Sunday, October 19, 2014


When I got home yesterday, the first thing my neighbor said was, "Someone at church died."

The"someone" was Nordy, a young man with fantastic dreadlocks who runs the sound system for our church. Nordy was shy but we all loved when he would ask for a microphone and break out into his own spontaneous worship songs. Now he's dead, from a car accident, they say.

I came upstairs and opened a document titled "Death" that I'd written in June and decided not to post. It reads as follows:

When I lived in the US, hearing about someone dying was a rare occurrence. My grandmother passed away when I was 8. After that, it was 5 years until death touched me again when the supervisor at my volunteer position died without telling anyone he was sick.  
Perhaps it’s because my years in the US were as a child, a teen and a college student. Perhaps I was too wrapped up in my own world to hear when a neighbor or a classmate lost someone. Perhaps I didn’t notice because we don’t grieve openly or wear mourning clothes in the US like many other countries do.
Whatever the reason, I have been stunned again and again at how common death is in Haiti. In the past 2 weeks, a lot of people have died. Our nurse Wisline’s nephew died. Our nursing assistant, Samuela, lost her 37 year-old sister. Aussidieu, a neighbor in Jubilee, lost his 3 year-old nephew. An elderly patient in our blood pressure program passed away. My next-door neighbor lost her 27 year-old nephew after spending 2 months at the hospital with him. And JB, our other nursing assistant, found 3 unknown babies dead, half burned in the trash.  
All that in 2 weeks.
As I sit on my porch, writing this blog post, I can hear, very clearly, a woman mourning on my block. I don’t know who she is or who died, but I know Haitian custom enough to know that what I’m hearing right now is the first grief, the initial response to the news that a loved one has passed. Add this death to the count.
So much death makes me melancholy. But it also makes me value life more than I ever have. In this place where death is so real and so close, I find myself frequently whispering a prayer, "Thank You, Father, that I am alive."
I want it to change, of course. I fairly rage inside at the news of someone dying from an easily preventable disease. But I keep remembering the lesson I learned after the earthquake, that death is not the worst thing that can happen and that it does not in any way mean that God wasn't with us, and I wonder if perhaps the Haiti way isn't the more natural way to live. Maybe we should all live with death only a breath away. Maybe we should all live with our eyes a little wider open, seeing the preciousness of each day. Maybe death is actually a gift buried deep in grief.
Only He knows. So I sit on the porch, listen to my neighbor wail, and trust that He knows.

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