Emmanuel, born in Haiti the day after quake in which father died. He did not survive/Photo, “Missionary Ed”
Stricken with some sort of bug, over here, and it has me under the weather and working at half-speed. But while I try to pull myself together, here is one of the best versions of this haunting call I have ever heard:
Video via Matt Labash, who is looking at this Christmas with a perspective permanently changed thanks to his post-earthquake trip to Haiti, his encounter there with the remarkable Fr. Rich Frenchette and an impoverished and hopeful translator named Ridore.
Labash’s piece on Frechette and the horrific day-to-day realities of life in Haiti was one of the best pieces of writing of the year. Here we are at year’s end, worrying about our 401K’s while within our hemisphere the people of Haiti look upon a dish of rice and beans and a corrugated tin roof as blessings not to be lightly dismissed.
Rice and Beans by the hundreds of platesful, by Ed
Labash, revisiting Haiti via an email from the translator Ridore–who is without work now without work–writes:
I hadn’t heard from Ridore since I left eleven months ago, and had indeed forgotten that I’d ever given him my contact information in the first place. But an e-mail arrived from him the other day, with the subject line “Hi Mr. Matt,” reminding me of who he was and inquiring about my well-being. I greeted him warmly, asking how he was doing. He wrote back:
“As the same when you left Haiti, still living in the street, without anything, and I lead a difficult moment in my life, so I have not any hope. How is your Christmas?”
When I probed further, he told me his translating work at the hospital dried up after all the foreigners left. Now, he said, “I just stay in the street without nothing to do.” Just as when he worked with me in person, he asked for nothing . . . What do you give to someone who lives in a hellhole at the end of the earth, and who is fresh out of hope, the only meager commodity he ever possessed?
A little rusty on the scriptures that I was forced to memorize during Vacation Bible School as a child, I feebly tried to cobble some together that might bring him a little. I relayed the story of Daniel, another translator, who fearful that he would be executed for being unable to translate King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, cried out to God for mercy. God revealed what the king’s dream meant, leaving Daniel to praise God, saying, “He changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others. He gives wisdom to the wise, and knowledge to the discerning. He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him.”
I gave it a go, fumbling as awkwardly as I did during those afternoons in the wards filled with child amputees, and hit ’send.’ A few days later, Ridore responded with this:
“Thank you a lot Mr. Matt for those passages in the bible and sincerely they comfort me so much and I always read them. I’m sure God will open a door and show me what to do and I will not lose hope because I trust God and he is my shepherd. May peace the lord be with you and God bless and protect you. Ridore.”
Ridore will not now, nor maybe ever, have a Christmas that resembles ours. There will be no Beltway Bamboo fly rods or Christmas Dewars or even a Renuzit Winter Berry air freshener. But I suspect he already possesses something most of us never will – the capacity to write a letter like that, under the circumstances in which he finds himself.
You ask what I want for Christmas? It’s to send a few prayers up for Ridore. And though the Haitian postal system is shoddy to nonexistent, if you feel moved to send him anything else, write in to email@example.com, and I’ll try to find a secure way to get it to him.
Doing Laundry, Salvaging Dignity, Photo by Missionary Ed
Ed’s communique’s and other coverage only seemed to emphasize for many the helplessness we feel when we want to “do something, send something; food, money, toys” only to learn that “sending” things is useless because the intended recipients will “never see it.” The only way to help Haiti is to do it in person, as Team Rubicon effectively did in the short term after the quake, through donations to reputable agencies, and with prayer.
Writing “the only way to help Haiti is to do it in person” struck me; that’s how God did it. Emmanu-el. God-With-Us. God did not “send” anything, but himself, and perhaps in the end our whole selves, present, is all we can ever give anyone, and at our culminations God may ask us where we were:
I can’t imagine that on the Day of Judgment I’ll hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant—you have faithfully fought to keep the Ten Commandments in the courthouse.” It’s more likely we’ll all be asked why we didn’t spend more time concerned about our neighbors in Darfur or fighting the global AIDS pandemic. Perhaps we should rethink our priorities and put first things first.
I wrote this while my brother S was leaving us:
It’s what we’re called to, not merely as Christians, but as human beings. To be willing to ENTER INTO the pain, or the fear, or the tumult and whirlwind of another person’s life and say, “ssssshhhh, it’s alright, I’ll keep you company for a little while…” It is humanity at its finest.
And while it is, as I say, neither the exclusive calling or the exclusive virtue of the Christian (in fact in too many Christians it is all-too-lacking), I cannot help – in these final days of Advent – to think about what God did, in a lonely cave on the outskirts of Bethlehem, when He condescended to enter into the pain and fear, the tumult and whirlwind of the world…when he “set his tent among us,” not merely “dwelling” among us as lofty king, but literally “with” us, with hunger, the capacity for injury and doubt…
God entered in, not with a cacophany of noise and a display of raw power, but as the humblest and most dependent of creatures: a baby, lying in a manger, a place for the feeding of animals. He, who became Food for the World, entered with silence, as though he had put his finger to the quivering mouth of a troubled, sobbing world and said…”ssshhhh…it is alright, I’ll keep you company…”
It’s a lesson I need to keep relearning.
For Vespers, tonight, the O Antiphon is O Rex Gentium:
O King of all the nations, the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of man, come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust…
“Happy faces this morning,” says Ed
Like O Come, O Come Emmanuel, like these beautiful children in Haiti, the antiphon haunts.