Four days after my father’ death—I was back home standing, staring at the dining room table covered with granola bars, hiking boots, Band-Aids, bug repellent, and film. I was incapable of packing. I had reached the end of my coping abilities. I didn’t get angry; I didn't cry; I didn't collapse. I didn't pack, either. Out of this systems failure, arose one of the cherished traditions of my Haiti trips: Aaron packs.
I will look at the tabletop contents, know I can’t fit it into the backpack and suitcase, and do one of two things, depending on my mood and level of exhaustion. I will announce definitively, “It won’t fit” and walk into the other room, turn on the CD player, and pick up a book. Or, I will take everything, cram it into those two cases, ruin every item in the process, and provide secondary proof of the existence of black holes. Neither is really desirable.
I had not made up my mind how to approach this particular situation when Aaron walked in. Before long, he had all the paraphernalia laid out on the family room floor. He divided, conquered, and Baggie-d everything. Two hours later, it was all secured. Sunflower seeds separated into individually cloistered servings, one set of underwear and socks (matching) unitized, inconceivable order was ranked and utilized in my luggage. In the chaotic days ahead, I would thank God again and again for the divinely aggravating methodology reflected in my husband.
Meanwhile Beth had been dealing with all the situations I had left behind, unresolved, when I left for Daddy’s funeral. Prior to this media had not been on her radar. For Beth the trip was to be more private—a time to be quiet, open to whatever Haiti and the Haitian people had to present. I had more or less agreed to handle media—but I flew north—and she was left to deal with four television stations, three radio stations, and three newspapers. But, she picked up the responsibility and handled it. She got her whole family involved. Her young son, Eric was interviewed, and all three of them, including her husband, John, were filmed as she packed.
Another item Beth had to take on was the final assembly of the medical goods we planned to take in with us. Don Chester, the President of St. Mary’s Hospital in West Palm Beach had provided us with a number of items, neatly packed, boxed and easily handled. Aaron had gone by the hospital loading dock and picked those up the week before. Another friend of mine, an artist and art professor at the college, Alessandra, had set about collecting funds and then gone to a Palm Beach drug store to purchase and beg for additional supplies. She arrived at Beth’s the day before we were scheduled to leave with an unbelievable volume and variety of materials. All this, coupled with another quantity of supplies—from friends of ours who owned a pharmacy—presented Beth with a formidable packing assignment.
Somehow or other, she managed it. In a suitcase that looked as if it might have been part of the Czar’s turn of the century packing cases for vacations in the Crimea, she managed to secure it all, plus a gross of granola bars donated by the St. George’s Episcopal Church soup kitchen. It was the re-stuffing of tens of clowns into a small car; it was the miracle of the loaves and fishes in reverse; and, Beth, with what must have been Divine intervention, managed to perform it. Perhaps even more miraculous, she was able to carry this elephantine piece of luggage.
Late Saturday afternoon, Aaron and I pulled in the Beth’s driveway and loaded up the trunk of the car as the West Palm Beach WPEC-TV Channel 12 News interviewed and filmed. Then, out of respect, they turned off the cameras so John and Beth and Eric could say good-bye.
Off to Miami. Aaron played chauffeur while Beth and I sat in the back seat madly practicing what we termed “Panic Creole”. Ede mwen! Kote twalet la? (Help me. Where is the bathroom?) and other basic survival phrases. After the first trip, a more important phrase replaced the bathroom question (which usually was a hopeless one anyway): Gen yon pwoblem ak machin mwen. Eske sa grav? Eske mwen ka kondi li kon sa? (I have a problem with my car. Is it serious? Can I drive it this way?
It was deep dusk when we pulled into the Catholic Haitian Center courtyard in the Little Haiti section of Miami. Aaron dutifully unloaded the boxes, backpacks, and “the suitcase from hell” in the foyer. He met the other members of the delegation who had arrived, and, with whispered, but intense, admonitions and a final kiss which, I am afraid, he really felt was final, asking if I was sure this was what I wanted to do, he left. It had begun, at last.