It's Memorial Day, and coincidentally I'm taking the last of my anti-malaria pills, which marks a certain kind of ending to my Haiti adventure last week. Anti-malaria medication, as I understand it, is offered in two types: the kind you take daily, beginning two days before your trip and ending seven days after; and the kind you take weekly, which stretches into a couple months after the end of your trip. I'm not good at remembering stuff, so I opted for the former. It just so happens that my capitulation to my flawed memory culminates on Memorial Day. I like that sort of thing.
In any case, I know that Memorial Day is supposed to be about remembering the troops and praying for an end to war, but I find myself reflecting on my time in Haiti. In some ways this trip was characterized by caution and precaution. I was slow to commit to going; I didn't really decide until my friend Kent Annan, whose book Following Jesus Through the Eye of the Needle provided the impetus for this trip, told me he had to order the plane tickets. I was nervous about joining a trip in which I knew only two people, and only one person well. I was nervous about traveling to a country where I would likely be overwhelmed by the devastation of one of the worst natural disasters in recorded history--Haiti's January 12 earthquake. I was anxious about the possibility of aftershocks and the plausibility of getting stuck in Haiti longer than I expected. I was concerned about my very limited French and my nonexistent Creole. I was worried about taking bucket baths in front of people--including a couple of authors (Kent and my new friend Jamie Arpin-Ricci) whom I'm always concerned with trying to impress.
So yeah, I was a little nervous. And whatever anxieties I failed to generate on my own were in ample supply when I started to follow the protocols of international travel. My passport expired in July 2010, but someone told me they don't allow you to travel on it when it's within six months of expiration. So I had to get a new passport, which the evening news has told me can take as much as four months to process. Then there's the Centers for Disease Control, with a loooong list of truly awful things that could happen to me by venturing beyond Suburbia, U.S.A. And in addition to the aforementioned anti-malaria medication, I had to get shots for tetanus and two kinds of hepatitis. They refer to them as "Hep A" and "Hep B" to make them sound less ominous, but trust me, they're not fooling anybody.
And then I went to Haiti, and now I'm back. I've blogged about the trip elsewhere, but the long and short of it is this: Haiti doesn't have much patience for people like me--the chronically anxious, the pre-emptively sedentary. There's simply too much to be done.
The January 12 earthquake is only the most recent challenge Haiti has been faced with, and while there's plenty of mourning being done there (we witnessed the removal of seven dead bodies from a building we visited; the loss of life is still a present concern), and plenty of people who are navigating unprecedented hardship (some two million people living in tent cities or on the streets), the people of Haiti who we met have set their eyes not on the past but on the future. We were chastened by Andre, religious director of a leveled church and principal of two decimated schools: "Discouragement is not Christian." We were inspired by Enel, who survived the collapse of the building he was in and who has returned to tireless work in education: "We have hope in front of us." Memory is only part of the equation for the people of Haiti; memory plus hope equals a profound resilience and a singular resoluteness, two qualities that I can learn from and aspire to.
I worry on this Memorial Day that my memory of Haiti will not last beyond my final anti-malaria pill--that I'll find myself distracted by everyday suburban challenges and concerns, and I'll lose sight of the lessons and lose track of my responsibilities to the more vulnerable of my brothers and sisters in the world. Thankfully I'm protected, to some extent, from this failure of memory by the precautions I took to begin with: "Hep A" and "Hep B" boosters require multiple injections, so later this summer and then again this fall I'll head back to the doctor to be reminded of my trip. And with any luck, as I rub my sore arms where the needle enters my muscle, I'll be reminded that discouragement is not Christian; that while I have breath I have work from God to do. I'll be reminded that we have hope in front of us, and that hope is manifested in the relationships we find ourselves surrounded with. With any luck I'll act on those reminders--to pray for the people of Haiti, to seek out and act on opportunities to aid in their rebuilding efforts, to champion a more resilient and resolute world, where our relationships trump our national borders, and our hope overwhelms our discouragement--and justice orders our steps.
Thanks to all who helped me get to Haiti, and who prayed for me and over me while I traveled. I'd ask you to transfer that blessed concern now to the people of Haiti, who are accustomed to hardship but are doggedly hopeful. They're good friends to have, believe me.