Edited from a journal entry I wrote upon arriving back from a documentary filmmaking trip to Haiti one year ago:
It seems obvious now. Of course I should be here back in my bed, the rustling of wind through the trees outside my window and the faint sound of a TV downstairs. But kneeling in that airport two days ago, it was anything but.
We had arrived at the Port-Au-Prince airport on time for our flight back to the States, but found ourselves facing massive, immobilized lineups. Our trip coordinator spoke to airport personnel, and they walked us to past throngs of desperate-looking people to the front of a line, ID badges swinging around our necks, exuding the aura of wealthy foreigners.
But even this new line was a mystery. There was no attendant helping people at the front of it, and it didn’t lead to the correct airline check-in. It was here we learned from some fellow line-standers that the airport computers had crashed due to flooding a few days earlier. Because of the systems failure, no one could give us a definite answer on the status of our flight; one said it was delayed, another said it was on time, another said it was canceled. One Haitian-American said she had been stranded there for three days: “This was my first trip to see my home country, and it’s going to be my last!”
This wasn’t our first tangle with the effects of the flood: a few days prior we found ourselves driving a Suzuki down a road that had transformed itself into a Viennese waterway, and we only escaped by pulling off a harrowing 3-point turn in the middle of a two-way lineup of cars and motorcycles and a foot of garbage-filled water flowing underneath us. I had managed to enjoy the journey pretty well thus far, logistics issues and all – whether from mental fortitude or ignorance, I’m not sure.
But for some reason, the possibility that we could miss our flight and be stranded in Haiti for another day or two was much more difficult to grapple with than driving through a flood. This seemed odd to think about now – it’s not like our lives were at risk. I found myself wondering why this was the problem that threw me into a horrible mood. Was it was because we were so close to the finish line? Was it just the final straw in a long list of staggering infrastructural and logistical problems we had faced?
It took me awhile, but I finally pinpointed the source. The anguish was coming from the unsettling realization of how little we Americans really have control over. How cash-filled pockets, university degrees and self-help podcasts only go so far in the grand scheme of things. I was, in fact, feeling entitlement. Something I had zero right to claim.
It was then that I believe I began to understand the gravity behind the Helen Keller quote: “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Life is either a daring adventure, or it is nothing.”
I had to acknowledge that if we didn’t make it out of the airport that day, we would simply be joining a long list of worn-out passengers who had every right to get where they were going, but had fallen victim to poverty and infrastructure problems which had, in many ways, been caused by the intervention of Western countries.
So I knelt between the line dividers, and decided that even if our flight didn’t leave that day, I’d be okay. Heck, who was I kidding – I didn’t even have work the next day anyway.
Shortly thereafter, an airport official returned to us, gave us our airline tickets, and sent us through security. Our flight had been delayed, but we somehow arrived back home only a few hours after our scheduled time.
So I am here again, quietly in my own bed. With the passage of time having numbed the feeling of desperation, it’s so tempting to act like this outcome was obvious. Like, when have I not come out of a predicament ok?
But when I think back to being in that line-up, tearing up at what then seemed a distant hope that I’d be exactly where I am now, I am forced to acknowledge the fragile, tiny pathways through which our past travels in order to arrive at the vast opportunities of the present. It’s a incredible to consider how many of those pathways are created by things that we have no control over; things we have no right to claim, but do anyway.
This experience was another wake-up call for me to take nothing for granted. Sure, there’s something to be said for being prepared, working hard, and doing your research. But I am also starting to see why Ecclesiastes 9:11 says:
The race is not to the swift
or the battle to the strong,
nor does food come to the wise
or wealth to the brilliant
or favor to the learned;
but time and chance happen to them all.
I don’t know how to respond to the staggering inequality that exists outside the periphery of many of our immediate lives, and I do hope to continue that conversation. But I hope that for now, at the very least, I can take the lesson to remain humbly grateful for those times when things work out in our favor, and prepare to face with resilience the times when they may not.