Pardon me, please, for going on and on about a place I really know very, very little about, a place I visited, a tourist, for only three days. The first word that came to me when we got to Haiti was unimaginable. Seriously, had you asked me to imagine the dimensions of the world we were about to see, I could not have sketched a thing.
Still, I was there for three days and have now talked about it for nine.
Human beings live where planted. Life, real life, goes on in Port au Prince. People laugh and cry and make love. They get angry and cool off--they eat and drink and some of them remember and believe. Things don't work as logically, as mechanically, as bountifully, as ritually as they do here, maybe especially here in Sioux County, Iowa, a place where descendants of real European Calvinists won't let the sun go down on their labors. The numbers are in, by the way--Sioux County is the healthiest county in the state. Why? We avoid the horrors and love the physical. We win championships galore here because we press on, we determine to succeed and we do, we dominate, in hogs and beef and milk and hens and basketball champions.
We know what we're doing. And we're largely white--or were until illegal immigration. But that's okay, but most of our new neighbors work just as hard, if not harder than we do, most of them at jobs we give 'em because we don't want 'em ourselves.
Listen, I'm retired, but I'm up at five every morning, rapping these keys. Work is my culture, see?
What can someone like me possibly understand about Haiti after three-short days? Hardly anything, really.
But some images, pictures I didn't take, stayed in the camera in my mind, something in me retained perceptions I stumbled on, images that became these postcards.
Last night, I attended a lecture given by an ex-student of mine whose job it is to free slaves. You read that right. He and his organization, Christian Solidarity International, reach up into North Sudan, a Muslim country full of slaves, pays their owners some kind of bounty, and brings those real live people back to the Christian South, their home, even though some of them have been away, in slavery, for decades. Those people in the picture are Sudanese.
You look at a crowd of freed slaves, victims of every horrendous kind of abuse you can imagine and worse, people who've survived a long war in which two million of their country men died and six million lost their homes, and you see in their gaunt faces, their vacant eyes, a level of suffering not seen even on the remarkable streets of Port au Prince.
What do I know about suffering? I live in Sioux County, Iowa. I'm retired, but I go to the gym every day.
Here's what I know, what I find truly preposterous. If there is a God, and if he hears our prayers, he hears all of theirs too, and those prayers probably louder because they are, for sure, wrung out of much, much greater need. If he hears my prayers--and I believe he does--then he must hear theirs too, gadzillions of men and women and children who aren't residents of the healthiest county in the state; whose future is so immediate it stretches before them for no longer than a day; whose work, whose profession, is simply to stay alive.
If God exists, and I believe he does, he hears every last one of them, of us, even the ones who are killing each other right now in South Sudan, even the ones who've sinned abundantly, even the ones who've gone way, war far astray. He hears every last one of his children who calls on his name. What he answers is his business. But he listens.
I don't know much about Haiti really, far less about South Sudan; but I do know this: he listens to every last one of us, Sioux County's fit, Haiti's street people, and South Sudanese, slaves and free--and that he does, that he hears them all, millions of us, is really unimaginable.
Unimaginable and humbling. Disturbingly humbling.