Sunday, September 30, 2012

Grace and a Sheet of Glass.

The paper, folded, sweat bleached and poorly printed read:

Funerailles de Mr. Andre Eliphate
Ne le mai 1961
Decede le 22 Septembre 2012 a l'age de 51 ans

At least that's what it appeared to read, the legacy of a man already fading for want of ink. And then underneath there was a picture, in decorated uniform, blurred beyond recognition, and an epitaph:

"Tout vit, tout naitre, tout perisse"

"Everything lives, everything born, all perish." But what have we learned. Only what we already know. The order of service on the back does not tell us how to live life, or better yet avoid death, to be unborn. It proffers the names of choral groups and the arrangements they will sing. Pays honor to the speakers, speaking to honor the deceased, who will themselves die one day. The snake with its tail in its mouth. Oh, this pitiful little piece of ephemera, maybe it will survive, longer than the man. Pressed between pages in an album celebrating his life only to be shelved and shrouded in dust.  

But this is not the man, this paper. Anymore than the script on it's back is the funeral. He lived and loved and raised 7 children. He protected his community from violence until gang members shot him for stopping their thieving in broad daylight of a woman selling mangoes in the market. He was the father of my friend Alfedo, who speaks 7 languages and works tirelessly without complaining at every task put before him. He will be missed like all good men by his family and friends. Such is the nature of these things. 

But my God the funeral. 

A thousand mourners packed and then overflowing out of a flesh coloured concrete church with one small humble cement cross at its peak. I stood at the door, straining to see Alfedo, straining to comprehend the Creole songs and eulogy. But nothing said or sung was of any importance. Grief was the only language spoken today, and of a sort I have never heard nor seen. As I stood there concussed by the screams all my words for what I was hearing failed me. A banshee's wail, an ambulance siren. I would welcome either in the casket black night over what I heard today. Tortured anguish, hopeless desperation, convulsive sorrow....words cannot touch what I saw. Women in white dresses flailing, flung down to the dirt floor by grief. Rolled and shook and throttled by grief. Seizurred and spun and batted about by so great a grief that those who tried to restrain them could barely do so. Woman after woman carried out of the little church, white dresses ripped and stained and faces soaked with sweat and tears, their screams unabated their arms and legs lurching in every direction, bent at impossible angles.

The bible talks about groanings words cannot utter. I have heard these things today. And even the occasional comprehendable "Why! Why!" was so strangled by grief as to be beyond language. Nothing ever spoken could touch the despair and gravity of those groanings. I wanted to cover the ears of the children, to cover the ears of those women. No one should ever make these noises, have to hear these noises. 

I stood outside in the Haitian sun. Reeling, trying to make sense of such sorrow. The women who had been carried out now whimpered in the courtyard of the church. They sat sprawled on the ground, shivering with exhaustion. Across the street a bar was opening. Patrons laughing, drinking beer and rum not 50 feet from the mourners. One group drinking away their own grief and the other having drunk to the dregs of sorrow's sourest cup. Next door to the bar a little shop called "Le Sange de Jezi Cosmetiques". The Blood of Jesus Cosmetics. Only in Haiti. The irony as the recession of the corpse commences. A white casket cradled in uniformed arms. Inside a Father, a friend, a brother and son, a fellow officer- the mortician's art, the embalming perfume, the make-up. And the blood of Jesus, the covering of the Christian, a soul snow white forever. Le Sange de Jezi Cosmetiques.

Alfedo approaches. Vacant-eyed and asleep on his feet. I embrace him, pray for him as tears soak our shirts. And then he too recedes. Into the throng of mourners. I catch my reflection in a glass surface; hair sun bleached and wind-whipped, face gaunt with sadness, eyes red and weary and wasted looking. And I realize I am seeing my reflection in the window of the hearse. Grace and a sheet of glass....

The national radio programs called for manifestations around Port-au-Prince today. Nothing new. This time it's Aristide holdovers protesting President Martelly. These things rarely go well. Lots of stuff gets set on fire and people get busted up real bad. There was no sign of any of it though, just a few spray can scrawls on crumbling walls that proclaimed Aristide president for life. They would have seemed silly today, small and insignificant against the backdrop of such intense suffering and pain. We drove back to Titenyan in silence. Everyone of us, alone with our thoughts, thinking of loved ones lost and those we would be crushed to lose. I hope everyone of the guys went home and hugged their kids, their wives. Called up their closest friends. I am thinking of my son and also of my beautiful muse. They both seem a million miles away. Oh what I would give for their hugs right now. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Perfect Life.

These past couple weeks I have been soul searching. That is, letting the light of Truth find all the little locked rooms in the dark parts of my wandering heart. The ones marked ambition, desire, dreams....etc, forever, amen.

It all started while Nat H. the Quebecois and I were driving into PAP. We were talking about what's next....i.e. life after Haiti. He has this formula worked out. He is painting on his heart's canvas the picture of his perfect life. That very best life he can conjure all the while simultaneously praying for God's perfect will for His life. So at the very least he gets his perfect life and at the very best He gets God's perfect life for him. Talk about a stacked deck....I like this game. I. Am. All. In. 

So I began to plug my soul into his perfect life machine and I think I broke the damn thing. 
I realized, oh so painfully so, that most of what I want chokes out the affection due my Savior, that I still hold on to so much that means so little when placed next to the mind-exploding honor, the soul-bending wonder of knowing God. Yes, I know, that's not how the formula works. But the more I tried to script my perfect life the more I realized my motives just can't be trusted, my deck is not only stacked but marked too. I think they still call that cheating.

Maybe it's that I don't want to be disappointed, don't want to get my hopes up and be let down again. But isn't that the point? That our hope must be in Him. That our desire is Him. That all our dreams are dreamed while we sleep in His arms. That He will not let us down. And beyond that, look around the world, choosing your perfect life is a luxury of the first world. It's hard to think about building a time machine to woo Rita Coolidge circa 1972 when you are starving or exploited. 

Anyway, words are failing me miserably of late, so I thought I would vet my hidden self through a pictatorial catharsis. If you have trouble following along, it's not you, it's me. Here are, in no particular order, a very abbreviated collage:

Things I thought I'd do, people I thought I'd be.....

Loves of my life, perfect wives...beautiful distractions....

Where I'd lay my head...

Drinking copious amounts of...


So, to recap. My perfect life as a rock and roll abolitionist prophet poet who lives in an African hut or a tree house in a perpetual winter wonderland where there is always a roaring fire and the haunting harmonies of harps and the ethereal pixie vocals of Miss Joanna Newsom. Where my espresso cup doth always runneth over. Where I am always wandering, always still, always tender, never prideful, saving orphans from burning buildings and the occasional kitten. (That is saving the kitten from the burning building also, not saving orphans from the kitten) I can keep going.... For. Days.

But this I hold on to, this I know. This I know: Whatever were gains to me I must consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I must consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I must lose all things. Must consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him.

I realized while scripting my perfect life that my heart is where my treasure is and my treasure is that which I place the most value on. And while I'd like to say I am super spiritual and above temptation in this respect, truth is the life of a poet, the hippie soul mate, the vagabond adventure, the freedom fighter justice for the least of these outlaw, the deluge of espresso....well when I let myself think about becomes all I think about.

I am desperately trying to set my mind on Christ alone. He knows what He created me for, who, where, when, how, why. My trust is in Him. Well at least I'm trying....

P.S. If anyone has Miss Newsom's #....Mesi Anpil!!!