The Eternal Patience of the Haitian People

I never cease to be amazed that after 27 years of working in Haiti it has never, ever seemed to me to get better. Although if one is paying attention there are little mustard sized seeds, spreading signs of hope that are so widely dispersed, they are often missed. For example, the eternal patience of the Haitian people. This includes each of our 119 children who have come to live with us over the years. Each of them waited to be found by someone, anyone, after being left to die by someone they knew. They are deeply emersed in their culture and are “Haitian patient” to the marrow of their bones.

For those of you who have visited Haiti either with me or without me, may I ask you; Have you ever seen a Haitian in a hurry? During my visit to Haitichildren Village last week, as usual, I became very frustrated by how slowly everything happens in Haiti. The government, the traffic, the people, even the water seem to move so slow that I think I may be deceased by the time our children walk from the church to school every morning. And it’s only a hundred yards! On any given day you might hear me clapping my hands and saying something like “For Pete’s bloody sake! You kids are walking like dead lice are “fallin’ off ya!”

And I might be pacified by the kids picking up the pace the tiniest bit while looking over their shoulder at me like I am heard and perhaps nuts.

Last Friday I took a pause and decided to hit my “reset” button. I literally almost missed it. But after a very unusual encounter with one of our kids, I sat down and had a thought I won’t forget. “You have to be somewhere!” Why would I want to be anywhere but smack dab in the present where I belong.

I have a very good memory, usually. I know all 119 of our children’s names and many of the approximately 600 children who come to our schools. So, I was surprised when one of our little eight-year-old boys stopped me in my tracks and with his hand firmly planted upon his heart he announced, “I am Marcelon!”  For a brief moment I could not recall his name.

“Oh, I know, Hon.” I said. “You are Marcelon.”

Many of our children speak English and I understand just enough Creole. Never removing his hand from his heart, Marcelon said something I didn’t understand at all not because of the language barrier but because what he said didn’t make sense to me. His brother, Victor chimed in “He says you never seeeeee him, Mom!”

“I don’t understand.” I said, completely puzzled.

“He wants to show you something.” Marcelon took his hand from his heart and took my own in his. We walked very slowly toward the church. He occasionally looked up at me and held my hand tighter. For these moments, I felt that he felt, I was all his. But he didn’t smile until we were inside the church. We walked past dozens of framed photos much revered by the children. Photos that you all have sent us over the years so that the children can see the people who are far away but love them very much. Marcelon took me to the wall that held the photo of my husband Joe and I. There he stopped. The photo was several years old, and I was happy to see a younger version of ourselves. I remember when the photo was taken by an Aspen Times photographer who was writing a story about a couple from Aspen who had so many children in Haiti. Marcelon then took a folded paper from his pocket and handed it to me. I sat down on a church pew and unfolded his precious artwork. It was an exact image drawn in pencil of the photo of Joe and me. I was honored and so surprised by his talent. The little artist had signed his name in block letters in the lower righthand corner.

“I’m going to frame it” I said and reached out to hug him. “Thank you, Marcelon!”

He at once grabbed the drawing out of my hand and carefully folded it and back into his pocket it went!

I looked at his brother who had followed us into the church. “You can’t take it, Mom!”

“I thought….”  I didn’t finish my sentence when Ronald interrupted.

“He sleeps with that!” A few days later I came to know that Marcelon takes me and Joe to school, to church, to his soccer games, to the doctor, and to sleep.

I have never had anyone do that in my life. Neither has Joe.  How do you appreciate something so special?  I don’t have words. I do have the feeling though, that it was a “once in a lifetime moment”.

I almost missed it. What else have I missed? I’m not sure I want to know.

Life is always changing; every day becomes irretrievable. What I missed I can’t know. But what I do know is that Joe’s and my importance to the people who cherish and adore us may change as their dependence on us changes, as they advance through the days and years of their own life. I do not intend to continue ripping through those days like a cheap brand of toilet paper. I won’t ever forget the look on my little eight year old’s face when he thought he would have to live without the picture of Joe and I. At that moment I felt as if I had given birth to him myself.  “I saw him for all he is.”

When he is eighteen or so I will ask him if she remembers this story.  I want to ask him if he still carries the drawing because I know what the answer will be. I will be tempted to ask when he stopped carrying it, but I will already know the answer. “When he felt he didn’t need it anymore to make him feel safe and loved.” And that will be fine.  We will have done well by a little boy who once needed us very much.

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