Edwidge Danticat on Haiti Earthquake Devastation January 29, 2010Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in Buddhist concepts, Haiti.
In Brother, I’m Dying, writer Edwidge Danticat retold the heartbreaking story of her Uncle Joseph’s detention and death, and his son Maxo’s attempt to save him. Danticat has a piece in the Comment section of this week’s New Yorker, “A Little While,” in which she pays tribute to her cousin Maxo who died after being crushed beneath a building that fell during the Port-au-Prince earthquake.
In my first post after the Haitian earthquake, I asked the question “Why not me?” in regard to the issue of abrupt change. Her moving words in The New Yorker reflection speak volumes about about kindness, chance, and impermanence:
The day that Maxo’s remains were found, the call came with some degree of excitement. At least he would not rest permanently in the rubble. At least he would not go into a mass grave. Somehow, though, I sense that he would not have minded. Everyone is being robbed of rituals, he might have said, why not me?
By the time Maxo’s body was uncovered, cell phones were finally working again, bringing a flurry of desperate voices. One cousin had an open gash in her head that was still bleeding. Another had a broken back and had gone to three field hospitals trying to get it X-rayed. Another was sleeping outside her house and was terribly thirsty. One child had been so traumatized that she lost her voice. An in-law had no blood-pressure medicine. Most had not eaten for days. There were friends and family members whose entire towns had been destroyed, and dozens from whom we have had no word at all.
Everyone sounded eerily calm on the phone. No one was screaming. No one was crying. No one said “Why me?” or “We’re cursed.” Even as the aftershocks kept coming, they’d say, “The ground is shaking again,” as though this had become a normal occurrence. They inquired about family members outside Haiti: an elderly relative, a baby, my one-year-old daughter.
I cried and apologized. “I’m sorry I can’t be with you,” I said. “If not for the baby—”
My nearly six-foot-tall twenty-two-year-old cousin—the beauty queen we nicknamed Naomi Campbell—who says that she is hungry and has been sleeping in bushes with dead bodies nearby, stops me.
“Don’t cry,” she says. “That’s life.”
“No, it’s not life,” I say. “Or it should not be.”
“It is,” she insists. “That’s what it is. And life, like death, lasts only yon ti moman.” Only a little while.