Saturday, January 21, 2012

Hanging on for dear life

I wrote the following post almost two months ago, just after Robbie was involved in a car accident.  At that time, the story was too raw, too fresh, too jarring for me to post.  Though Robbie and I still shudder when we read it and remember, we now feel ready to share it.

Esdras cupped his face in his hands while he prayed. “Thank you, God, for allowing us to wake up this morning. When we went to sleep we didn’t know what would happen. Our life could have ended. But you, Lord, brought us through the night.” I opened one eye and peered across the table at this young man. “Really?” I thought. “This is the prayer for breakfast? What about ‘Thanks for the eggs, Amen’?” Thankfully, he didn’t see my confused glance, or my feeble return to prayer. As single-minded as his Biblical namesake, Ezra, he was much too focused on confessing his utter dependence on God in this uncertain life.

Later that day, I was talking to Mirlande. “Where do your children go to school?” I asked. “Oh, I send them to three different schools,” she replied. I was a little confused. Life with six kids seems complicated enough without three different schools to deal with. I assumed it was for financial reasons, but figured I’d ask for more of an explanation anyway. Before I could form the question, she jumped in. “Do you know why? So that if something happens to one school, we wouldn’t lose all the children.” I didn’t understand at first. She proceeded, in her usual bubbly fashion, to explain that you never know what will happen to a school. A year or so before the earthquake, a school in Port-au-Prince collapsed due to structural problems in the middle of the school day and killed many of the students inside—97 altogether. And then, of course, there was the earthquake itself. “Anything is possible, so we put them in three different schools just in case. I couldn’t bear to lose them all.” I didn’t know what to say.

Now, a few weeks later, I still don’t quite know what to say. From my comfortable American perspective, life doesn’t usually seem all that precarious. I go to sleep fully expecting to wake up the next morning. I kiss Robbie goodnight fully expecting the same for him. I enter a building fully expecting it to remain intact. I take my next step fully expecting the ground to stay put. So far, these expectations have been proven true again and again. And so they quietly turn into unspoken assumptions. Then beliefs. Then facts of life. “I am safe. I am in control. Nothing bad can happen.”

Until it does. Until someone doesn’t wake up. Until the school collapses. Until the earth shakes. Until the most basic facts of life are called into question.

While we were in Port Salut for Thanksgiving weekend, we had a glimpse into such a moment. It was just a glimpse, but enough of one. The truck Robbie was driving was in an accident with a motorcycle. The truck was in front, and Robbie slowed down to turn left.  The bike sped up from behind to pass. The moto clipped the front corner of the truck. Two people were tossed off the bike. They flew through the air. They fell hard on the ground. The passenger, a teenage school girl, landed in a concrete drainage ditch. No helmets. Robbie thought for sure she was dead. But then, there was movement. She stood up. She climbed out. She looked around. The driver, too, stood up. Shaken, but alive. They had a few scrapes and bruises, but nothing more. They walked away with their lives. Thank God a thousand times.  Robbie also walked away, but not the same.

Because after you have this kind of moment, things are different. The so-called “facts of life” are exposed as a weak sham. Those reassuring phrases—“I am safe. I am in control. Nothing bad can happen.”—start to sound like the practiced lines of a conman now caught in the act. And with the curtain drawn back, the reality starts to take shape. “I am vulnerable. I am weak. I will surely die, but I don’t know when.” Yes, that has a truer ring to it.

And it is from this perspective that the words of Esdras and Mirlande start to make more sense. And it is from this perspective that I can just begin to understand what it may mean to be dependent on God. To actually rely on his protection and grace. To refer to him with every mention of the future, saying, si Dye vle, “If God wants.” And to hang on to God for, literally, dear life.

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