Port au Prince, Haiti Day 3, Trip 3

There are so many small moments that become the threads of hope, healing, and others that contain traces of grief, fear.

When I first drove up to the office, the groundskeeper happened to be right there. His face became a burst of light as he walked up to me and took both my hands and said “Oh–you’re here. You came back.” He held my hands and my gaze as he recounted how many times he sat in the office and smelled an oil, or prayed, or reflected on something. And felt quiet, calm and safe.

He has moved back into a structure to sleep. His one living child has a protected place to be during the day and his school will re-open soon. He sleeps. He showed me the tiny bottle of oil, still in his pocket, still a vial of hope.

One of my clinical colleagues has begun using some of the oils, sprays, and contemplative methods I taught her with her clients, and she describes “moments of calm, c-a-l-m. I see their nervous systems calm down.” She describes how each one of these moments restores an aspect of their vitality, and the joy at “seeing them come back”.

The juxtaposition of all of these moments against a backdrop of neater and taller piles of rubble, what was left of a head of hair, or scalp, dug up in todays clearing, the invasion of foreign help that often means well but even more often tramples local resources, the knowledge that Haiti will never be the same, that many of the losses have erased landmarks and structures that have deep historical and cultural roots, and are symbols of pride and place to people here…..people’s faces look sadder, more tired, more flat, more bone weary.

What does it take to revive the spirit of place? It is clear that there is a much larger suffering here that isn’t just the accumulation of years of terrible things or of each individual story or tragedy. It is the shattering of a collective reality, of the soul-sense of familiar, of the often unacknowledged markers of belonging. It is everything stripped away for many while others adjust to inconveniences or losses or massive change–a continuum of loss that affects everyone, all the time. A continuum that truly doesn’t end.

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