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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Leaving Haiti

I titled this entry "Leaving Haiti," to offer parallels to Leaving Costa Rica and Leaving Japan, but I don't know yet if it's the same at all.

Before I even got to Haiti a coworker advised me, "as soon as you get there remember you'll be leaving. Otherwise it just becomes impossible to walk away at the end." She pointed out, "just like you leave your shift at the end of the day to another nurse, I had to remember to trust the next ones coming after me."

She was right, but no matter how I thought about it I couldn't wrap my mind around it. To knowingly walk away from such suffering is already very difficult, and it only became more difficult as I got to know the patients personally.

Starting on Monday I attended a brief Eucharist service every morning in the chapel. It was my way of starting the day with a clear head, a fresh perspective and a connection to God. I've never done to a daily service before in my life, not even when I was living with the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in New Jersey. To be honest, I don't always even say a formal prayer in the morning. But I figured I needed all the help I could get.

On March 4th the Gospel reading was the story of the rich man and Lazarus from Luke 16. I felt terrible as Sister Ann read it out loud. It seemed as though the message couldn't be more clear. I am the rich man, and these people are Lazarus. How could I return home now that I've seen this level of poverty with my own eyes?
I began to pray and slowly my despair turned into gratitude. 

I realized how easily I could be living some other life. But every single event in my life fell into place to lead me to this moment, there in a chapel in Milot, Haiti. It wasn't my fault or my doing that I was born in the United States. But that was the beginning of my story. And then every next step led little by little to what I would become and where I would go.  It was mind blowing. With any slight alteration of course, I wouldn't have been sitting there surrounded by surgeons and nurses at seven in the morning. With a start, I realized that was true of every single person I met on the trip. God built our lives, and He has a plan. 

My behavior doesn't always demonstrate faith in a higher plan. In fact, most of the time I act like I don't believe in a "Plan," at all.  I like to be in control of my own life and of my environment. I like to take credit for the things I do. I like to plan the future.  And it's easy to grab onto my life tightly and try to steer it the way I want. And for the most part, it's probably not too harmful. It certainly keeps me moving.  But ultimately, I have to submit to the idea that I am not in control simply because that's what faith is. I need to let go, because letting go is believing. It's a trust fall with God.

My brain argues with me every time I try to relax and trust God. "Stop it!" it yells, "the path of least resistance is not for people of your educational background and social grooming!" But trusting God isn't the same as giving up, or taking the path of least resistance. In fact, some times what you find is the hardest path. But it's a path you'll never find unless you shut down all the things you think you want and listen to what you're meant to have. 

From my journal on March 4th: 

... so I am going to trust the plan. The plan is for me to be here this week. The plan is for me to leave on Saturday. To see my Mom, and my brother. To pay my bills. To fill the shifts at work that are mine to fill. And if the plan is for me to return here again - God will surely let me know. I will continue to pray for Him to tell me. I will pray for ears to hear it. 

And that's how I was able to leave. 

The day I left we all had to work a morning shift. I pushed my goodbyes off as long as possible. I built a wall of protection around myself by passing out medications, hanging IV fluids, and cleaning external fixators. When I started contemplating alphabetizing the med desk I knew I couldn't put it off any longer.

I started at the back of the tent and worked my way to the front, but word traveled fast that I was saying my final goodbyes and soon I had a small procession of family members and patients who could walk following me from bed to bed. Eyes were wiped, blessings were said and I told each person to be strong and to get well. Then the interpreter yelled that I was going to miss my ride.

"Ok," his voice boomed out, as he gently pushed his way to the center of the small crowd, "she is really going now!"   I ran out of the tent to a chorus of blessings and goodbyes and demands for promises of a return trip. 

Back at the compound my friends, old and new were packing up. I grabbed my belongings from inside and then joined everyone on the porch. Some of our coworkers from BHCHP had just arrived from the airport, ready to start their orientation.

 "Any words of wisdom?" they asked us. We told them everything we knew. 
Then, just like leaving work after an eight hour shift, we were done.  We might have another shift in the future, but for now the plan led home. And as we piled into the truck for the bumpy ride to Cap Haitian I felt alright. 

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