Today, 7 years ago, parts of Haiti fell. Certain parts of Port-Au-Prince completely crumbled. Cities far from the epi-center felt the aftershocks and cried out. People ran into the streets and searched for their loved ones. 7 years ago, Haiti encountered this horrific and defining moment in its history.
I wasn't there 7 years ago. Even if I had been there, I am sure my story would be different than many of my friends who were in the middle of the chaos and confusion those years ago. A few months ago, I sat around our lime green table and listened to our friends recount their own stories. Those stories are theirs and I would not cheapen them by telling them from my point of view. There is nothing I could say that could explain that kind of trauma that must have ensued in the minds and hearts of my friends. All I can do is look at them and learn.
Today, as I was texting with one of my friends in Haiti, he wrote that I had "anpil kouraj"- a lot of courage- because of the things going on in my life. What an ironic thing to hear as an American from a Haitian today! Yet, I begrudgingly accepted the encouragement. I know it's a little true. Being back in the US for 6 months has made me see the type of impact Haiti has had on my life. And, it has done nothing if it has not made me a braver, more warrior-esque version of myself. They are all walking displays of what it means to have this kouraj- through endurance and faith.
Sometimes when things happen outside of our bubble, we convince ourselves that it is not effecting the folks we see on the television in the same way it would effect us. If it did, we would be driven crazy with empathy. One of the first lessons I learned in Haiti was that these people were just like me- they had dreams for their babies; they had ideas and creative juices flowing throughout their systems; they had family dramas and issues; they wanted to get married or have kids or build a house. They felt the same as me. This was a breaking point for me: I could either go home and just ignore it (which was very tempting) or I could lean in and see what I could learn. Somehow, I ended up mostly leaning in and learning.
The people of Haiti, those whom I have encountered, are storytellers. They value these deep, visceral meanings of things and are not afraid of where this pain might take them. They know that no amount of pain will keep them from journeying forward. They have a saying "Kembe fem, pa lage"- which is infused in everything from worship songs to rap songs to talking points. The president even said it the day after the earthquake. It means "stand strong, don't let go." Because this philosophy is so deeply ingrained into the psyche of the minds of those Haitians I know, they are not afraid. They know they can hold tight-to their faith, their families, their loved ones- and they know that they will make it through.
I have not always learned to embrace pain. Growing up in the USA, we spend a lot of time focused on efficiency. You cannot accomplish much in your sadness, it would seem. Instead of meeting our feelings head on, we learn how to push them down and say we are "fine." Instead of dealing with the trials before us and learning to lean on one another and God, we say that "at least we aren't...." and focus on moving forward. We hide our sadness in drinks of alcohol and late night cry sessions in our rooms by ourselves. Don't disturb anyone with our pain, we tell ourselves. What we do, though, is end up missing out on what our pain can teach us. We end up missing out on these deep lessons we can learn. We miss out on meaningful relationships that help us through these seasons. When we deny our pain, we deny our story.
This is one of the biggest lessons I have learned from my friends in Haiti. Pain is not something to sulk in, but it is not something to run from, either. It is not something that we must be afraid of, but we have to lend ourselves to the process in order to come out of the other side. We have to dive into our feelings of sadness to reach the other depths of our faith and relationships. Embracing pain means developing more of that kouraj- that willingness to fight and endure. We keep moving forward, through the pain and through the sadness, to reach the other side.
I am so thankful for the ways my friends in Haiti have shared their pain with me. It has taught me that there are seasons for everything. There are seasons to mourn and to laugh. Seasons to dance and seasons to cry. Sometimes those seasons overlap and sometimes they don't. But, we don't gain anything by denying a season or feeling. We don't learn how to kembe fem- or endure- by merely shoving things down and not sharing with others. We grow through our pain. We endure through our sadness. We rely on one another and keep going.
N'ap kembe fem. Nou pap jam bliye. January 12, 2010- a day where they had to gather anpil kouraj and keep moving forward.