Once again, Haitians endured the brutality of natural forces as Tropical Storm Isaac took deadly aim at Hispaniola and left 29 and counting Haitians dead. As the storm churned through the Florida Straits, onward to the Gulf of Mexico, New Orleans and Gulf Coast communities took center position in the now hurricane’s crosshairs. Like an indomitable buoy, the question “Why worry about Haiti when people at home are suffering?” bobbed to the surface.
Possible answers include: compassion knows no bounds and all of our homes are globally connected by the delicate balance of this web of life. But, a deeper concern lurks: the overarching mindset of duality that sparked the question. Too often we frame our personal worlds between stark either/or choices. Why must we choose between Haitian and Gulf Coast hurricane victims? Aren’t our hearts, resources and ingenuity great enough to respond to the suffering endured in two or more locales?
This immediate impulse to choose, one or the other, often bespeaks a deeper—and often deadly– division of the world into factions. These divisions usually end in a glaring ‘Us’ versus ‘Them’ battle for resources and rightness. At CRUDEM/Hôpital Sacré Coeur, we’ve learned the transformative, saving grace of adopting a both/and perspective. We have learned, delightfully so, that ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ are one and the same.
When volunteers first visit Milot they often don’t know what to expect. They anticipate immersion into a world of difference and most voice trepidation. A few days into their weeklong stay, their initial fears give way to transformations. Slow working and tenaciously gripping epiphanies work their redemptive magic. “Haiti changed my life” is the common refrain. “I came home a very humble individual.” “I don’t look at anything in my life the way I did before my trip.”
“Driving to the hospital from the airport was surreal,” one volunteer reported. “The poverty, the barely clothed children with swollen bellies, and the heaps of garbage by the roadside made me uncomfortable, sad and a little scared. A week later when I drove back to the airport, all I saw was the beauty of the people and the countryside. The children looked and acted just like my children and the mothers seemed just like me with the same pride and concern for their families. I was truly terrified to come here and a week later, I hated to leave Haiti!”
Difference threatens us. We hide from what seems different than us, wall it off and, at times, demonize it in an attempt to justify its eradication and diffuse its perceived power over us. We want what is different from us to go away. When we react this way (and we all do at times!), we forget who we really are: spiritual beings having a human experience, called to learn from and assist each other on our paths, called to honor all of life and to increase the amount of love, peace and healing in the world.
Immersion into a world we think of as different, genuinely putting ourselves into another’s shoes, often kicks us above the grooves of fear, anger, greed, betrayal, resentment and imagined superiority we routinely trod. We reemerge on a level playing field. Then we see with new eyes. “Perhaps the world has become our neighborhood,” reasoned a recent American volunteer.” Perhaps we are all brothers and sisters after all.”
The partnerships formed at CRUDEM/Hôpital Sacré Coeur go beyond the exchanges of talents, technologies and resources. As volunteers, staff and donors readily attest; when we give, we also receive, usually in abundance. When we work to heal a patient, a part of ourselves heals as well. When we reach out to a stranger in need, we discover our family and community have just grown. In the give and take of these exchanges, the false divisions fall away, holy alliances take hold and we participate in the vivifying dance of Sacred Unity. We re-member who we really are: unique, precious creatures called to love one another—wherever we live.
Thank you for gifting and blessing the CRUDEM/HSC community with your participation!
Joni Paterson, M.Div. Ph.D.