Every day we have the opportunity to learn, the chance to be plucked from our familiar pool and taken into the unknown. But what do we do when we find ourselves in new and uncharted water? Do we quickly swim back? Do we observe? Or do we allow yourself to become moved?
Until about five years ago I didn’t know any Haitians. I knew nothing of the mango groves and the breadfruit trees. I didn’t know that umbilical stumps represented more than stem cell research. Is Haitian Creole even a real language? In my mind’s file cabinet of random facts, Haiti had been in a dingy manila folder labeled: “Poorest Country. . .”
This changed when I met my Haitian friend while making the rounds with a neighborhood jogging group. I didn’t know much about her, other than that she ran with the spirit of a cheetah and the speed of a deer. Over time, my friend has plucked me out of my familiar current and introduced me to new waters. Since then, there have been many notes and edits to that dingy manila folder with the words Poorest Country scribbled on it.
The small jogging group of three became a group of four with the addition of our new friend, and eventually our neighborhood trots turned into marathon training runs. On a chilly morning in October my Haitian friend joined us at the marathon starting line. She was wearing a black lightweight jacket bearing the flag of Haiti on her back. The running group and I chatted about which mile we would allow ourselves to walk rather than run, which hill would be the hardest, what our estimated finishing times would be, and in which neighborhood the gummy bear would be offered to runners. It became clear that my Haitian friend wasn’t considering any of this.
When she talked about what was on her mind, she simply stated: “Walk or run, I will finish the race, and the flag on my back will never touch the ground.”
It became clear that she was running for something greater than a personal record. Her race was symbolic of endurance, courage, commitment, and pride.
This was my first real introduction to Haiti.