Always the second day is unexpectedly harder than the first. So is the third day. The simple relief at finding oneself still alive quickly turns to fear -- what if no one finds me? What about this leg that I cannot free, that I cannot even feel? Where is my mother? Why doesn't my son answer his phone? Caked with dust, lovely smooth dark skin coated a horrid whitish grey, the blouse put on fresh this morning hanging in ribbons, all modesty scattered to the winds. Mouths tasting of blood. What if there is no water? What if there never is?
What if I die here?
Always, the worker moves quickly through the sea of wounded, his mouths a straight line of determination. He does not allow himself the luxury of despair. The slightly wounded can wait. The gravely wounded but treatable come first. The mortally wounded must find their healing in the next world -- there is no time and no medicine to ease their passing. Somehow the worker has learned to hold the knowledge that the dying will not be trapped forever in their final agony. They pass through it. In death, it is left behind. Comfort for those who remain, this thought? Not right away. But it is true.
New York is clear but cold. The people rush to work, as always. You do not go to work, though, because your sister is in Port Au Prince and you have not heard anything about her yet. You go instead to your radio station's studio in Queens. It is packed with Haitians, and the liquid syllables of the Creole everyone is speaking surrounds you like a soft quilt. A woman begins to sing a hymn, and several others join in. You start to cry.
Haiti is the poorest country in our hemisphere. It is close enough to American shores that hundreds of ramshackle little boats filled with economic refugees arrive in Miami every year. Life is so hard in Haiti that this hazardous voyage seems a reasonable alternative to staying put. The earthquake that has savaged its capital city, a tragedy that may claim as many lives as the Indian Ocean tsunami five years ago, has happened on our very doorstep.
Haiti is also the newest diocese in the Episcopal Church -- the newest and the largest. Our cathedral, the bishop's residence, the convent of the Sisters of St Margaret, our residential school for the handicapped, at least one other school and several church buildings were all destroyed by the earthquake. The sisters themselves all survived. Four people died during a worship service in one of the churches, with many others there injured. The church in Haiti is not wealthy but it is spiritually strong, and deeply engaged in the healing for which there was already such a great need in that country. Though new as a diocese, the mission of the church there is very old, and many dioceses throughout the American church have relationships of long standing with Haiti. This close family tie is a godsend in this terrible moment, as it makes it easier for us all to help.
Please make a donation to Episcopal Relief and Development online if you possibly can, at www.er-d,org, or telephone 1-800-334-7626 ext 5219.
LOCATING FAMILY MEMBERS:
The State Department Operations Center has set up the following number for Americans seeking information about family members in Haiti: 1-888-407-4747
The Sisters of St. Margaret are updating their information frequently. Visit them at http://www.ssmbos.com/Pages/Haiti.html. So is the ER&D, at www.er-d,org.