Today, somehow, is the 7 year anniversary of "The Great Earthquake", the loss of some 200,000 people in one day. As the girls and I talked about it over morning devotions, Lily said, "Mom, why do you want us to remember something sad? I don't want to remember anything sad, just the good things!" I myself often get in that same mindset, but as we remember the sad, we also remembered His hand...and that is why it's important. As the staff and students worshiped and prayed and remembered this morning, it is impossible to testify the devastation without also testifying all the miracles, it is impossible to remember all the heart-break without also remembering His faithfulness, it is impossible to love our brothers and sisters, and not remember the millions who lost ones they dearly loved, today.
I wrote this post on the one year anniversary, and thought it was worth sharing today...
"So, were you there when there was that big...storm?"
For a full year now, everyone from waitresses to doctors have asked us about the storm, hurricane, monsoon, flood or earthquake that shook Haiti.
It's hard to believe that that was a year ago. We were in our weekly missionary meeting about 25 minutes from home, and Lily was out playing with Gertha. We were all singing, and at first it seemed that maybe everyone was just bouncing a bit with the song. But then at the same time everyone grasped at their chairs, looking around to see who was shaking them. Finally, I realized that it was the earth, not my chair, that was moving, and after a few more moments, all was still, and nervous laughter filled the room. I ran to check on Lily, who didn't know anything had even happened, and all was calm.
There are very few constants throughout life. Until January 12th, 2010, my list was the Lord, breathable air, and the fact that the earth stays where it is. You can imagine flooding because you know what rain is like. You can imagine an avalanche because you have experienced snow, can imagine drought because you've felt the sun, you can imagine a tornado because you know something by now about wind.
But an earthquake? You never, just never, expect the earth under your feet to start moving. And you can't run indoors for shelter, or flee an earthquake, bundle up, or avoid the storm. When the earth is moving, you have no power, no choices, no shelter.
Phone lines and internet connections immediately went down, and YOU knew that those 30 seconds changed Haiti forever long before Matt and I did. It never occurred to us that what was nervous laughter in Cap-Haitian was the nightmare of all time less than 100 miles from here in Port-au-Prince.
And of course, it wasn't until I headed south a few days later that what I was hearing from the States about what was happening in Port-au-Prince became real.
Most schools and businesses are closed today to give everyone a chance...not to worry or talk about what hasn't been done and should have been, but just to remember the many who lost their lives.
This is how I was hit by the loss a year ago, that we might remember.
In an effort to 'prepare' myself for this trip to Port, I had tried to imagine the worst possible things in advance. I had not even thought about the fear. But I had thought about the death. I've shared with you before my experiences with death in Haiti and how they have impacted me. So I tried to prepare for that times, well, 200 THOUSAND.
(Several hundred people are still buried under what used to be a university.)
I don't know how you do that.
I received a grace that most of the millions of men, women and children in Port didn't. The Red Cross and other organizations had obvoiusly worked overtime to clear most of the dead bodies from the streets and ditches, and I breathed a small sigh of relief as Wadner and I continued our trek through the city.
As we walked, we became aligned with a large open ditch of sewage and garbage and water to our right. This is quite normal in most parts of Haiti, as it is to see people taking water from this source. First we passed this serious little guy, shoving garbage away with his hand to fill his jugs with water, probably his chore for the family.
Further upstream, I saw this man filling a five gallon Culligan bottle from the same "stream", using his cup to filter out most of the sludge and debris. It troubled my heart, as it always does, to see this, and I never can help but think of the SIX sources of pure endless water in my home alone, not counting spigots outside.
But then we walked further through town, further up the stream of sewage, which turned into this...
...which then turned into the most horrific thing I have ever seen. The floating bottles and bags and sticks began to take shape, began to take the shape of people.
I stopped breathing and looked up, only to realize that the canal was spotted with the forms of men and women. Small forms...children. Outstretched arms tangled with limp papers and clumps of bamboo. Feet poked out from beneath cookie foils and scraps of clothing. Unable to look and unable to turn away, I felt my heart just pounding within me, and Wadner, noticing my ashen face, tried to help by pointing out, "Stacey, those are people DEAD."
Thank you, dear Wadner.
And then we just kept walking.
I took one photo, and we kept walking. Walking with thousands of people slipping around us, buses roaring by. My mind was racing, my mind is racing still, but I didn't know what to do. I couldn't cry, I couldn't stay, I couldn't breathe. We just kept walking, and I thought about the vibrant life around me, ALL of whom had seen things far more horrific than this for days on end. I thought about the stern little boy filling his jugs. From that water. Thought of the little girls washing clothes and themselves at the same time, standing in that stream.
I thought about the mothers who had rocked those dead bodies as children. The families who knew who those unrecognizable bodies were. The men who had promised to love and cherish those women, floating with styrofoam trays and coke bottles. I thought of my sister, of my father, of those sisters, of those fathers.
I thought of our Jesus, who died for them, and thought of their Spirits (oh, please Lord, might they have known you, might they be with you) and dreamt as we worked our way through the market day crowd of them joyful and whole and radiant and singing strong praises before His throne.
I began to cry, but there was no time. "Soccer!" Wadner said, and we ducked off the street into a huge fenced off area.
I don't want to see soccer, I thought sourly, realizing we had entered Port's soccer stadium. My tears and thoughts of His people in the canal quickly faded, however as we entered the playing field only to face hundreds of tents and thousands of people...another 'village' had emerged. A tiny naked-butt girl about Lily's age was before me, trying with all her might to step over a little ditch without falling, hesitating just in the exact same fashion that Lily does before stepping down and out our front door.
Habitually, I grabbed her little hand and she used my support to step confidently over the small ravine. Her mother sat a few feet away, scrubbing clothes against each other, and our eyes met and she smiled a genuine thanks. A connection was made. I could be her. Her daughter could be Lily. I could live in a soccer stadium in a sheet.
This father pulled his one month old daughter and three year old son out of their home as it was collapsing around them.
Their mother, his girlfriend, was crushed behind them.
Life moved on, and for about an hour we cut our way through the maze of sheet homes, talking with people, playing with children, asking families for their stories. Every single person we spoke to had lost family members, dear friends. Every one. Emotionally and physically exhausted, we climbed the seats on one side so I could take this picture, and then sat for a while so I could rest.
Wadner shared with me a happier day he had spent in this same stadium, playing a soccer match whenever he was fifteen, and he met the president. We talked about the day and I smiled as he recounted each detail of what must have been bliss in the mind of a 15 year-old boy.
"Two thousand people can sit here at one time!" he told me energetically, and the release was gone...I started thinking numbers again. I looked around at each happy colored seat...cheerful yellow and vivacious red...too happy. I placed a person in each chair, filling the stadium. I made them dead, in my mind. Two thousand. All dead. Then I tried to do that ONE HUNDRED times. Tears well up in my eyes again as I thought, unable to turn off my mind.
If I could have, in that moment, KNOWN that these people were with my Jesus, standing alongside my mum, and Ben, and Lucy and so many others, praising His name with joyful hands held high, I could have stood up right then with a huge smile on my face and released an exuberant "Hallelujah!"
But I could not.
Does heaven feel the loss, I wonder, of those that might have been there? Does He? Does our Lord feel the loss of every single one of His children who never choose Him...for all eternity?
What I couldn't SEE that day was the loss. There were still millions of people milling about. The roads were still packed with traffic, the streets still crowded. All I could see was who remained. I don't know ONE PERSON who died in those 200,000. But millions of people DO. And so does He.
Already, Port is moving on, cleaning up, rebuilding. But the loss of each mother, each brother, each child, is a PART of the Haitian people now. The loss of 100 soccer stadiums of people in one day will forever be a part of Haiti.
A four story building near the CSI guesthouse. The Palace of Justice was ENTIRELY destroyed, with dozens of judges and lawyers still buried. This house was literally split in half, with the bathtub and shower exposed.
I know I promised you "beautiful things." They are coming! This entry describes the lowest point, but He didn't leave me, or Haiti, there...hang in there with us.