When I was Seventeen…

January 16, 2010 at 10:50 am 2 comments

When I was 17, I visited a church where I met a lot of amazing people. There was one child that had an incredible voice. His name was Michelin. I don’t mean good for a kid or good for singing in church but the kind of voice that would stop you in your tracks. I remember thinking to myself that if he were born somewhere else his voice would be his meal ticket. He couldn’t possibly be passed over — even in a world where everyone is clamoring to be heard because they think their voice is their ticket to fame, which of course we all learned somewhere we so richly deserve. But he wasn’t born somewhere else. This church was in a small coastal village in Haiti.

I saw an impressive spirit in the people there. One can’t help but notice the contrast between our country and theirs. I think of how much we value stuff and status, about our connection to things and their connection to our happiness. We live in a country in which it’s  commonplace to diagnose ourselves as depressed or having any number of anxiety disorders over matters like career advancement and wealth management while elsewhere people are singing “alleluia” with bare feet, torn and ill-fitting clothes and empty stomachs. That’s not to say it’s all smiles in Haiti — that there’s a flood of joy amidst poverty. They are without question burdened and weary but for most, their burdens are different from ours. Our consuming has gone past need, past waste and into competition. We’re personally affected when our favorite restaurant closes. If we don’t know where our next meal is coming from, it’s because we can’t decide not because there is nothing to eat. The jobs we can’t stop complaining about afford us enough food to get fat. Then we complain about that.

I remember standing at the foot of a bed shared by several children in a hut made of discarded branches, old signs and scraps of whatever could be made useful. It was no bigger than my bedroom back home and 12 people lived there. Outside people drank from small streams of dirty water, had little to eat and their country was falling apart beneath them. Still they went to church on Sunday, sang, danced and praised God for what little they had and asked Him for enough to really get by — to just be okay.

Now some people have lost everything. People that had only meager scrap huts have lost them. People who had only missions for food and schools for purpose have lost them. People who literally had nothing but each other have lost even that. Port-au-Prince  was desperate when I saw it years ago and it was grand when compared to the villages. Now it is rubble.

I rode my bicycle home from work last night. Nearing home, I found myself looking up at all of the houses in my neighborhood — wondering what made someone buy one house over another. Was it the size, the style, the yard? Maybe they bought that house for its original woodwork and stained glass. The more I looked at the houses, the more they looked the same. They serve the same purpose, they offer the some protection and at night they all blur together and look more alike than different — and at least for one more night they are all still standing.

This child is in his New Missions school uniform, standing in front of what’s left of a classroom. I think it’s the one I stayed in but it’s hard to tell. They were built simply and probably fairly uniformly. I remember being thankful for the sturdiness of the shelter when the winds got strong.

• • •

You can donate to the Red Cross or Yele Haiti (founded by Wycleffe Jean) via their websites.

While text message donations are easiest and still useful, they apparently are also delayed by as much as 90 days due to billing cycles and technicalities. That’s an eternity in this situation but it’s better than nothing and it’s better than never. Text “YELE” to 501501 to donate $5 to Yele or “HAITI” to 90999 to donate $10 to the Red Cross.


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  • 1. Mirisha McCaffrey  |  January 16, 2010 at 8:35 pm

    I never realized just how very deep of a person you really are. The many times Chase and I have been in for tattoos and chatted with you about this and that, I never realized the true you and the more I read this the more I wish there were more people in the world like you! I feel much like you do about many of the things you write about. Unfortunately I have never been able to travel or to see the world but I have my very own way of seeing things in my own town and your 100% right. America is the way we as people have made it, not the president, not the terrorists, but us as Americans and its a damned shame. The stuff you hear people complain about is just what we have made it over the years!

    I love your stories Aaron!! Thanks for being inspirational!

  • 2. abellve  |  January 16, 2010 at 10:53 pm

    I’m not sure how deep or inspirational I am, I just think there are things that need to be said and everyone can do that much…but I’ll take the compliment. Thanks for the kind words and for just reading this thing.
    I haven’t really seen much of the world, just a couple of places intensely. You’re absolutely right. We’ve created the state of this country by a mix of action and inaction, doing as we please (which is usually nothing) and expect to turn a nation around by pushing a button every four years. Then, if it doesn’t work out we can blame the person on the other side of that button. You don’t have to see the whole world to change your corner of it though. God knows there’s plenty to do from right where we are.



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