Where were you on 9/11? Or when you got your first kiss? These are defining moments in a person’s life, moments where you cross over from one state of being to another. On 9/11, we went from a state of peace to a country at war. When you got your first kiss you went from being an awkward youth to someone who had broken the seal to maturity (or so you thought at the time).
On January 12, 2010, Haiti went from a struggling country with a shaky foundation to one that lost almost everything. A day that no one will ever forget, Haitians lost an estimated 300,000 sisters, brothers, fathers, mothers and children. To put this in perspective, imagine going to Arlington National Cemetery, and instead of having soldiers buried there, you had the victims of the earthquake. More people died in one day on January 12th in Haiti, than all the people buried in the 624 acres of Arlington Cemetery over the past 150 years. Imagine 624 acres, filled with 300,000 headstones, all with the same date on them. It’s staggering.
But what many Haitians are left with is no such ability to honor their loved ones. Throughout the city you saw piles of rubble that a year before were houses or business, but are now donned with flower arrangements and pictures in an effort to honor those who are still entombed inside. These are their final resting places, these are the tombs of the unknown victims.
For most of the international community, the one year anniversary was used as a barometer for what has, or has not, been accomplished by the government and aid agencies to help the victims of the quake. Only 30,000 transitional shelters have been completed, only 10 percent of the rubble has been removed, over 800,000 people are still living in tents. These are all outrageous, and worth discussing, but when the day came, Haitians could care less about where they were getting their water, or where they were going to sleep, they just wanted their loved ones back.
So on the day of the anniversary, most people weren’t screaming about their situation. You didn’t see them taking to the streets to complain about how the recovery here can only be described as stagnant, you saw them flooding the churches and praying, you saw them taking the day to reflect.
But for many, and me included, while the actual day of the earthquake marked a life-changing moment, the days following the earthquake are at times worse. For the past 72 hours, I have been looking at my watch and thinking about where Jillian and I were at that exact moment one year ago. And while 4:53pm was when the earthquake hit, the hours following it were so much more poignant than the actual event itself. At 8:53pm I looked at my watch, Jillian was still buried in the rubble of our house, I was on my way to PAP. The next day, 6:15pm, we were boarding an evacuation flight on our way to spend the night in a hospital in Santo Domingo. At the moment that I’m writing this we were on a plane flying to Miami, eventually on our way to DC.
For us the earthquake was a defining moment in many ways. In the past year it seems that the quake has somehow added 10 years onto our marriage, and will eventually subtract 10 years from our lives. We have had to tackle so many issues that made it seem like we were taking AP Calculus while in the 3rd grade. I don’t know how to work out these problems, and by the time you eek out the answer to question number 1, questions 2-15 are already waiting to be answered. Maybe no one knows the answers right away, and no matter how wise you are they are always going to be hard, but in the midst of a recovery it just seems so overwhelming to think that you are on the verge of failure.
But most of all, this year has left me with an anger that I want to shake off sooo badly. I get angry at the NGOs for not doing enough, I get angry at the government for being so inept, I get angry at the people for not picking themselves up by their bootstraps and fighting for themselves. But most of all, I get angry with myself for not being able to control the anger. I used to have compassion, I used to have patience, and it all has seemed to melt away since the quake. I want to be back to normal, I want to not be on edge, I want to be confident, I want to feel good about myself.
At 4:53pm on January 12th, I was in a church to cover the minute of silence that was scheduled to be observed throughout the country. The minute came, and the church erupted with cries and wails, tears streaming down almost everyone’s faces. I held my breath, just waiting for the ground to start shaking again, let out a sign of relief, and then looked around me. A woman was crying, holding the passport of her sister who had passed away a year before. Another woman held a picture of three people who had died in the earthquake, another collapsed on the ground, wailing uncontrollably. The priest asked that everyone stay silent, but it was no use, Haitians don’t mourn in silence.
And while we were walking out I suddenly became overcome with a sense of complete and utter compassion. All of these people were mourning their loved ones, at this moment last year every single one of these people’s lives had been torn to shreds. No one was to blame, there was no one to be angry with, it was just a situation where everyone here was an innocent victim, and they needed that moment to mourn. In my new angry, cynical mind I searched for a reason not to care, for a way to step back and not have compassion, but found myself overcome with grief, and I began to cry. The last time I cried was when I was home after the earthquake, it’s been that long, and it was an amazing feeling.
We left the church and met up with Jillian, who was at a memorial service at the Hotel Montana. It was just so wonderful to be able to hug her and have her there, and not have that day be the anniversary of her death as well. We are the lucky ones. January 12th at 4:53pm will forever be one of those moments where we look back and think about how our lives changed, how we entered a new phase, and how we became who we are today.