There are times when even those of us who make our living with words find ourselves saying, “Words fail.” And the devastation in Haiti is one of those times for me, as I correspond with friends who are finding out about dead or missing relatives. I gaze in disbelief at the pictures of once-elegant buildings I’ve walked through, like the Presidential Palace, now crumbled and looking a bit like a cake that rose and then fell for some mysterious reason in a hot oven.
I am also seeing the ruin in places I visited and thought could know no worse ruin, like the densely populated, fetid slums of Cité Soleil, where Haitians were always living on the edge, but not dying as they are now, or the elegant parts of Port-au-Prince like Pétionville, whose residents may have lived better than those in Cité Soleil, but who now are experiencing the leveling effect of destruction and death.
And after I got past, “Words fail,” I went to the question I asked once when I was covering an equally devastating disaster in Mozambique, following floods that left women having babies on rooftops and in trees. As the descendant of a family of preachers, I found myself wondering about God and what on earth (or in heaven) could this otherwise benign being be thinking to allow something like this to happen, especially to the poorest of the poor, who always seem to suffer the most.
And at some point, I encountered a preacher and his family who had barely escaped the raging waters rushing through their neighborhood. They had taken refuge on a rooftop not far from their home. There, the wife, who was heavily pregnant, went into labor and in the pouring rain, with no protective cover, gave birth to twins. By the time it was safe to leave that tin rooftop, one of the twins had died. And as I interviewed the preacher, I felt compelled to ask what he now thought of the God he professed to love and that he also taught others to love. And I was surprised by his answer, which was, that he loved God even more.
I was not just surprised; I was dumbfounded, so I pressed him. But how could you, after what you’ve gone through? Why has this not shaken your love of God?
And as calm as the waters now sitting quietly in huge puddles around the place of safety he and his family and dozens of others had retreated to, he spoke to me of faith and how it focused him on God’s benevolence.
“He could have taken all of us,” he said. “But he took only one.”
In Haiti today, there seems to be little that is tangible for the Haitian people to lean on. But one could hold out the hope that perhaps they are people of faith.
Charlayne Hunter-Gault is a regular contributor to The Root.