Sunday, January 16, 2011

My Anniversary Day (or, "I didn't even get to cry")

What I wanted and planned to do on the 12th was cry. I wanted to cry until I couldn't cry anymore, to remember what happened the night of and weeks following the earthquake and then release all of the grief and frustration of the past year. But despite the nice words that I wrote and posted here on the morning of the 12th, my day was more hectic than it was reflective or mournful.

To begin with, Ben was on a 3-day-long assignment and our house was full of journalists so there was no meaningful time to process the year with my partner. Or maybe to really begin with, the 12th marked our third day in a row with no electricity or water.

Of all of the events planned to commemorate the day, none seemed just right to me. Friends and some of our partner organizations were involved in planning a demonstration march for the morning and a debate in the afternoon, but I didn't want to protest (I do enough protesting everyday) or attend a debate. And, I still have a sprained ankle. I found out that a mass was being held first thing in the morning at the National Cathedral, damaged in the quake, but I missed a ride and didn't want to go alone. I also didn't relish the thought of sharing my time of remembrance with Bill Clinton, who was supposed to be attending the service.

I went to the office, hoping to connect with some of the people that we spent those initial days after the quake with. Instead, I got sucked into a 2-hour strategic planning meeting with our visiting leadership delegation and other MCC Haiti staff. After that, we drove down to Champs Mars for a commemoration event that our protestant church partners had been involved in planning. We didn't stay long. While Ben was there, an American pastor was preaching in English, denouncing vodou and then giving an altar call. While I was there Haitians were preaching, but mostly the hellfire and brimstone kind of stuff that I have very little tolerance for. This was definitely not going to facilitate the emotional release I was looking for (though, a rendition of "We are the World" on the radio on the way there came pretty close). Back at the office, I had to respond to some work-related emails, then there was lunch.

Ben called to say that I should come down to Sacre Coeur, that there was a nice mass being held there. Instead, I thought I would go up to Petionville and attend the 4:55 mass at Cathedrale St. Pierre. We live in Petionville and most of my most vivid memories of that night are there. I also wanted to be doing something meaningful at the exact time that the earthquake took place. I arranged to meet up with E & C. They lived with us for a few weeks after the earthquake and have felt something like family to us ever since.

In the meantime I went home. I tried to think of something reflective and meditative to do, but my messy house distracted me and I ended up cleaning instead. When E, C & I got to the cathedral, it was locked up. I'm not sure where we were for the 35 seconds that followed 4:55 PM (and during which all of the bells in the city were supposed to ring, but didn't). The clock on the cathedral had a different time from my cell phone, which was different from the car. Where we too early? Too late? A woman was being interviewed in English behind us. A few others were waiting around outside of the gate, but no-one knew why the mass had been canceled.

Finally, we decided to just go get a beer. People were dancing in the street in front of Muncheez to worship music blasting from speakers. We couldn't hear each other. My ankle was throbbing. Ben sent a text to say he had a flat tire. I went to the bathroom to try to hear him on the phone but couldn't get through. When I came out, it was just getting dark and a long procession was making its way down the street. Each member of the procession held a candle and wore a white t-shirt with the names of the people they lost to the earthquake written on the back. Vendors appeared selling candles and the crowd swelled as more and more people joined in. For the next hour, we held our own candles and sang and prayed with hundreds of others. Mostly, it felt celebratory. At one point someone called out, "Who is thankful to be alive today?" and everyone lifted their candles into the air. Then the procession moved on down the street, the speakers pumped up again and we went back to Muncheez for french fries and pizza.

I think that no matter what had happened, it would have been impossible to do justice to such a momentous day. The fact that nothing went the way I wanted it to, that the day was mostly frustrating and that yet at the end I was still able to participate in something meaningful and beautiful is so reflective of what living in Haiti is like. Perhaps it was a more appropriate way to commemorate the 12th than the day I envisioned.

When I finally got home, the electricity was on and I was able to pump water. Finally I felt what I'd been looking for all day - relief. In the end, maybe all I needed was to take a real shower, drink a cup of tea and read a book with the lights on. Because life goes on, after all, and our life experiences build on themselves. I never got my chance to cry, but I did realize that as much as I often want to, I can't erase this past year without changing an important part of who I've become. And I certainly can't erase what grieves me and saddens me about this place, but I can try to focus on the things that give me hope.

4 comments:

Rebecca said...

Thanks A. M konprann. Those first years after my World AIDS Day accident in Southern Africa I really struggled to find the "right" way to remember/honor that experience. Now I just live that day as it comes because as you say, we have been changed and our way of living every day reflects that. Much love.

nerkert said...

Wonderful post, Sweetie. We can cry together soon: I'm glad that you got the cup of tea and restful evening on the 12th.

Art Bliese said...

Thanks for keeping the posts coming - interesting and an avenue for prayer time.

caleb said...

great post, I appreciate the reality of it. thinking of you guys.

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