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The television program I work with, Listen Up, was in Haiti last week. They brought back this story. It’s an important reminder that long after Haiti fades from the headlines, the needs there will go on …
It was almost three weeks ago when I submitted this piece to the Holy Post. In the days between submission and publication, the story of the 10 American missionaries – who tried to spirit 33 Haitian children across the border – hit the headlines. Officials charged the missionaries with child abduction and criminal association. A judge has recommended their provisional release while the investigation continues.
Like Jeff Groenewald, I hope those 10 turn out to be as well intentioned as they claim. I hope their motives – even if naive – were entirely honourable. I hope the children involved aren’t scarred by the experience (heaven knows they’ve already had enough to deal with), and that they are returned to their homes and families soon.
I pray that Haiti can become a nation where parents don’t feel the terrible necessity of handing their children over to strangers to ensure their little ones have the chance of a more meaningful future. I pray that the misdeeds – or indeed the crimes – of the 10 don’t in any way hinder the careful, ongoing work of the thousands of others who serve their fellow human beings in Haiti.
And I hope that all who are genuinely, altruistically motivated, take a lesson from this situation: that whether we serve our fellows here in Canada, or in some other land, it’s important to be well-informed and thoughtful in our service, because even good intentions – when not well thought through – can do terrible harm.
… than the desire that our lives should count for something? That just by virtue of our having been on the planet, the world might, somehow, be a slightly better place upon our exit, because we were here for a while?
I admit that wanting to make a positive difference has been a driving force in my own life. And yes, I realize it’s a desire that’s likely rooted in pride, or at least in the self-indulgent kind of thinking that’s only possible because I’ve lived my entire life in the affluent West. For I wonder if the thousands of souls that perished in Haiti recently had the luxury of wondering if their lives were making a difference? Or were they so consumed by the harsh realities of the day-to-day struggle for mere survival, that there simply wasn’t opportunity for such reflection?
Making another comparison, when I contrast my own existence to that of people like these folks (whom my friend Peter writes about) I am acutely aware that so much of my life – and so many of my choices – have been centered around my own needs and desires and those of my immediate family.
And yet, the desire – to make a difference – is there. And I know I’m not alone. I see the same compulsion in many, if not most of the people I meet. And I think that wanting our lives to count could be the root cause of the ambition that leads some to seek fame or fortune, others to build organizations, businesses, buildings or congregations. I think it’s often what motivates people to try to be great parents, raise great kids, sign petitions, volunteer, write books or blogs, or create beauty through art, music or dance. It could even help explain what motivates some people to accumulate vast numbers of “friends” on Facebook; the need to affirm that indeed, our lives do matter.
I’ve had two experiences in recent days that have caused me to reflect on the difference my own life is making: the first was visiting a funeral home to show support for the family of a young man I didn’t know. He was the brother of friends of mine. Only 27 when cancer claimed him, he was a beautiful young man whose death will leave an enormous hole in the lives of those who love him.
I know that because my friends are shattered. And I know it because the night I went to the funeral home, I was only one of about 800 people who were there. It was a cold evening, and the line of visitors was so long, it snaked back and forth, back and forth inside the building, before spilling out the front door, down the walkway, around the corner and down the city block. It took an hour of shivering in the cold, gradually inching forward in the line-up outside before we made it through the doors. It took another hour of solemnly, silently, respectfully inching forward inside following the snaking line, before we – who’d gone to pay our respects – had the opportunity to shake hands, share hugs, and express our sorrow for his family’s monumental loss.
The second experience was something I’d experienced 48 times before. I celebrated another birthday. But before this particular birthday was even hours old, a thought occurred to me: if I were to die this year, it would be said that I’d died in my “50th year.” And somehow – even at the ripe old age of 49, “fifty” sounds so much riper and older.
The thought led me to reflect on the number of years I might have remaining. My father died at 70. If I knew I only had 20 years left to live, what changes would I make? What would I do differently? Am I using my time well? Am I living my life and using each waking hour in such a way that I’m caring for others to the degree that I should? Am I demonstrating gratitude to the One who gives me the gift of being able to awaken with every sunrise, to draw breath each new day?
They’re powerful questions, the kind of questions that can send me searching beyond myself to greater sources of wisdom for answers.
One of my favourite such sources is the Bible. And as I’ve been pondering my own life choices, and the influence they enable me to exercise on my world, I’ve been reminded – through the words of an ancient prophet – of God’s wonderful mercy, compassion and grace. And I’ve been reminded that perhaps the answers aren’t really all that difficult after all.
“He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.”
- Micah 6:8
Am I the only one who found this morning’s paper sadly, pathetically, ironic?
There – on pages A8 and A9 of today’s National Post, right in the midst of full colour coverage of the devastation in Haiti are two ads for TD Waterhouse / TD Canada Trust (one on each page). The two ads combined probably consume 7/8 of one page. The (also full colour) ads depict typical Canadian dreams of the ideal Canadian retirement, on a golf course and at a ski resort. The ad headlines are clever: “When can this be my morning drive?” asks the text positioned beside the image of the golfer mid-swing, while the words above an attractive older couple riding a ski lift ask, “When can this be my full-time job?” The rest of the copy is warmly inviting; “Let’s figure it out,” it beckons.
It’s got to be some layout editor’s sorry idea of a joke. Or more likely, the layout editor was trying to make a point.
For on the same two pages, under the headline “Faces of Despair” are a dozen photographs of the faces of anguished Haitians. The words of a foreign aid worker in Haiti are quoted in bold type: “Money is worth nothing right now, water is the currency.”
The juxtaposition of those ads - enticing readers to prioritize a fantasy retirement – with the harsh reality of what’s going on in the poorest nation in our hemisphere was just too much for me.
Maybe if we in the West – and I’m including myself here – didn’t spend so much of our energies storing up wealth to ensure our own future comfort, there’d be more to go around and Haiti wouldn’t be in the mess it’s in today. This is a country, after all, where countless people endure on less than $2 a day.
And as I wrestle with my own guilt over the relative ease and comfort in which I live, while seeing the images of people whose suffering seems to know no end, I am reminded of some words of Mother Teresa’s that moved me once to the degree that I copied them down. And I wonder if the answer might be as simple as those words seem to imply it is. She said:
“You must live life beautifully and not allow the spirit of the world that makes gods out of power, riches and pleasure make you forget that you have been created for greater things – to love and to be loved!”
Interestingly, U.S. President Barack Obama is also quoted in bold type in the newspaper’s coverage of the tragedy. His words are placed directly above the “golfing” ad.
“To the people of Haiti, we say clearly and with conviction, you will not be forsaken, you will not be forgotten.”
And I find myself wondering – given the realities of their lives and ours – why Haitians should believe that?