Sunday, June 27, 2010

Use It

at the orphanage on the same grounds as our guest house outside of Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, photo taken by our trip leader, Jason

As a writer, I want to be able to sift through the images and events of my week long volunteer trip to Haiti and form them into something coherent and conclusive, with any luck something that's even eloquent. As a human being, I want to process all that I saw, flashes of blue tarp on rocky hillsides, whirs of color and faces out of a moving van window, all of those endless heaps of rubble and dirt. But I'm afraid today, three days later, I'm still working, both as a writer and a human being. I could try to write about my week, but I know that anything I put down right now would be incomplete and inadequate. It's simply too soon. Everything is too fresh and too jumbled.

So all I can tell you is this. I feel older than I did a week ago. I've never been so acutely aware of aging. Usually it's something you notice only after the fact, when you look up one day and five years have passed and you're not exactly sure how. But I'm aware of every accumulated second of the past week, each of which inched me, in increments both tiny and huge into something new and different, a place both fuller and more meaningful, and yet, as it always is with growing older, sadder too.

I've traveled to impoverished nations. I've seen starving children and people sleeping on streets. But I've never been so immersed in it, so much of it, all the time. This is not to say that the trip was miserable. On the contrary there were moments that were so beautiful, in a pure, unadorned, utterly honest way that moments rarely are. There were many moments that were fun. I met amazing people of differing ages and colors and nationalities. I was a part of this crazy, hodge podge team of genuinely kind and good people, the kind that you're better for having known, if only for a brief time. It was in many ways an absolutely incredible week.

But still, as my plane lifted off from the Port-Au-Prince airport, soaring over impossible cities made of flimsy blue tarps and mountains both rock and rubble, the difficult parts of the trip almost seemed too much to bear. I was angry and sad and images of the hard stuff kept popping up in my brain. I didn't know how I'd go back to the privileged, easy life I lead and somehow make sense of it in the context of what I had just witnessed. How could I look at my chubby, adored little niece who will never known hunger or thirst and not immediately think of those babies without homes, whose most basic needs, water and food and shelter, were not guaranteed? How could I listen to people complain about trivial things, myself included, and not want to just scream?

And I don't really have an answer, other than the two words that popped into my head, that I have repeated to myself every day since then.

"Use it."

Use what I had seen, all of it, the horrible and the beautiful and the impossible, to better myself. Use it to better my life. Use it to better the world.

I don't believe that bad things happen for a reason. I'm sorry, but I just don't buy that. But I believe that a reason can come out of bad things. Maybe that's the same for you, but for me those two are distinctly different. So all I can do now is look for my reason, whatever that might be, the reason I will take out of Haiti.

Use it.

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