Press for Port-au-Prince: Where Were You?

January 12, 2011 § 8 Comments

On January 12th, 2010, I taught my first day of class for the Spring semester. I was fully immersed in myself: my excitement, my anxiety, my nerves, my students, my course materials, my upcoming semester. I don’t remember much about that day except that it was a typical first day of class.

Until 3:53 p.m., Central Time. I heard about the earthquake around dinnertime on January 12th, probably about two hours after the fact. I had logged on to Facebook, and all of my in-the-know friends (the ones who religiously read newspapers and news websites) were posting absolutely stunned statuses. Things like, “Praying for Haiti” and “Earthquake in Haiti has leveled Port-au-Prince. What can we do??” sprang up all over my News Feed for the rest of the week. I wondered about my students–did I have any Haitians in class? Were there any students from my university there, studying or working in an international program? So I started digging.

I read horrific tales of people trapped in elevators for hours upon hours. I read stories of American students and professors who immediately went missing, some of whom made it back…others whose bodies were not recovered for weeks. Although it was anything but imaginary, I found it nearly impossible to imagine the devastation and need.

I discovered that my church participated in a sister program where they happened to be paired with a church in Cabaret, Haiti. In fact, Pere Guy, the parish priest, had visited our church around Christmas and I heard him say Mass at least once. For the coming weeks, I was glued to my church’s website devoted to news of the earthquake in Haiti–I grieved for the parishioners, archbishop, and priests lost even though I did not know them; I sought to help but was rejected early on because there was no infrastructure in place yet. All I could do was offer my prayers.

It didn’t feel like enough then. It doesn’t feel like enough now. But it’s what Kathryn McCullough says they need the most now; she and her partner have moved their lives to Haiti, hoping to offer some assistance at least, even a year later. And still, we’re asked just to remember the Haitians and pray for them. The infrastructure to send aid is still tricky and difficult to surmount.

But what good can the intangibles of recollection and prayer really do? Immediately following the earthquake, I, like so many of us privileged Americans, felt stuck and cynical–what good would praying do? People don’t live off of prayer. People can’t eat from prayer. People can’t be protected from rain, aftershocks, cholera from prayer.

And then I realized: it’s not the emptiness of holding a thought internally that offers some assistance. If we are calling to mind the loss and need in Haiti, then we should ask others to do the same. There’s something in us as human beings that bolsters the spirits when we know that we are not suffering alone. That someone else acknowledges our pain and despair. Recollection and prayer connect us across borders, across red tape, across oceans. It helps us to stay attuned to a specific situation–maybe if we’re still thinking about others’ needs, then we will subconsciously still seek out ways in which we can offer tangible assistance.

I hope you will take some time today to remember.

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