Update: Jonathan left a comment about the evening that you should read as well.
Humor me while I tell this story, because I promise you that it serves a purpose.
My sisters and I are all married and that means five weddings. Each wedding very different from another. There were church weddings, beach weddings (mine!), living room weddings with jeans, just out-of-the-shower wet hair, and no guests because we’re just doing this one for the INS (ALSO MINE!). There were restaurant receptions and fire hall receptions. Weddings with one half of the chairs filled with Mexicans. Weddings with one half of the pews filled with deaf guests.
But there were constants. Cookie tables. Certain family friends. My father performed every ceremony, including one with a Spanish interpreter and one with a sign language interpreter.
Another constant was the conversation that we would have with our father or mother, whoever got the short end of the straw I suppose, on the day of the wedding. That conversation would start out something like this, “Dear child. I spent a small fortune on this wedding. I have listened to you talk about this wedding for a year now. I have watched you weep over this wedding, much as my wallet is weeping, because of this wedding. I know things about flowers, and fabrics, and hair product, and strategic undergarments that I never really wished to have to know, because of this wedding. There are 250 people sitting out there waiting for this wedding. If you don’t want to go through with this wedding, you absolutely do not have to.”
You can take that as, “Boy, her Dad really hates the men they chose,” or you can take it for what it really was, a father understanding pressure, and being sure that we truly were doing what we still wanted to do.
Fast forward to last night when I sat down at Las Velas with my Valentines, Jonathan Wander, and Jamie and Ali McMutrie.
There we sat, one last time for who knows how long, before the girls headed back to Haiti today to care for the last 12 children the French government did not give clearance to enter the country.
There Jonathan and I sat, peppering the girls with questions, laughing with them, listening as they described raw emotions, as they told us things we hadn’t yet heard that they had witnessed in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake. Horrifying things. We talked about Pittsburgh; what it means to them, particularly the people.
And I told them the story of the five weddings.
I said, “I can’t really look at the pictures Michael has been taking yet because I’m not ready to be unable to sleep again. Haiti’s changed. It’s going to be harder. Harsher. Has anyone yet come to you and said, ‘If you don’t want to go back to Haiti; if you can’t do THIS anymore, you absolutely do not have to?'”
And Ali said, “Oh, yes. Lots of people have said that. We are doing what we want to do. That’s our home.” Ali then gave me the example of if Pittsburgh was met with some great natural disaster, collapsed in upon itself and its residents, and I left for a time to be safe, wouldn’t I want to go back? Wouldn’t I feel the NEED to go back and help those people I hold dear to me?
And I was all [LIGHT BULB!]. I get it.
So I asked them another question. “Could you be happy HERE?”
I’m not exaggerating when I say the looks on both of their faces as they shook their heads NO! sent me and Jonathan into a fit of hysterical laughter.
Their mantra, “Haiti is our home.”
They don’t know what’s going to happen when they get to Haiti. They explained the best case and the worst case scenarios to me. They explained how angry they were when they heard one of the children died. They explained what they’ll do when they get there, what needs to happen in order to bring the 12 here to live, how they’ll care for the children of the crumbling orphanage while they’re in Haiti, and they also talked a little bit about their plans for the future, beyond BRESMA.
They have lofty, selfless goals to save as many Haitian children as they can.
They tell me they’re not heroes, because, “What did we do? We didn’t DO anything.”
This was where Jonathan and I burst into a NEW fit of hysterical laughter and it wasn’t just because I was on my second mojito.
“ARE YOU CRAZY?!” I asked. “You kept them alive. You stayed calm in the face of danger, in the face of no food and water, in the face of sickness. You worked 24/7 for one solid week to get those kids here. You refused to leave ONE SINGLE child behind even though that meant one of you had to jump off of an airplane to sure safety, not knowing if you were going to ever get out of Haiti. Now that there are children left there, you’re going back without a care for your own safety.”
If I had my way, they’d have left the U.S. looking quite silly as they tried to scrub off the word “Hero” that I Sharpied onto their cute little foreheads.
The last question I asked them. “Are you scared?”
And I was surprised when Ali said, “Yes.”
I asked her what she was scared of, and she said, “The airplane ride.”
They’re in Haiti now.
They’ve left behind their new brother Fredo, who I’ve met and who has a smile that really just turns on light bulbs all over your heart. He went to his first Penguins game recently, where Jonathan bought him that little Iceburgh he’s clutching.
They’ve left behind their mother and their father, their brother, their family, their friends, their safety, and on Jamie’s part, a husband, and they’re not sure when they’ll be back.
But they’re where they want to be — with their children in the dangerous, harsh, chaotic Haiti that they still call home.