Friday, January 15, 2010

The Reality of Distance

Monday night, it all started coming back to me. I was on the MBTA 66 Bus on my way home from work when my father, whom I had gotten off of the phone with moments before, called me. I picked up the phone and asked what was up. His response?
"Hey, are your friends back from Haiti yet?"

"Yeah, they got back Saturday night. Why?"

"There's been an earthquake in Port au Prince, they said it's a 7 scale..."

"Okay, Dad. I need to go make some phone calls. I love you. Bye"

And so began what have probably been the haziest and most confusing 48 hours of my life. Names popped into my head that I hadn't given a second thought to for months. I found myself digging through GMail archives I hadn't touched for over a year, trying desperately to find phone numbers and expedient contact information for those who I expected to have reliable information about the situation as it pertained to my friends in Haiti.

Since that initial phone call, I've considered some things that may or may not be helpful.

-- Being away from the people I love is one of my biggest weaknesses. I almost forgot about this, because after a summer of frustration and disappointment in 2006, I vowed to always surround myself with my best friends. Since then - almost any time I've gone through a struggle, learned something new, celebrated, whatever - a consistent group of friends were there right alongside of me. Whether they held me, I held them, or we held each other, we did it together.

6:30 PM, Monday, January 11, was the first time since May of 2006 that I felt alone. It's not like people in my new home and new community aren't supportive. They are some of the greatest people I know, and I hope to live life with them for a very long time. But for the first time, I realized, I can't relate to these folks right now like I can to Nicole, Sarah, Rachel, Mike and others.

They remember the sights, smells and sounds. Mike and I stayed with Lukso, Vanna, their family, and Dja. We had to sleep in the same bed because that was all that was available. We were friends before we went; our relationship was bonded in a way that I doubt time and life changes will ever break. I remember Sarah and Nicole's hesitance to go on the trip; they wanted to, but did they really? Now, both of them are thinking pretty seriously about returning. It's been a joy to watch their journeys.

I could go on. Meals, quotes, smells, children's faces. Conversations I had the day I got home, and conversations I had last week. It stays with you; you get it... the point is: I physically felt the distance that stood between my friends, both here in the United States and, of course, in Haiti, like the weight of a tombstone around my neck.

Here in Boston, life has to go on, after all - or so they say. I have meetings to go to, data to enter, a bus to ride, bitchy costumers to deal with at 10,000 Villages, and a Sunday School class to help out with tomorrow morning. All I want is to be able to pause during any one of those activities, or in any of those places, and turn my head to see a familiar face that is somehow intimately connected to my time in Haiti... a familiar set of eyes than can look back into mine and remind me, with a silent look, that they understand and can feel the same pain I feel right now.

When I moved to Boston, I resolved to do one thing: to stop running from the pain of difficult, often broken relationships I found myself in or near. This tragedy in Haiti reaches out across the planet to wherever Haitians and their friends find themselves. There is no way for me to run someplace and hide, forgetting the truth of what has happened and continues to unfold.

Right now, all I want to do is run as fast as I can to wherever the familiar people are, wrap my arms around them, and start crying just loud enough to drown out the news casters, blog commentaries and charities asking donations.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Ben,
    Thanks for this. I've never been to Haiti, but have had visions of going.
    Maybe an opportunity will open up here. You never know.