“According to our research and conversations with aid groups in Haiti, less than 5 percent of this [debris] has been removed since January, and even less has been properly disposed of. Based on our calculations … we estimate that it could take 20 years or more.”
Comment: Eternal Weight. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the article upon reading the title. All things eternal interest me though so it caught my eye. The eternal weight referred to ostensibly has little to do with the heavens, however, and everything to do with the pun that is intended: the amount of debris clogging the streets of Port au Prince and elsewhere from the earthquake seems like an eternal weight – heavy and one that will be around for a very long time – eternally if you will. At least there is no end in sight. Thus, in my opinion, the real meaning of the title and the sad reality that we face here in Haiti: the amount of time that we will have to wait until the debris to be cleaned up is likely to seem like an eternal weight – a very long wait.
“The quake left an astonishing amount of debris, including concrete and rebar from collapsed buildings, destroyed belongings and human remains. According to our research and conversations with aid groups in Haiti, less than 5 percent of this has been removed since January, and even less has been properly disposed of. Based on our calculations, partially from the United States Agency for International Development’s reports on debris removal programs, we estimate that it could take 20 years or more.”
“Some streets with especially large piles of refuse are impassable. As a result, it can take hours to travel just a few miles. Meanwhile, schools, hospitals, businesses and homes remain blocked.”
Permit me an analogy: the human body is a bit like Haiti. The former with time and a lack of appropriate maintenance given its increasing fragility and finite nature is susceptible to catastrophic illness – stroke or myocardial infarction for example. And the body becomes even more vulnerable to floating debris, cholesterol plaques and atheroma formation without adequate treatment -surgical and/or medical.
Well, such is the case with Haiti as well. Given its fragility and other factors, Haiti deteriorated over time. Then it was the victim of a catastrophic illness – an earthquake. And its capital – the heart and the brain of the country – Port au Prince – was hit the worst. It was an infarct that has crippled much of the rest of the country and greatly decreased the flow of goods. And like with the human heart after a myocardial infarction that remains vulnerable to chemicals, etc. floating in the blood stream that build up on vessel walls and then cause a lethal or debilitating obstruction, so also is Port au Prince suffering from a great buildup of debris in its roads and byways – the vessels that allow people, goods and vehicles to move effectively. And the debris that includes rubble, garbage, metal and all sorts of material has caused significant obstruction in many places. The city is in need of prompt medical or surgical treatment or its inhabitants and others are sure to suffer more than they already are.
It seems that we should hope that an eternal weight does not await us as the present obstruction could prove even more threatening if not deadly. “The debris is also an environmental and health hazard. The daily downpours of the rainy season leach toxic chemicals and carcinogens into the storm water system — and ultimately into the drinking water. Debris has been dumped into the sea, turning the blue water brown.”
Eternal weight – the words ostensibly have a negative connotation – either indicating a weight of rubble and debris that will be around for a long time or a very long wait before it is actually removed. However, let me suggest a more positive – indeed hope-filled – way of looking at the two words Eternal weight. And for this I draw from one of my favorite Fathers of the Church – St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430), the saintly bishop who is also one of the greatest and most prolific writers of all time. He wrote Confessions and City of God among others.
First, though, it is appropriate to ask – Quo vadis Haiti? Where are you going? Many of your streets are blocked with debris – garbage, rubble, rebar, remains, etc. And your way forward in the wake of the earthquake seems to be filled with many obstacles. Quo vadis Haiti? Maybe St. Augustine can help you and others as they assist you in moving forward.
How? “Thou hast made us for thyself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.” Peter Kreeft, a Catholic philosopher and prolific writer, notes that this is arguably the greatest sentence ever written outside Scripture because it tells us the secret of our destiny, our happiness—and our unhappiness. It is, however, not only unfashionable but terribly threatening.”
“Where are you going? That’s the most important question for a traveler. And we the living are all travelers.” You also Haiti. You are traveling. Death has called and is calling us all and moves us on. Stability is illusion. “Where are you going Haiti?
Amor meus, pondus meum, said Augustine: “My love is my weight.” In other words, that which I love will pull on me like a weight is influenced by gravity. And if my primary love is God, then my love is an eternal weight. Quo vadis? If God is my eternal weight – my love, Heaven is my destination.
“The truth is that man has a heaven-sized hole in his heart, and nothing else can fill it. We pass our lives trying to fill the Grand Canyon with marbles.” Everyone longs for “something no eye has seen, no ear has heard, something that has not entered into the imagination of man, something God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Cor 2:9)
“Home—that’s what heaven is. It won’t appear strange and faraway and “supernatural”, but utterly natural. Heaven is what we were designed for. People think heaven is escapist because they fear that thinking about heaven will distract us from living well here and now. It is exactly the opposite, and the lives of the saints and our Lord himself prove it. Those who truly love heaven will do the most for earth. [emphasis mine] It’s easy to see why. Those who love the homeland best work the hardest in the colonies to make them resemble the homeland. “Thy kingdom come. .. on earth as it is in heaven.”
Quo vadis Haiti? Your path may be blocked with much debris. And it is a threat that is obstructing the vessels of your heart – Port au Prince. The garbage, rebar, concrete and remains are an obstacle that seems to be an eternal weight – too much to remove in a period that is too long. But if you and those who are helping you understand, focus on and seek the true eternal weight – your true destination, then nothing will stand in your way. There is no debris, no weight, that you cannot lift. Those who truly love heaven will do the most for earth, including Haiti.