For six days, a Haitian man keeps vigil by the rubble that was once a bank. He staunchly believes that, trapped beneath the debris, his wife remains alive. Eventually, he hears her faintly. She is thirsty, she says. Her hand is pinned down, she says. Somehow, rescuers maneuver water to her after sighting her by a camera that traverses a slight opening. Carefully, they chip away the tonnage, hours later releasing her from concrete captivity. For her, this tomb has become a womb—she is reborn to none too solid earth again.
What is it in the human spirit that enables us to find faith and hope in dire circumstances such as these? This story could have had a less auspicious ending. Nevertheless, the undaunted spirit of the husband who stood by and the woman who kept faith that he would be there for her is the very heart of the matter.
I find myself playing over the images such as these, where a mother steadforthly stays by the ruins or a nursery school for days and is finally re-united with her very frightened two-year-old after being rescued from the rubble. Other relatives frantically search for their loved ones if only to recover their bodies. Disaster teams, medical teams from all over the world converge to help.
Why? I think it is the agony and ecstasy of living a life in love. We are interconnected with one another and we care. We care deeply about those closest to us but the circle continues to extend to all beings if we let it.
I remember being in a workshop with a FEMA trainer for disaster mental health volunteers. It was right after the Oklahoma City bombing, and this trainer would have liked to have been with her colleagues helping in that disaster effort. Nevertheless, Diane Meyers gave an excellent presentation, full of heart. She remarked that even though we as an audience didn’t know each other that if, in the next moment, there were a disaster, we would most likely come to each other’s aid.
True, we as humans may often seem more petty and greedy than altruistic. Yet, at our core, we empathically identify with the suffering of others and instinctively want to help and be of service.
At the center of life is love and connection. Neuroscience, genetics, all kinds of verifiable research may be able to name the biochemistry of it all. What matters most to me is that through all the adversity, love remains. The mother stands guard until she finds her child. The husband faithfully waits for his wife. The brother searches valiantly for his brother. These are close loving connections, but they stretch outward into the universe, otherwise we wouldn’t care about anyone else’s story but our own. It is that we see ourselves in their story that makes all the difference. I recall a spiritual master’s remark that, “It is never that there ‘but for the grace of God go I.’ Instead, it is, ‘There go I.’” When we recognize how connected and related we all are, how can we not care about what happens thousands of miles away?
Footnote: If you are wanting to give a donation for Haitian relief, may I suggest Partners in Health. This organization has had clinics in Haiti for over twenty years. These clinics are staffed by Haitians in partnership with American medical teams. For a compelling story about this organization and its founder, Paul Farmer, read Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder.