The earthquake struck out of the blue in the slow, hot hours of the late afternoon. A weird clicking sound was accompanied by eerie puffs of smoke sneaking out of the cracks and crevices of concrete walls. Then, terrible explosions. The ground buckled in waves and concrete slabs began to sail like ships across a tumultuous sea of chaos and noise. Bewilderment! Confusion. Dust and smoke reducing visibility to zero! Screams and cries for help! All the worse for not knowing what was happening nor being able to make sense of it.
Had the quake hit in the early morning hours, millions of Haitians would be dead. By some strange calculus of mercy, she struck the innocent at 4: 06 p.m. As it now stands, Haiti is a disaster. For the last eight months more than 2,000,000 have been homeless. The disposed are living in tent cities and camps jammed into any clear space of land. It's more correct to say that these dwellings are a chaotic warren of corrugated iron and wooden sidings covered with blue camping tarp. Horrible is the only word to describe these conditions. Portable toilets ring the settlements. Brutal heat up to 140 degrees in the tents and torrential rains! My fears-my worst apprehensions -are that these poor people will be living here for years.
Across the street from my small tent, the Episcopal Church has built a woman a small house of wood. The house is the talk of the neighborhood. Tiny by our standards, the dwelling is painted green and sports a shiny tin roof. Good for earthquakes but bad for hurricanes! In Haiti, one is always at risk. The dwelling has two small open cuts to serve as venting windows, and a front door with a lock and key. The woman is a mother, but I discovered she had not yet taken possession of her new little home. She was still living in a hole behind her house. A dirt hole with her six children. I was stunned. I asked her why she had not entered her home. She opened the door so I could see that she had absolutely nothing inside. Not a stick of furniture. I gave the priest $100 to furnish her new place. There are over 2,000,000 such persons. I am reminded of the Baptismal vows we Episcopalians pray as we baptize new Christians: "Will you respect the dignity of every human being?" It takes so very little to make a difference.
Yet the Haitian people survive. Miraculously. Gracefully. There is laughter and grinning. No matter how harsh the conditions and how heavy the burdens, the Haitians greet you with bon swa ... bon jou ... Bondye beni ou. Surely, there comes the promise of God.
At an out-of-doors Eucharistic service one day, alongside the remains of a ruined sanctuary, strains of a beautiful melody began to accompany the setting of the Eucharistic table. Before long, voices joined the melody and offered words. It was then that the song took a shape that beckoned the congregation to rise to their feet. Arms were raised and hands began to clap together. Swaying gave way to dancing. Faces were riveted with purpose. Eyes were closed in ecstasy. The whole assembly moved to the beat of the drums and strings. A tumultuous sound pressed on all who were willing to be participating witnesses. The assembly rocked with power. The song lasted 30 minutes until the congregation began to calm and the melody softened to a whisper.
The words? Avek Jesus, tout van byen. With Jesus, everything is well.