Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Project Hope in Haiti, Part V

To read more about this little series of posts, and about Gardening Mom and Sister Swimmer's journey to Haiti, go HERE, see part II HERE part III HERE, and part IV HERE.  If you would like more information on the program through which Gardening Mom and SS went through to volunteer in Haiti, please comment and I will get that information to you!

A week after Gardening Mom and Sister Swimmer returned from Haiti, GM sent out one last email to those who had been hooked to her Haiti updates with her reflections from the trip.

I have been back from Haiti for a week now and am sending one last email to reflect on the trip. 

Before I left on the trip, several people told me that it would be life-changing. I will admit that I doubted that, as I am very good (sometimes too good) at compartmentalizing different aspects of my life and had some doubt as to whether something that I experienced in one aspect of my life would have any lasting impact on any other aspect. 

My initial “take-aways” from the trip:
  • I am not as afraid of flying and traveling as I thought I was, although I was periodically gripped with fear while we were gone that something would happen to prevent our return. I was reminded during the trip what I enjoyed about traveling, so now I am more inspired to do another trip beyond where my car can take me, so in a sense that is somewhat life-changing. 

  • The trip did not inspire me to devote my life to humanitarian causes. In fact, I still am trying to wrap my mind around the concept of doing that, and what motivates and inspires the people who do that. I asked several of the people we met there how they got there, what they were doing before, and still could not truly understand why they were there and why they came back to Haiti after leaving there once. Z is married and spends most of the year away from his wife and says his heart is in Haiti and he will always come back. I can understand one’s heart being someplace where you are not – my heart is really still in Portland, Oregon – but maybe I do not have the internal courage to take the steps to act on my dreams, or maybe I feel too much sense of responsibility to others so that I do not feel that I can make the decision to change my life because it would change other lives around me if I did. But even beyond that, although I might make a decision in a few years to make some major change in my life, it would not be a change that was as altruistic as some of those I met in Haiti.

  • I could not live someplace as warm and humid as Haiti without air-conditioning. I could only stand it there because I knew it was temporary.

  • I have serious doubts as to whether the problems in Haiti and places like Haiti can ever be resolved or whether they are insurmountable. The lack of resources, education, infrastructure, organization and the corrupt political atmosphere all combine to make a problem that has no boundaries. In Tracy Kidder’s book about Dr. Paul Farmer, Mountains Beyond Mountains (the word Haiti means land of high mountains), Dr. Farmer speaks of working on the long defeat – knowing it is a defeat, and still persevering with the effort.   (See above re: I do not understand what motivates people to do this). It kinds of reminds me of the story behind the mini-series “Thornbirds”. The thornbird is a mythical bird that searches for thorn trees from the day it is hatched. When it finds the perfect thorn, it impales itself, and sings the most beautiful song ever heard as it dies. The bird knows it will die, and still it does it. 

  • If I do another trip to Haiti or someplace like Haiti, I want to do something there that can better tap into the resources that I have to offer. It does not have to be legal – in fact, I would prefer that it not be legal, but I think I could help more in some organizational or administrative capacity than in helping to paint houses.  
It was helpful to step away from the demands of the daily work grind. A couple of days after I got back, my assistant said that someone had called and said it was urgent, and I responded, “Really? There is absolutely nothing in our entire company that we are working on that is truly urgent.”  On any vacation, when you step away, the sense of urgency dissipates, but when you see the need in someplace like Haiti, urgency takes on a different meaning altogether. 

I also questioned the relevance of what I do daily and the intensity and  time that I spend on my job. I spend 10 to 12 hours each day providing legal support to a company to facilitate it building and managing shopping centers where people can buy brand name merchandise at a discount. I saw in Haiti some of that brand name merchandise, left behind by the initial purchasers after it had served its brief purpose and found its way on the backs of young Haitian men. It seems that all that time and effort on my part could be focused to something more meaningful. I get that our centers provide jobs to many people and in that way is helpful to the economy. But the larger sense of lack of relevance was fairly acute when I returned. 

What I am very cognizant about now is that although this trip was not, in and of itself, life-changing, it has the potential to become life-changing, but only if I do something with this sense of wanting to create more meaning and relevance and act on it while this sense is fresh. I know all too well that in a week, a month, two months .. that the next loan closing, the next acquisition, the next whatever will seem urgent again, and the sense of wanting to do something more meaningful inspired by on my experiences in Haiti will fade and that the way to make this trip truly meaningful is to make a decision that will impact my life, whether it is immediate or prospective, and to work toward the ultimate implementation of that decision. Some have suggested that I organize something with our tenant base to work on getting clothes to Haiti, or that I work on filling a container of supplies to Haiti – but that is not where I am coming from – it is not Haiti that I want to help, as such, it is a sea change within myself that I want to effect, and it may not end up being Haiti connected at all. 

I realize that I am pondering my “third act” – that until my kids are out of high school, situated with college costs covered and self-supporting, I am “on the hook” and need to continue to work in a position that will provide the money to fuel their needs and that it would be unfair, having raised my girls in this OC lifestyle thus far, to bail on it at this point. But it is not that many years until that point will be reached and time goes by faster every year, and I need to be planning my third act now so that I have a plan to work on for my ultimate transition out of the bread-earning role.  Do I really want to putter in my garden when I leave the daily work grind, or is there something else that I will do? So that is where I am left after returning from Haiti – struggling with the meaning of life and how to make my life more meaningful. Do we all find ourselves there eventually?

I love love loved reading these thoughts from my Gardening Mom.  It really made me feel like I was there - her writing is so warm and inviting.  (Know you know where I get my supreme writing skills, right?)

The real question,

Did they inspire you (you being me) do jet off to Haiti and do the same?
Yes and No.

GM and Sister Swimmer did inspire me to do some chairty work.  Do I want to go to Haiti and paint houses?  No, that's not really for me.  Like Gardening Momma alluded to in her message above, I'd like to use my personal assets in a way that can be charitable. 

I would really like to go on a nursing mission.  Somewhere, anywhere, putting my nursing knowledge and credentials to good use.  Whether that be pumping out flu shots in Africa, or bandaging wounds in the desert, or simply nursing education in Europe - I would like to make that a priority in my life, inspired of course by the charity work of Gardening Mom and SS.

Have you ever gone on a humanitarian trip?
Give me all the details!

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