Saturday, January 30, 2010
While I was in Haiti this past week I said désolé often.
In French, désolé means sorry.
When I say I’m sorry to people in America they look at me a little funny and say, “It wasn’t your fault.” But growing up in Africa sorry said it all. When someone was hurt, when someone was melancholy you would simply say sorry.
To say sorry in Liberia is to say, I empathize -- I share your pain -- I hurt because you hurt – you do not hurt alone.
Nobody should have to hurt alone.
In Malawi when someone is in sorrow they are never left alone. When tragedy comes the furniture is taken out of the house so that people can come in. They come and sit on the floor. They sit for hours. No one says anything, your presence says everything, I’m sorry and you are not alone in your sorrow.
I don’t think God meant for us to be alone when life really hurts, that’s why I said désolé so many times in Haiti.
Our English word desolate comes from the French désolé. Desolate is a heavy word, we use it when we are deserted, abandoned, alone, or absent of joy. Maybe its most weighted meaning is, devoid of comfort.
That’s why I said désolé in Haiti. I simply wanted the beautiful but hurting people I met to know they were not alone in their pain.
As our team of doctors and nurses worked at field hospitals (literally on the grass in fields), at clinics, and at orphanages, I first wondered in what ways could I help? I’m a doctor – of philosophy – but that doesn’t help when someone needs a leg set or a wound dressed.
But when I met the Haitian boy Kevin with the amputated leg, without thinking much, the word désolé just came out. Haitians speak French (French Creole), he smiled and said, merci.
Across the dirt road from the orphanage where we delivered food sat a pile of broken concrete that used to be a two-story home. I walked over to see if anyone was in the bed-sheet tent in front of the pile of the rubble. A young woman in her twenties was living there. Her story hurt my heart. She and twenty other family members are sleeping in front of their crumbled home. Some sleep between the crevices in the slabs of concrete. Two of her family are still buried in the rubble.
What do you say when you hear that? How much sorrow can one person take? The only words I really had were, “Je suis très désolé” – I am so very sorry.
Driving through Port-au-Prince a colorful Haitian bus pulled in front of us, in huge, bright letters were the words, Sorry My Friend. The bus said it well. Désolé mon ami
Leaving Haiti we stopped to deliver meds at a field hospital. As we come up to rows and rows of Red Cross tents that sheltered hundreds of recovering patients with amputations, crush wounds, and broken bones, I noticed that a teenage boy, probably 19, was laying alone; on a bare mattress, under a tree that shaded him from the setting sun. Four large metal pins extruded through his skin as part of the external bone fixator that immobilized his tibia.
The field hospital was doing a supurb job but it felt strange that a patient with critical injuries be left alone under a tree. So I walked over and asked, “Êtes vous d’accord?” (Are you ok?”). He said he was doing fine. So I just sat down next to him and practiced my French -- and said désolé mon ami.