I have to admit, sometimes the international news runs together in my mind. It’s hard to keep track of terrorist attacks and small natural disasters in countries I can barely find on a map and sometimes can’t even pronounce. I feel so helpless and disconnected to their pain and upheaval.
But when the news headlines recently included the word “Haiti”, I took notice.
I’ve been to Haiti.
So many years ago, when I was an impressionable fifteen year old I spent a summer with a group called Teen Missions. We built a small cinder block dormitory for an orphanage outside of Cap-Haitian. We dug long trenches by hand for the foundation. We stood in large circles and mixed cement with shovels to slap between the large, heavy blocks, as sturdy walls rose out of the mud.
But more than the exhausting labor or the hot sweaty nights sleeping in pup tents, I remember the children. The gorgeous chocolate colored children with huge eyes and happy voices. Despite language barriers we spent a lot of time playing with the young ones who would eventually benefit from our building project. Their old dormitory shared the same small plot of land as our project, fenced in by large leafy trees. Most days it felt like there was no one else in the world but us, our messy project, and three dozen of the most adorable children I’d ever seen.
We eventually flew home. I finished high school. Went off to college. Rushed off to life. Occasionally I thought of my little friends in that country that once again felt so far away. I prayed that the structure we built for them kept them cool on the hottest days and dry when it rained.
When hurricanes hit their country a few years ago, I saw the news. I felt an extra sadness for the people of Haiti because I felt like they were somehow still in my heart. So far away, geographically, but so vivid in my memories.
Then this earthquake hit. This horrendous shaking of a country that couldn’t really afford much more of a shake up. Houses knocked from their foundations. Babies rocked out of their mama’s arms.
Day after day the news stories come. Stories of people found and people still missing. Stories of bodies who will never know personal graves and basic broken limbs that will result in infection and death. There are pictures of little ones walking the streets. Some without mothers or fathers. Orphans. Little lost children who might as well be the same little faces I fell in love with in 1982.
So I have stopped watching. I wrestle with the guilt of that decision, but I don’t know if I have any other option.
Because now I am not just an idealistic teenager who loves to babysit and gets a kick out of the sound of giggling toddlers. Now I am a mom. Children are universal. They cross cultural barriers. Every orphan I see is a child I could mother. Every toddler wandering aimlessly down a street full of rubble is a rip in my heart. Every tiny body bag I see in the background of a news story is a priceless little life that was snuffed out unfairly.
I have no illusions that the mothers in Haiti love their children any less than I love mine. Which means some mama, a whole bunch of mamas, are grieving for their babies tonight. And it breaks my heart.
I can give money and I can say prayers, but beyond that I feel helpless. Like most of the mothers in this country, I feel helpless. On the day I met my first child I became a universal mother. Every child in the world might as well have been mine. And knowing there is a country full of my children, who are homeless, hurting, hungry, thirsty, and crying, is more than I can bear.
So I give the money. I say the prayers. And I turn off the TV. I know where to find the coverage, should I feel a need to check back in.
But for now this is all I can do. Hug my own well fed, contented babies. Then whisper an extra prayer for those I cannot reach.