us
The ground started trembling under our feet
Despair is beating us
We're searching for a place to believe
The history of our country shows us
We've taken some blows, it's true
But let's put our heads together to change our country

We'll get up, we'll stand up
We'll wipe the tears from our eyes
Hand in hand, with faith, we'll get there
Let God guide us,
Love will encourage us
Together, Haiti will rise

Nothing can crush unity
Everyone's eyes are fixed on the future
Tribulation is bringing us opportunity
To give with all our hearts and souls
Now many are suffering
Raise your faith to give to them
And thank God
Because He gave us life


Let's put people's hands to work
We won't lose the battle


Yes, it's true, we can rise
We'll rise

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday

Lent is traditionally a time of mourning and grief, and I have never in my life been in a more appropriate frame of mind for the season.

As the pastor put the ashes on my forehead this evening, he said, "Remember that you are from dust, and to dust you shall return."

Immediately I thought of that Tuesday night - the Tuesday which needs no date or month. A parent who had come to school because his son was still on campus described what he had seen when the earthquake happened. He was in his car, and he saw a huge cloud of dust rise from the city. It was the dust of buildings shaken and destroyed, the dust of ruin, and in that moment many human lives returned to dust as well.

Dust. It's all dust.

Joel 2:12-13 "Yet even now," declares the LORD, "return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments." Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


A week before the earthquake, on our first day of school after our Christmas break, we gathered in our auditorium, all the secondary students and the teachers, and sang, among other things, the above song.

"We won’t be satisfied with anything ordinary," we sang. "We won’t be satisfied at all."

At the time, I wondered about those words. Is it true that I won't be satisfied with anything ordinary? I am pretty satisfied with the ordinary. I like my life.

I know the song isn't talking about contentment, or about the lack of contentment: not being satisfied with what you have. It's talking instead about not being satisfied with going through the motions with God, about longing for more and more of His presence.

A week after we sang that song, ordinary ended. Ordinary in the sense of normal, day to day, routine life. Ordinary gave way to crisis, abnormal, extraordinary.

Here's some more of the song:

Open up the sky, fall down like rain
We don’t want blessings, We want You
Open up the sky, fall down like fire
We don’t want anything but You

Our beloved Jesus, we just wanna see You
In the glory of Your light.
Earthly things don’t matter,
They just fade and shatter
When we’re touched by love divine.

Is that part true? Do I want God more than I want His blessings? Haitian Christians have certainly shown that it is true of them. They have refused to despair. They have gathered in their thousands to praise God and pray. They have seen that earthly things do not last; they already knew that much better than I did.

We are hearing, too, that many others are coming to Christian faith. Losing the ordinary of their everyday lives has led, for many, to searching for more of God than the ordinary. People are seeking Him now that everything else is stripped away.

So I guess it is wrong for me to wish for ordinary back - my regular life, with my work and my home and my family living together (my husband left today to go back to Haiti). I should be rejoicing because I should know that God matters more than His blessings.

And I do know that.

But I still wish for the ordinary of January 12th. I wish that January 13th had been ordinary. I wish I had taught those lesson plans that were on my desk, and worn that sweater that I left on the back of my chair and given back those papers I had just graded. I wish that I were still going in every day now to see my kids and conference with them about their writing and help them choose books to read and plan bake sales with them.

I'm not saying that God did this, made this earthquake happen so that people would turn to Him. It's well known that times of crisis do push us towards spirituality; look at September 11th, 2001 and the effect it had on people in the US. But do we really need everything to be overturned before we turn to Him? Couldn't we seek God in the midst of ordinary?

Ordinary is so beautiful, the dailiness of meals and chores and schedules, the familiar faces you greet; that's the kind of ordinary I miss. I was satisfied with it. I look forward to knowing it again. At the same time, as I try to trust God through the pain, I wonder what He will bring out of this tragedy, in the lives of Haitians and the rest of us who love Haiti. It definitely won't be ordinary.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Nous devons changer

The following quote was written by the mother of several kids who attended our school in Haiti. I had the privilege of teaching some of them. I have always had a lot of respect for this family. Below I include a translation into English.

"Le pays revivra et sera plus beau qu'avant. Nous nous relèverons meilleurs qu'avant. Nous ne referons pas les mêmes bêtises; nous apprendrons à mieux jouer les plus beaux morceaux de notre répertoire musical; nous enlèverons les mots défaitistes de notre vocabulaire; nous réviserons nos discours destructifs; nous changerons nos rymes amères en hymnes de joie; nous désapprendrons pour mieux réapprendre; nous préférerons la joie à la tristesse; nous porterons en nous les germes de la vie. Nos frères et soeurs ont payé de leur sang, de longues heures d'agonies le prix du changement. POUR EUX nous devons changer." Lunise Jules Cerin

"The country will live again and will be more beautiful than before. We will get up better than before. We won't make the same mistakes; we'll learn to play better the most beautiful pieces in our musical repertoire; we will remove the defeatist words from our vocabulary; we will revise our destructive ways of speaking; we will change our bitter rhymes into hymns of joy; we will unlearn so that we can relearn better; we will prefer joy to sadness; we will carry in us the seeds of life. Our brothers and sisters paid with their blood, with long hours of agony, the price of change. FOR THEM we must change." Lunise Jules Cerin

My husband tells me he meets this attitude everywhere. This is an opportunity to rebuild, and to do things better this time.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Four Weeks Later

Today it has been four weeks since the earthquake. Someone (and I can't now remember who, or find where I read this) wrote that Haitians now talk about "Tuesday," without saying the date or the month, and everyone knows exactly which Tuesday they mean. That was the day the world changed.

I see a few signs that I am starting to be more normal. I read a book. (Just one in a month - clearly I'm not all the way there yet!) I can talk about other things for brief periods, and laugh. I'm sleeping pretty well.

I hear that Port-au-Prince is becoming more normal too, if you discount the facts that a million people are homeless and the city is in ruins. People were selling vegetables on the street the day after the earthquake, and now outdoor markets are functional, though prices are much higher than before. People are up and about, sweeping and cleaning up, adjusting to the world as it is now.

Apparently a lot more people are now reading my blog than before. I don't know that for sure because I don't know how to check my stats and don't think I really want to learn how. I have mixed feelings about my larger readership, since while I always wanted people to read what I wrote, I would feel embarrassed when someone I knew told me they had read my blog and spend a lot of time wondering if I had written something that might offend them. But if you are a new reader, I'm glad you are here. I keep writing because I think maybe in some small way I can keep Haiti in people's minds. Maybe there is someone out there who can't really identify with a Haitian family living in a tent city but who can identify with me, an American woman, a teacher, a thoroughly ordinary person now made into a refugee.

The earthquake has definitely changed the way I write. At first I couldn't write properly at all, and the emails I sent the first couple of days after the internet came back up look like they were written by someone else. There is almost no punctuation and the capitalization is iffy. I couldn't sit still or focus long enough to write a decent sentence, and it crossed my mind to wonder if that is what it feels like to have ADD. If so, I am much more sympathetic to my students with it than I was before. No wonder their punctuation needs work!

Now I find that my filters are not what they used to be. I rarely used to write about personal things - I didn't even say where I lived. Now I am spilling my guts regularly, and I wonder if I will regret it. It might be kind of like what happens when you stay up way too late in college with someone you hardly know and share all your secrets, and then the next time you see the person you can hardly make eye contact. I don't know. I can't help it. My emotions are much nearer to the surface than usual. For the first few days after the quake, every time I saw someone I recognized I would burst into tears and fling my arms around the person. (Well, not every time - I mostly managed to restrain myself on the street, though I did tell people how glad I was to see them. But I think some of the school employees were a bit startled by how affectionate I was all of a sudden!)

I have two conflicting emotions all the time. One is grief, sadness, pain; I think constantly of the suffering of people in Haiti. The other is joy to be alive; I always thought I knew that I could die at any moment, and I thought I was living as someone who recognized that. But now I know it in a new way. We survived. It could so easily have been otherwise. It was otherwise for some people we loved.

There's a balance to be found there, between mourning for the people and places and normal life that is lost and reveling in the life we still have. I am still trying to find it and I think Haiti is, too.

Monday, February 08, 2010

The Case for Literature

This article, by Nancie Atwell, one of my favorite education writers, is the kind of thing I used to post on my blog before it became all earthquake, all the time. Sigh. I miss my life.

Heartline Blog

Please read what John and Beth McHoul are posting and donate to Heartline.


When we picked my husband up at the airport on Saturday night, there were two soldiers on the plane. One of the families had a sign welcoming back "Daddy, our hero."

I'm not in the habit of using the words "hero" or "honor" or that type of thing - I don't think most people in my generation are, unless they are being ironic. (Or if they are in the military, and I recognize that that is a completely different culture of which I have little knowledge.) And yet I felt an affinity with that family welcoming back their soldier husband and father.

I have felt in these few weeks as I imagine the wife of a deployed soldier would feel. Oh, I know there are many differences. Nobody was pointing guns at my husband, and he wasn't fighting. We were apart for weeks, not years (though we don't know how long the separation will stretch on once he goes back.) Another difference is that most spouses of a deployed soldier haven't lived in Iraq or Afghanistan, while I have lived for years in Haiti. That one works both ways - I care a lot about individuals in Haiti, which makes it difficult to be away, but on the other hand I don't see Haitians as scary or threatening, the way a military spouse probably sees the people that the soldier is dealing with.

But the similarities are there too. We are living very different lives, having different experiences that sometimes make it hard to feel a connection between us. I don't want to bother my husband with things that will distract him or make his job more difficult. I miss him. I'm proud of what he is doing.

I'm still hesitant to use the word "hero." (See how I can't even write it without putting it in quotes?) But I am so very proud of the people I know in Haiti, the way they are dealing with this situation. They are jumping in and doing what needs to be done in so many ways, whether pulling people out of rubble or setting up a clinic in their home or feeding people in their yard or interpreting or teaching in a one-room schoolhouse or drinking the first glass of water from an improvised filtering system so that the people around would know it was safe. Our alumni both in and out of Haiti have been amazing, volunteering in hospitals, donating huge amounts of money and supplies, doing concerts for relief, organizing fund-raising. They are facing the new reality with courage and faith and even humor, even though many of them have faced huge losses. It really is inspiring.

Somehow it helps me to think about this whole disaster as a war. It's way too big for me to think about all at once. It will go on a long time. Like the wars I've read about in history, it has caught people in all different situations - some in, some out, some in action, some on the home front. The only constant is that you have to respond to your circumstances with courage. You have to live one day at a time and do what needs to be done. You have to know there is a future, but you don't know what it is. You have to support the troops. (Of course I know there are real wars being fought right now, too, and back when I used to be a news junkie, I used to follow them pretty closely - but right now I can't.)

Back in 2008 when Haiti was hit by damaging hurricanes, I posted a link to C. S. Lewis' essay "Learning in Wartime." (Or I tried to - I had a hard time getting a link to work but at that post there are some instructions to find it.) This has been circulated again this time. I have it on my desktop and find it comforting to read it. For "the war" in the quote below, read "the earthquake."

The war creates no absolutely new situation: it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it. Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice. Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself. If men had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure the search would never have begun. We are mistaken when we compare war with "normal life". Life has never been normal.

I highly recommend reading the whole thing. Lewis' sanity is a huge boost to me in my time of war.

Friday, February 05, 2010

The Earth Still Rings

Tiel Aisha Ansara wrote an earthquake poem.

Friday Night

My husband is in Florida. We talked on the phone this evening and tomorrow he will come to where we are to spend a few days with us before going back to Haiti. He said it feels strange to be there, to see so many people going about their normal lives as though the world had not fallen down. However, his cab driver was from Haiti and thanked him for helping out and a woman in a store, hearing where my husband had come from, teared up and said that a friend of hers was there and still had not been found. Florida is filled with people from Haiti and people with connections to Haiti.

Everyone keeps asking me what I think about those "American missionaries" who are in jail in Haiti tonight on kidnapping charges. Their story was the only thing about Haiti in the local paper today. I am furious at them for taking the focus off of where it should be: the suffering of the Haitian people and their incredible courage in the face of adversity. (No, adversity is too mild a word. Agony.)

Beyond that, I am willing to accept that these people had good motives. They probably really wanted to make life better for some Haitian children. On a good day in Haiti, you see kids you'd like to rescue. But you don't rescue them by luring them from their parents and taking them over the border without papers. You do things within the law.

I know for a fact that these people were advised that what they were doing was wrong. (Here is an article with some more information. And here's another - if you can't read all three pages of it, go to the main newspaper site and click on the link to the article.) So while I can't fault their desire to help kids, I do fault them for not listening to counsel from others. This is not a time for people to go have a madcap adventure - this is serious. We have to be wise. These are human beings and Haiti is a sovereign nation.

Perhaps I am being too vehement about this. I certainly do not wish prison on anyone, and particularly not prison in Haiti after an earthquake. I do not know all the details of what happened and I do not know the hearts of these people. I do know that having the words "missionaries" and "trafficking" in the same headline is not a good thing.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

I finally read a book, the first one since the earthquake. I chose one that I knew very well (I first remember reading it as a seven year old in boarding school and have read it many times since), and also one that my daughter and I talked about the night of the earthquake as we tried to sleep on the soccer field: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

Chapter Twelve is called "The Dark Island." The Dawn Treader sails towards what at first they think is a dark mountain. Later "they could see that it was not land at all, nor even, in an ordinary sense, a mist. It was a darkness." It turns out that this is the island where dreams come true. At first the sailors are excited by this and begin suggesting things that will happen once they arrive. The haggard, terrified man they have picked up says to them, "'Fools!...That is the sort of talk that brought me here....Do you hear what I say? This is where dreams - dreams, do you understand - come to life, come real. Not daydreams: dreams." The people on board begin to think of various nightmares they have had and turn to sail out of the darkness. There comes a moment when they have been sailing out longer than they sailed in, and they start to wonder if they will ever escape from the darkness, or if they will be trapped there forever.

Lucy leant her head on the edge of the fighting-top and whispered, "Aslan, Aslan, if ever you loved us at all, send us help now." The darkness did not grow any less, but she began to feel a little - a very, very little - better. "After all, nothing has really happened to us yet," she thought.

"Look!" cried Rynelf's voice hoarsely from the bows. There was a tiny speck of light ahead, and while they watched, a broad beam of light fell from it upon the ship. It did not alter the surrounded darkness, but the whole ship was lit up as if by searchlight. Caspian blinked, stared round, saw the faces of his companions all with wild, fixed expressions. Everyone was staring in the same direction: behind everyone lay his black, sharply edged shadow.

Lucy looked along the beam and presently saw something in it. At first it looked like a cross, then it looked like an aeroplane, then it looked like a kite, and at last with a whirring of wings it was right overhead and was an albatross. It circled three times round the mast and then perched for an instant on the crest of the gilded dragon at the prow. It called out in a strong sweet voice what seemed to be words though no one understood them. After that it spread its wings, rose, and began to fly slowly ahead, bearing a little to starboard. Drinian steered after it not doubting that it offered good guidance. But no one except Lucy knew that as it circled the mast it had whispered to her, "Courage, dear heart," and the voice, she felt sure, was Aslan's, and with the voice a delicious smell breathed in her face.

When I said to my daughter that night, "Courage, dear heart," she knew exactly what I meant and I think she felt a little - a very, very little - better.

So that was Book #3 of 2010.

(Books #1 and #2, which I read in those far-off pre-earthquake days and can hardly remember, were Lavinia, by Ursula K. Le Guin and Nightlight: A Parody by the Harvard Lampoon.)

This post is linked to the February 6th Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon.

Unemployed Teacher

I used to be a teacher, and I hope I will be again, but right now I feel a pain in my stomach every time I get my weekly NCTE Inbox email (NCTE = National Council of Teachers of English) or a message from Scholastic (especially the one headed "Teacher Update: Black History, Presidents, & Haiti Crisis (Grades 6-8)." Thanks, Scholastic, but I'm having my own Haiti Crisis here, and part of it does involve those particular grade levels!

I have spoken to a couple of middle school groups about the earthquake and they make me miss my own students so much. My maddening, funny, boisterous, noisy, bored, excited, crazy kids. I hope they all knew how much I loved them, even when I was moving them to new seats because they wouldn't stop talking or meeting with their parents or giving them homework (always "too much," in their opinion).

Today on my calendar it says "7th grade Bake Sale." I never even got to the stage of emailing the parents about it; the date had been put on the calendar the day before the quake, I think. I am always responsible for 7th grade bake sales because of being 7th grade homeroom teacher, and I always complained about them: the noise, the confusion, the weeks it took to get all the Tupperware and crumbs (and resulting ants) out of my classroom. But oh, how I wish I could have that bake sale today, that all of this would be a horrible nightmare and I could be griping about who didn't bring a cake knife and who spilled soda on the floor.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

How to Talk to an Earthquake Refugee

I've been talking to a lot of my friends who are in the same position I am. Sent to the United States while their husbands remain behind in Haiti. Not much of an opportunity to say goodbye. Carrying only a small bag. Very little chance so far to process anything with their husbands about this whole experience.

Obviously the only person I can really speak for is myself, but I'm going to use "we" in this post anyway, because I'm finding more and more that we have many of the same feelings. There may be people who feel totally differently, and to them I say, get your own blog. :-)

One thing we are feeling is guilt. Survivors' guilt because we are alive when so many are not. For some of us, guilt that our losses were so much less than those of our friends and neighbors: our children are uninjured, our houses still standing. (Others spent time in the rubble of collapsed buildings and are recovering from injuries.) We feel guilt that we left Haiti, even though at some level we think we did the right thing for our children. Guilt that we even had the option to leave, and that we are now taking hot showers, eating plenty of food, sleeping indoors.

We want to explain ourselves, to justify the decisions we've made. Someone in Haiti said, for example, that I left because I was afraid. I was afraid but I don't think that was the main reason I left - and yet my voice trails off, because what is the point of making myself feel better when so many are in desperate straits?

We are having trouble focusing and dealing with the details of everyday life. Many of us can't read much, even though we have the time to do that now. We are struggling with the loss of our jobs, which we have poured our energies into over, in some cases, many years.

We are feeling so far away from our homes, our husbands, our friends, our lives. We love Haiti and we feel we abandoned our posts. We want to know all the details, but we fear distracting our husbands from the important work they are doing. And we feel guilty for worrying about our own needs when so many others have needs far beyond ours.

Some of us have been evacuated before, from Haiti or other countries, and some of us have stayed behind when others have been evacuated. All of us deal with the consequences of previous evacuations even if we didn't live through them, because they have affected our community, making people more cautious about friendships, in some cases causing mistrust and bitterness.

We are dealing with our children's reactions to what they have been through, and wondering what is normal kid stuff and what is related to trauma. We are trying to answer their questions honestly but without too much detail. We wonder how this will affect them in the long term.

We are grieving, filled with pain for our friends and neighbors. Some of us don't even know yet what has happened to everyone we care about.

Yes, we're glad we are safe and alive, but we are terribly torn; we wonder what we are doing here. This isn't what we had planned.

In spite of my title, I don't really have any good advice about how to talk to an earthquake refugee. There's nothing you can say that will make it all better. But what has touched and comforted me has been the way people have reached out to me. Many of them say, "I don't know what to say," and yet the fact that they say something is wonderful. You may not have been through a devastating earthquake in a third world country, but you have been through stuff. Tell me how God met you then. Tell me that you care, that you're praying.

So many people have done this for me. I will always be grateful for the love and care I have been shown in this most terrible time. Already I am feeling more hopeful, believing there will be a future, even though I do not know anything about how it will look.

A Litany for Haiti

Posted by Sarah at Sister Sarah's Excellent Adventure

God of infinite mercy, who calls forth order out of chaos, peace out of turmoil, calm out of fear, we come before you aching and tender, crying out for Haiti and her people, saying, We lift our prayers to you, O God: You are the hope of all Creation.

We pray for Haiti, land of mountains and sea, where the very earth has shifted. May her tremors cease. May her tumult end. We pray for her people, shattered yet courageous, frightened yet bold, destitute and longing for relief. May their voice be heard. May their need be met. We lift our prayers to you, O God.

You are the hope of all Creation.

We pray for the injured, broken and lost: thirsting for clean water, hungry for food, stripped of shelter, desperate for medical care; they look to the world for hope. May their dry mouths find drink, their empty bellies find food, their families find cover, and their bodies find health. We lift our prayers to you, O God.

You are the hope of all Creation.

We pray for rescuers, those who do the work of recovery, laboring in the midst of agony; for healers, doctors, nurses, and all who tend those wounded in body, mind, or spirit. May their hands be steady, may their resolve be sure. May their work be filled with grace. We lift our prayers to you, O God.

You are the hope of all Creation.

We pray for the dying and those who have died, whose frail bodies now line the city streets. May mercy be abundant. May death have dignity. May they never be forgotten. We lift our prayers to you, O God.

You are the hope of all Creation.

We pray for the global community, grieving and responding in love. May our action be swift. May our purpose be certain. May our devotion endure. We lift our prayers to you, O God.

You are the hope of all Creation.

We pray for the days to come, the future, and the promise of what lies ahead. May new roads be paved; new industry be born; new fortunes rise; and new friendships sustained. We lift our prayers to you, O God.

You are the hope of all Creation.
- - - - -
God of compassion, now let us answer your call and respond to our sister Haiti through steadfast commitment, diligence in prayer, charity in action, and constancy in hope. Her needs are deep and ours is a land of plenty. With open hand and open heart may our prayers be known in the eager generosity of our giving. In your holy name we pray. Amen.

Abiding God, your light is ever present with us, piercing through the darkness of tragedy. We give you thanks for the bright beacon of hope found when your people join together for the welfare of all. And now, when all seems dark, illuminate for the world your vision of hope, dignity, and life abundant set forth for Haiti from the beginning of creation. In your light all shall be revealed and all shall be made whole. Amen.

Litany by Wendy Tobias, Carol Wade and Alexandra Zepeda, from Strength Through Unity: A Service of Prayer for Haiti on Jan. 17 at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C

Running the Race

Haiti was a difficult place before the earthquake. In November I wrote a post about emergencies, trying to encourage people to give to the Heartline Runners, who were doing a marathon to raise money to buy an ambulance for the birthing center at Heartline Ministries. Not all of the Haiti runners had even returned home by the time the earthquake happened.

Everything I said then about emergencies, about how your regular ways of figuring things out fall apart in a time of crisis, is a million times more true now. Heartline Ministries is now an earthquake relief clinic. (At that link you will find links to many of the people updating on the situation.) I have been sending many of my La Leche League contacts to Heartline when they are looking for an organization to donate to, since Heartline has been doing so much great work with pregnant women and new moms for a long time.

Tara, one of the Heartline Runners and a friend of mine, gave an interview to about running and living in Haiti and life since the earthquake. It is well worth listening to. She talks in it about going running for the first time after the world fell apart and here you can read what she wrote about that. (Tara is the real deal. She has been blogging for a long time, being very open and vulnerable about the struggles of living in Haiti. She loves Haiti and you can hear it in her voice as she talks in the interview.)

The interview makes a comparison between what Tara and Haiti are living through right now and a race; in a race you have to focus on the next step and not think about what comes after that. I think those of us who live in Haiti thought we were living like that all along, but it turns out that we had dreams and plans for the future, and now all of that is uncertain. All we can do is the next thing in front of us.

For me, today, that is American laundry. Things fall apart, but people still need to wear clean clothes if possible.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Places I Loved

It's hard to be in two places at once, your body in one and your heart in the other. I know something about this already because I'm a TCK. For TCKs, there's always somewhere to miss. But now I feel this with a new intensity. I need to be where I am, for my children, but I want so much to be there, in Haiti, for my husband and my students and my friends.

It is impossible not to wonder about places and what has happened to them. Today I started to do some Googling and found out some things I didn't really want to know. Of course places are not as important as people, and we grieve most for the human lives lost and changed forever. But there are also some places I loved that I wanted to know about.

Apparently some people think that Port-au-Prince wasn't much to start with, but it had many beautiful buildings in it and one of those was the Episcopal Cathedral, Sainte Trinité. What I loved most about it were the murals on the walls, scenes from the Bible set in a Haitian context. Jesus' Triumphal Entry into - not Jerusalem, but Port-au-Prince. The Wedding at Cana with women in the background hanging up laundry and pigs running around. Here is a photo of the crucifixion mural. This blog post contains some before and after photos of the cathedral.

Here's an article about the main art museum in Port-au-Prince, and here's a report from the ICOM (International Council of Museums on the state of other museums.

Shortly after the quake I got an email about damage to libraries throughout the city, including priceless collections from the early years of Haiti, some dating back to the 16th century. An organization called Bibliothèques sans Frontières is trying to offer aid to help with this. I haven't ever been to most of the libraries listed in the email, but the loss of documents and history and books makes me sad.

I found this post about what happened to the Cyvadier Hotel in Jacmel, where we spent many happy days.

None of these places, I repeat, is as important as the loss of human life, but to put it in perspective, imagine the National Cathedral in Washington DC leveled, the Smithsonian gone, the Library of Congress destroyed. Think of the place you last had a vacation, half fallen.

And then imagine being a thousand miles away, wondering and looking for photos, hoping you'll see that everything is all right, and then finding out that it's really not.

Too Many Stories

Three weeks today since the earthquake, the day my whole world changed.

Last night I spoke to a middle school youth group. The kids were completely silent, focused on what I was saying. Believe me, it's not my great skill with kids - I know much better than that. I just have an interesting story to tell. And I don't mean that in a good way.

You have to understand that I already had a lot of interesting stories. I have already been through difficult times over and over again in Haiti. Here's what I sent out as our Christmas letter in 2007 (edited to leave out names because I'm still fooling myself on this whole anonymity thing):

We were going to a party. We were supposed to be celebrating Christmas, singing Christmas carols around the piano, eating soup and bread and delicious desserts. We had a parcel of warm bread in the back seat between the children. At the end of a week of work, we were ready to be festive.

Instead, though, of the idyllic scene we'd pictured at the beginning of our journey, we were sitting by the side of the road with steam pouring out from under our hood. Cars and trucks barreled past in both directions, oblivious to our problem. It was already dark.

We'd just have to sit there and let the radiator cool down. We didn't have any water to speed up the process. So we sat.

After a while a man walked by on our right and I greeted him. He inquired about the state of our health. I asked if he had any water. He asked if we were willing to buy some and we said we were. He came back in a few minutes with much less than half a bucket and we paid him about a dollar. My husband poured it into the radiator but it didn't make enough of a difference to set us on our way.

We sat some more.

The children were a little upset; S said that he was sad we were never going to make it to the party. I tried to be cheerful and called it an adventure. We recently read The Silver Chair together, so we talked for a few minutes about Puddleglum's views on the subject - "We'll all end up knifing one another, I shouldn't wonder - that's what happens on adventures." We looked at the sky, completely clear and filled with an infinity of stars, visible in the gaps between the roaring vehicles passing.

"Well, Z," I said, "Every missionary kid has to have some breakdown stories."

She could see that, but remarked that she already had enough of those. We reminisced a little about breakdowns we had known. Some of them had been in this very car. She was right - we had enough of those stories already.

After a while a woman pulled up. She said she saw we had children in the car, and she saw we weren't in our own country. Could she help us? She went and brought us a decent amount of water, and then the two guys with her helped push the car backwards to start it. She refused to accept any payment, even for the water. No, no, no, she had been happy to do it.

We drove away, feeling cheered, and made it to our party without further adventure and without anyone getting knifed.

Everyone needs some stories, but don't we all have enough already? And aren't we tired, as another Christmas comes, of dealing with the same breakdowns we've already gone through again and again? "Everything happens for a reason," people say, and no doubt they're right, but there are days when we just want to know the reason already. Lord, if there's something I'm supposed to be learning here, could we just get it over with so we can go to the party?

I don't know why things are so hard sometimes, but as we sat there on that mountain road and looked at the stars, and as we added yet another breakdown story to our and our children's repertoire, and experienced once again the grace of a Haitian person full of unexpected kindness, I thought about Christmas. It comes every year in the middle of our work and worry, into our unpredictable and often unwanted adventures. It reminds us of how Christ entered our world, entered the mess and repetitiveness of our existence, entered our lives. It reminds us of how He makes our stories have meaning, of how He sends us help in our breakdowns, of whatever variety. He is the Reason for the Season, we say, but more than that, He's the reason for all of it, the reason we keep getting up in the morning and going back to that classroom or that computer or that sick child or whatever we have to face that day.

This year is ending, with its stories, and another one is coming. Many of the stories this year have been sad, but many have been happy, as well. No doubt the same will be true for 2008. We wish you a wonderful new year with plenty of festivity and with the strength you need to meet each day. And all the new stories.

"Things are so hard" sounds like a joke now, and every challenge we have ever faced seems trivial, but I am trying to hold on to what I said here - how Jesus gives our stories meaning. Maybe some day I will see some meaning in all of this.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Questions, by Steven Curtis Chapman

Who are You God
For You are turning out to be
So much different than I imagined

And where are You God
Cause I am finding life to be
So much harder than I had planned

You know that I'm afraid
To ask these questions
But You know they are there

And if You know my heart
The way that I believe You do
You know that I believe in You
Still I have these questions

Like how could You God
How could You be so good and strong
And make a world that can be so painful

And where were You God
I know You had to be right there
I know You never turn Your head

You know that I’m confused
By all this mystery
You know I get afraid
But if You know my heart
As completely as I trust You do
Oh You know that I trust in You

Is it true
that for every tear I cry
You cry a thousand more
Cause You weep for those that weep

And are You just holding yourself back
From crushing all the pain and evil in this world
For reasons we just can't understand for now
But isn’t there a day of redemption coming
Redemption is coming

Quickly Lord, come quickly
Lord, come quickly

So who am I God
That You would raise me from the dust
To breathe Your life and Your love in me
You know that I believe

"Questions," by Steven Curtis Chapman