Hard decisions, fond memories and a call
Published 6:29 pm Monday, June 24, 2019
As I walked down a dusty, pockmarked road outside of Ouanaminthe, Haiti in October of 2018, a young Haitian girl – whose name I don’t remember, or possibly never learned – appeared from somewhere, slid her small hand into mine and flashed me a brilliant-white smile.
Prying my hand from hers quickly proved an impossible task, so we walked, hand-in-hand, for a mile or so as she rattled on in her native Creole, a language I most certainly do not speak. We talked in that way you do with someone when the luxury of language is removed, with lots of hand gestures and smiles. I taught her the word ‘cow,’ she taught me the word ‘chen’ (dog). It was pleasant, but not particularly noteworthy.
After a while, she grew tired of my company and wandered down a different dusty road, off to find another hand to hold. I didn’t see her again before I left.
Visiting a place like Haiti leaves a certain impact on a person. It can’t not. What that impact is varies depending on the individual, but the overwhelming poverty and general hopelessness that permeate the poorest places on Earth universally leave an impression on those who visit them.
I saw my fair share of sincere poverty and heard my fair share of unbelievable stories of hardship in my short stint there. But for me, the image that returns to visit most often is one of a small, dark hand interwoven with my larger, lighter one. It’s an image of trust, of youthful exuberance and curiosity. It’s pure, but also so familiar.
This young girl and I could barely say ‘hello’ to one another, let alone carry on a conversation, but she was no different from the elementary school girls playing, learning and living in LaGrange. She was bright, curious, energetic and sweet. In another life, in different circumstances, she may have grown up to be a doctor, or an actress, or maybe a schoolteacher. However, if statistics tell us anything, her life will be short and difficult, with little worldly joy.
That’s the reality of a broken world. Birthplace geography plays an outsized role in the outlook of humanity. On an intellectual level we all recognize this, but until you are face to face with it, that reality simply doesn’t grip you in the same way.
That’s a long introduction to contextualize the news that was printed in the newspaper over the weekend. My wife and I are leaving LaGrange at the end of July. We’re moving to Birmingham, where I will be working with a nonprofit organization, Vapor Ministries, in a business-facing role to help fund the work they do in places like Haiti and Kenya.
This was a challenging decision to make and was driven completely by a compulsion buried somewhere in the recesses of my heart to answer a call, not due to internal strife or any workplace issues at the newspaper pushing me away. I have loved the work here, and regardless of the excitement that accompanies a new adventure, I will be sad to step away from what we have built.
Seminal moments like this generally lead to reflection. In looking back at the work we have done since April 2017, I am proud of the progress this operation has made. We have won local awards, we have been recognized as the best newspaper in our classification across the state, we have earned back public trust that had been lost. I am proud of these things, to be sure, but I am also proud of the staff we have worked hard to build and empower.
The people that work for your community newspaper are top-notch, and I am confident the operation is in the best and most capable hands moving forward.
Work, however, is just a slice of what has made our time in this county special. There are more people to thank and recognize for making our time here meaningful than space allows me to name. Suffice it to say you know who you are. My wife and I have truly been blessed during our time here, and the friendships and relationships we have formed in our short stint here will forever impact our lives.
Maybe this is too poetic, but it’s the best I can manage in an effort to articulate all of the above. There’s a piece of my heart buried somewhere in a north Haitian hillside. I unwittingly left that piece in the hands of a little girl whose smile I can see and whose name I do not know. That’s the piece calling out to me now, and I feel the need to answer.
While I can’t fight this call, I also can say with full sincerity I will leave another piece of my heart, a significant piece, in LaGrange. This piece will be left in too many hands to name, and with too many faces to count.
I’ll drive out of LaGrange in late July similar to how I drove in more than two years ago, with a mixture of excitement, nervousness and uncertainty whirling around in my gut. I’ll take with me the satisfaction that hard work brings and will leave behind worthwhile relationships I hope to maintain.
I am hopeful and confident the piece of my heart I leave behind will also call out to me from time to time, beckoning me back for a visit.
When it calls, I’ll be sure to answer.