Dear family & friends,
I remember years ago, an older woman named Helen, who used to mark the distances in her travels by how many rosaries she prayed along the way.
She marked the passing of time with mysteries, and not with the usual miles or hours – and certainly not with miles per hour.
Joyful mysteries, sorrowful mysteries, luminous mysteries, glorious mysteries.
This pious practice didn’t make her any less human – she was still quite a character, funny and feisty, full of enjoyable contradictions.
But it did make her wise. She lived with penetrating insight, in deep hope, and radiated a healing kindness.
This practice of marking time by mysteries also helped her to sanctify the loneliness that came with both widowhood and a long-empty nest, and the many other countless losses that the passing of the years brings.
This sanctity eventually paved for her the way to a good death, which she faced with gratitude for life, fulfillment in how she lived and loved, a deep sense of peace, unafraid, and a playful curiosity about what was waiting beyond the veil.
The world has had its own way to mark the very short span of time since COVID-19 appeared in the human family, from December 2019 until today. The time has been short, yet the impact incalculable from every angle.
The passing of these past eight months has been measured by vast statistical presentations, dramatic world and national events (both viral related and not), and by no shortage of confrontations, some admirable and some quite disturbing.
In Haiti, we share the same way of measuring the time of Covid 19, with statistics, dramatic events, and passionate confrontations.
Since Coronavirus has been lethal primarily for adults, we remember clearly the day of our first known case arrived at our St. Luke Hospital on March 16, 2020.
Since then, we have welcomed 1,068 proven or highly suspect cases. Of these, 703 were seriously ill and needed admission to our 100 bed Coronavirus unit.
Of these 703 admitted, 173 did not survive the tough battle raging in their lungs, and 98 of these were dead on arrival.
We are so pleased that the 365 outpatients recovered well, and we were thrilled with the 421 inpatients who recovered and were able to return home.
There were 52 patients who left against medical advice, to seek other forms of treatment, and 32 who were transferred to other centers for more private care.
There are 25 who are still in our beds, which shows a decrease from 95% capacity (of 100 beds) for May and June, to 25% at present.
This is the passing of our time, marked in statistics.
There is also the human measure of these days.
Think of emotions and anguish of the sick people who were ashamed of the “Corona” label, who were ostracized and threatened by a panicked population, and were scared of both dying and living.
Think of the emotions and anguish for all of us caregivers, with so many of our patients being either employees or friends, neighbors from past and present, and infected members of our own team, whose very service to the Covid 19 patients made them ill.
Measuring humanly, we have our own passionate stories of what it was like receiving all those who arrived dead, on motorcycle “ambulances,” and doors used as stretchers, and their grieving families who came with them in great numbers, and how this left tracks on our hearts and minds.
And how this multiplied the fear and anxiety in all of us, with every new cough or slight fever.
Think what it was like for staff and families to face the agonal deaths of those whose treatment was no match for the rage of their infection.
Measuring humanly, we rode the rollercoaster of steep ups and downs, with the raising and falling of each person’s blood oxygen level, measured on their fingertip oximeter.
We constantly offered calm, reassuring words not to give up, to be patient, to be courageous and hopeful.
We fought alongside those with falling oxygen levels, as we leveraged all available treatments to help them, as well as keeping them on their sides or stomachs, making teas for them, praying with them and for them, blessing them with the holy oils, even as we looked at each other through masks and fogged goggles with deep worry.
We rejoiced with those whose levels rose and rose, slowly, and saw them through, and we were deeply pained for those who died in a frightful hunger for air.
For those of us all around the world who were, and continue to be, caregivers on the front lines, we have had lot of flesh in the game, and sweat, blood and tears.
A telling book, released in 2014, describes very well what life altering trauma and illness do to the bodies, minds and hearts of all involved, both patients and helpers: The Body Keeps the Score (B. Van der Kolk).
These of course, were not our only activities in 2020 up to today. Nor, of course, were your activities limited to Covid-19 survival.
Trying to keep the children in our programs and schools isolated and safe required phenomenal amounts of time and creativity.
We marked the passing of these months with a keen eye on the opening of banks (no money, no food) and markets (to buy especially what the sick and the children needed).
We marked the passing of these months also by receiving overflows of patients from other hospitals, especially for trauma and burns.
We marked the passing of these months dealing with refugee women and children fleeing gun battles around the city who arrived at our very doors. (There are still about 60 under our wings at our St. Mary Center in Cite Soleil).
We marked the passing of the time trying to deal with deficits in our funding, the obvious cause being disastrous national and world economies (the virus affects more than the lungs).
Yes, we look at the last eight months both through the lens of statistics, but also in the flesh.
Now I return to Helen’s rosary.
Our months were also marked by mysteries, both personal and ritual.
In fact, even the ritual Holy Days are meant to become personally transforming mysteries.
There have been a lot of them since March 16th.
Just to name some of them, the feast of St. Joseph, the Annunciation, Palm Sunday, the Easter Holy Days, the feasts of Matthias and Thomas, the Ascension, Pentecost, the Holy Trinity, Corpus Christi, the birth of John the Baptist, the feast of Peter and Paul, the Transfiguration.
The mysteries illuminate the interface between God and God’s people.
Here are just two of them from the list.
St. Thomas, known for his doubts. But who is free of doubts?
Especially on the world of today? Was his doubt a disgrace? Or a grace?
How do I deal with doubt? Doubts about my country, my church, the society in which I live, doubts about myself, my God?
Do I solve my doubts by disengagement?
Try to picture the human family as a collection of hermits.
Where will isolation lead us?
Do I solve my doubts by being hostile to those who I perceive as causing my doubts, by their differences in profound ways to myself and my world view?
Where will violence and division lead us?
Doubt seeks the assurance of understanding.
How many school children seemed to be failures of rote learning, seemed to be dull or blunted, doubting themselves and doubted by their parents, children who later bloomed when their lessons were sketched out for them, or sung to them, or danced with them, or when they were shown with their hands how to work out a problem?
St. Thomas learned his way to learn.
It was totally hands on, and once he understood with his hands, he understood with his whole being and was totally committed to the end.
Here is a thought about the feast of the Transfiguration of Jesus on August 6th.
The radiant light of Jesus gives witness to His Oneness with God, and shows the inner light which people can attain, even if they can never hold it in equal measure with God.
But since 1945, August 6th is also the memorial of a deadly blinding light that killed tens of thousands of people in an instant, and condemned as many again to years of toxic illness and disfigurement.
The atomic bombing of Hiroshima. We just marked the 75th year.
We are stunned on August 6th by two mysteries of light, one unspeakable and one wonderful.
We are stunned even more by the choice we each have to make, as to which light we will follow, which will be our guiding light: the light of Prometheus, stolen from the Gods and wreaking havoc, or the light of the City of God, calling all to peace and the fulness of life.
Our world is changing, deeply and fast.
These are tough times for all of us, hands down.
Yet we stand a chance to grow in wisdom, in grace and in the discovery of surprising solutions to many problems, solutions which will guarantee well-being for the whole human family and the earth itself. We need to seek truth together, freely and in good will.
I thank you most sincerely, now more than ever, for your support which has helped us to be there for the people in this great time of need.
I pray that your days, weeks, months and years are marked by the tender but challenging mysteries of God’s grace.
Fr Rick Frechette CP, DO
August 11, 2020
Port au Prince, Haiti