Sunday, January 17, 2010

Jesi Renmen Ou, Haiti


Jesi Renmen Ou, Haiti

Three years ago I got hornswaggled into watching the rom-com "Catch and Release". As I recall there is a moment in it where the character of Gray, played by Jennifer Garner, confesses that when she hears about great natural disasters, she wants them to be bigger - that she hears the rising death toll with a likewise rising sense of excitement. 

This jolted me a little as I realized that - gulp - there was a part of me that felt the same way. I liked drama - ate it for breakfast, in fact - and there is nothing more dramatic than death.

When I spin the dial on the radio this morning they are talking about the earthquake in Haiti. Before my mind's eye there flashes an image I saw last night of a bloodied teenage girl, covered in dust and starting straight into the camera with a look of anguish and despair. In an instant I am drawn back to the Haiti I saw when I visited last year, a land of beauty and sorrow commingled in the faces of a people at once joyous and defeated.

As I drive along I start to cry, to "wail, for the world's wrong", tears running down my face for the tragedy of Haiti. I think of the song "Dear God", a beautiful piece addressed as a letter to God from the band "Monsters of Folk". I can do no better than to quote the lyrics here:

Dear God, I'm trying hard to reach you
Dear God, I see your face in all I do
Sometimes it's so hard to believe in
Good God I know you have your reasons

Dear God I see you move the mountains
Dear God I see you moving trees
Sometimes it's nothing to believe in
Sometimes it's everything I see

Well I've been thinking about,
And I've been breaking it down without an answer
I know I'm thinking aloud but if your love's 
Still around why do we suffer?
Why do we suffer?



Dear God, I wish that I could touch you
How strange sometimes I feel I almost do
And then I'm back behind the glass again
Oh God what keeps you out it keeps me in

Well I've been thinking about,
And I've been breaking down without an answer
I know I'm thinking aloud but if your love's 
Still around why do we suffer?
Why do we suffer? 


Why? Why do we suffer? And how can I simultaneously experience a despicable twinge of pleasure at tragedy and a more defensible, unutterable sorrow?

Pleasure and pain. Love and hate. Sacrifice and greed. Grace and bitterness. Orgasm and despair. The mystery of the co-existence of these paradoxes overwhelms me and I wonder what, if anything, it can all mean. In the chatter before classes and at lunch, some of my students and colleagues try to tidily answer this mystery. "The first thing I thought when I got up this morning", one of them says, "is that God has brought down their government for their evil voodoo practices." Another suggests that sometimes people have to be broken down before they can look up. I want to throttle them for these violations, yes, but mostly I am just saddened by the desperate paths we stumble as we try to make the nonsensical fit within the scope of our puny reason.

One of my more honest students walks into my crowded room at lunch and announces loudly to a group of his fellow Christian High School students, "Well, what if Jesus doesn't love us?"

As he continues to loudly insist that they face his question, I realize that I don't have an answer for him... or at least not an easy one. It must be faced, however, for if I am to be honestly human in the face of such unspeakable suffering (even if I am going to make the choice of love, to mourn with the sufferers and do what I may to ease their pain) I must pause, at least once, to shake my fist at the sky.

I believe, I do. But it is hard, and oftentimes it feels that I am clinging desperately to one end of a rope that stretches off into an infinity I cannot comprehend. The rope holds taught, though, and it seems as though I am just going to have to accept that I do not know why.

The title of this post, "Jesi Renmen Ou, Haiti" is Haitian Creole. I included those words in a mural we painted on the outside wall of a new residential building at an orphanage I visited last year with a group of students from this school. It means, "Jesus Loves You, Haiti." We had the orphans put their hands in paint and leave bright, multi-colored prints all over those words. The orphanage is in Les Cayes, on the the far side of the country from Port-au-Prince. It is likely that it still stands, its mural intact. It is likely that it still declares the love of Jesus to the poorest of the poor, who have just taken another kick in the teeth. These children are some of the most beautiful people I have ever met, their faces shining with love. When I met them, I thought they were Jesus.

Dear God.

Why do we suffer? Why do you suffer?

I believe. I want to believe. Help me believe.

Dear God.

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