Haiti is still very much on my mind. It drifts in and out at the oddest times, as if looking for its proper place to settle in the landscape of my life.
Memories tend to do this…they wiggle into some crack, sandwiched between this and that, making themselves at home until, obscured by the vibrant new experiences that each day brings, they blend into the background.
Then something – a word, a song, a smell, a touch – lifts them like the nondescript shrub that suddenly bursts forth with bloom and fragrance and meaning.
I was in my garden lugging mulch in the heat, watering and cutting back parched plants, sweat stinging my eyes, weary, grunting and complaining a bit to myself, when suddenly Josette Chery’s face floated across my mind.
Here are the words she penned in a writing workshop in Mombin Crochu….
I work in a field.
I reflect on the life of women
who pass through misery
in order to live.
Women who work under the hot sun
So that other people
can build a house.
Washing people’s clothes,
Working in other women’s houses,
where they are cursed at,
In order to send their children to school.
This is truly a misery for women.
© Josette Chery 2012
I still see her standing determined in her prim black mourning suit; tiny, strong and sure against the bright lime walls of the community center where we had gathered. I feel, again, the sheer force of the words she unleashed with raw passion — not the kind of giddy enthusiasm that we employ here in North America to define our purposefulness, or to spur ourselves and others on to some great and essentially fleeting thing…
…but the pained, gritty, gut passion that is birthed in suffering. Passion that demands response.
Josette Chery, in that lime green room in the mountains of Haiti, redefined the word for me. She exposed the superficiality of my own self-indulgence. I thought of passion as an ingredient of a purposeful life. That it was about infusing our days with meaningful activity for the sake of fulfillment.
She made me question the motivations and worthiness of my own pursuits. Indeed, how many times had I spoken to groups about living life with passion?
I suddenly realized I had no idea what that meant.
In his essay on Passion, Henri Nouwen reminds us that this was the word used to describe Christ being ‘handed over’ in Gethsemane and it meant giving control over to others, then of suffering and waiting. He writes, “Passion is a kind of waiting – waiting for what other people are going to do…It is supremely a waiting love, a love that does not seek control.”
“It is the agony of a God who depends on us to decide how to live out his divine presence amongst us.”
Oh, what a patient God he must be…waiting for such a thing.
Josette Clery, too, has patience as she cries for the women she has lost and the women she works alongside – women who give birth in the dirt of the fields and sacrifice all for their families. Patience, as she waits for deliverance from the suffering.
Meanwhile, I muddle through my own feeble discomforts, trying to listen and hear and understand how I might live this one blessed life I’ve been given with an inner fire for something that really matters.