We’re standing in the countryside near the epicenter of the 7.0 earthquake that devastated the country. ‘I just said goodbye to the children in my classroom and left school,’ she says. ‘I was walking through the field on my way home. I fell down. So did my friends. We were shocked but also laughed. Then I ran home. It collapsed but everyone was okay. But my aunt and two cousins were in the city. They were inside. They died.’ ‘I’m so sorry.’ ‘What about you, where were you?’ she asks me. ‘I was at home in Florida when it happened.’ ‘I know. And what happened to your house there? Did it fall or is it okay?’ It takes me a second to realize that, yes, of course, to her in that moment it’s like the whole world shook.’”
Arriving in Haiti just six days after the earthquake, Kent Annan was present to suffering and vast destruction. Not as a dispassionate observer or reporter, but as a longtime friend and colleague of those whose stories he shares. The realness of those relationships and the realness of Annan’s questions and struggle make this book beautiful and sometimes painful to read.
Don’t turn away from suffering or from gratitude, Annan writes, noting this book is perhaps in the tradition of a “psalm of lament that starts with pain and absence and tries to claw its way by the end to gratitude and faith.” In this, his second book, Annan weaves together the psalms, stories from Haiti after the earthquake and his own stories. As he does so, we are challenged to look at our own lives and experiences with greater vulnerability and honesty.
The book is divided into two parts — confronting a crisis of faith and searching for an honest faith. Each chapter title provides an opportunity for reflection, and when one puts them together they compose a kind of prayer: “The World Crashes All the Time”; “Spiritual Aftershocks”; “Accept Uncertainty”; “Don’t Turn Away”; “Feel”; “Keep Moving”; “God is Distant and Near”; “Jesus (Crucifix Versus Cross)”; “The Response is Us”; “Honest Faith.”
In an era overwhelmed with the illusion of separateness, there is an urgent need to remember the oneness of the human family, and Annan does not smooth over this urgency by spiritualizing these stories or his own raw questions. The Reading Group Guide at the end raises additional important questions—not easy, but very helpful.
Stories of Haiti often badly misconstrue Haitian culture and objectify its people. It’s enormously encouraging and important that Annan’s stories are grounded in respect for the people of Haiti. I strongly recommend this book to individuals, groups and congregations traveling to Haiti, and to anyone on an honest search.
KIM MONTROLL is director of transformational partnerships with Beyond Borders and serves on the program team of Faith and Money Network.