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.