I received a message from someone I've known since childhood, Jane Peck, whom I met when we were both in (beloved) Mrs. Boehmke's class at the (now erased, only a grassy hillside) Oakwood Elementary School in Albert Lea, Minnesota. Jane and I also attended Christ Episcopal Church, on Fountain Lake, associated in my mind with many vivid memory fragments. The winding back staircase up to the nave, the musty ladies' powder room, the icy glass bottles of Orange Crush that were our reward during summer Bible camp, the odor of choir robes, the Sunday in spring when each child was given a red geranium (and the amazing smell that produced), the effort of trying to make sense of the prayers: was it "made well in us" or "may dwell in us" – and what exactly was the difference? That's just the very beginning of a memory flood.
Jane sent along this photo of our confirmation class, taken when we were 11 or 12 years old. She is the first girl on the left, and I am standing beside her in my Groucho Marx glasses and nose. (And my very cool Jackie Kennedy dress.) I don't know if the boys in the photo turned out to be middle school principals, used car salesmen, and insurance guys, as their apparel might suggest, but I like the way they form a tight little fence around the four fierce young brides. We all look so adult by today's childhood standards...but wait? Aren't kids today supposed to be getting too old too rapidly? We look adult in a culturally conservative way, so I guess the photo suggests (or "confirms") a successful transition out of childhood into socially sanctioned maturity.
A few days after receiving this photo – days separated by a natural disaster – I got another message from Jane (via my mother), with a photo of her taken in sometime in the past, in Haiti. She's been involved in a project there through St. Luke's Episcopal church in Minneapolis. I'm including this message, too – a letter explaining the status of the project after the earthquake. It gives a glimpse of the tragic situation in Haiti outside the cities, and points to the perseverance, dedication, and personal engagement required after a disaster of this kind.
It also reminds me of how fortunate I am to still have such a wonderful friend from childhood.
From: Jane Peck
Date: January 19, 2010 1:36:01 PM CST
To: Haiti Supporters List
Subject: Haiti Project after Quake
St. Luke’s Haiti Project Update – Jane Peck, 1/19/2010
Dear Supporters of the St. Luke’s Haiti Project,
Thank you for your patience. I have been waiting for more information on our school feeding project at St. Patrick’s in Haiti. We still do not know the status of the school or the people in the village. Our project is an Episcopal church partnership. There are several others from Minnesota, as well as over 100 across the US. We in Minnesota have been sharing every shred of information that we receive. This is what we know so far:
1. St. Patrick’s in Tomb Gateau village is quite near the epicenter. It is high in the mountains on the highway between the north coastal town of Leogane and the south coastal town of Jacmel. The highway is impassable. No relief has reached the area.
2. St. Patrick’s is a very small school and church, dependant on a larger church and school about 15 minutes down the mountain. That village and church is called St. Etienne’s (St. Stevens). This is where we stayed both years at the minister’s home. We were informed following the quake that the home, school, church have all collapsed and covered the highway.
3. We have received information through an unofficial source that all Episcopal ministers and their families have survived. We hope it is true. No word on the school principal. Luckily, the quake struck at 5 pm and school had been out for several hours.
4. All partnership funds go through the Episcopal complex in the capitol Port au Prince. This complex of cathedral, high school, offices, seminary, convent, has been destroyed. This is one of the reasons it is so hard to get information. (There never was internet, electricity, water, or sewer in St. Patrick’s on the mountain.)
WHAT NEXT FOR OUR PROJECT?
First we wait until the main church organization is restored and money and communication can flow. We will be involved in the rebuilding phase. This phase may begin in the spring. WE WOULD APPRECIATE YOUR DONATIONS TOWARDS RESTORING OUR CHILDREN'S FOOD PROGRAM. ONCE WE HAVE FUNDS FOR A YEAR OF FOOD, THE MONEY WILL GO TO REBUILD SCHOOLS.
With the destruction of the anchor church, St. Etienne, our school site may need to be put on hold, as it will be quite hard to administrate. We will then switch to a more accessible Episcopal school partnership where we can feed children, and if we surpass the food budget, construct schools.
Partnership projects are small and grassroots, involving the community in the choices and implementation. This is the best way to rebuild. The money is more accountable than in a large organization. We can visit and observe. Remember, the Episcopal Church of Haiti is indigenous, being formed 150 years ago by a church of freed slaves from Boston. All priests are from Haiti, know the culture and language, and live there permanently. Churches provide most of the schools in Haiti.
Send your thoughts and prayers to this unfortunate island. Thanks, Jane
To donate send checks to :
St. Luke’s Haiti Fund c/o Jane Peck
4221 Dupont SouthMpls. Mn 55409