HAITI WAS born out of a struggle far greater even than this - and will survive the horrific tragedy of Tuesday's earthquake. Haitians are a resilient and creative people of deep religious faith and national pride. In 1804, their ancestors accomplished something that no other people in world history ever have: a successful national slave revolt - succeeding where Spartacus failed.
It is a victory for all of humanity to celebrate: A revolution committed to a fuller ideal of freedom than either that of the American or French revolutions. Though overwhelmed with sadness, I am ever hopeful for Haiti. Many have died and others are grieving and suffering terribly, and this is lamentable beyond words - but in their name and in God's, Haiti shall overcome.
Several reports from Port-au-Prince tell of people gathering to pray and to sing hymns. The healing process begins immediately in Haiti; it always has, and this is reflected every time when someone says - a common expression in Haiti - "Bondye bon" ("God is good") - on occasions both good or bad. This earthquake is certainly among the worst things ever to happen to Haiti, but Haitians will derive strength from their faith and their pride, and they shall overcome.
Haiti's healing and reconstruction will be long and arduous, and will also require the generous and "unwavering support of the American people" that President Obama has pledged.
Let us hope that President Obama can prove the president of Haiti wrong: With good reason, President René Préval said: "Once this first wave of humanitarian compassion is exhausted, we will be left as always, truly alone, to face new catastrophes and see restarted, as if in a ritual, the same exercises of mobilization."
AMERICANS need to realize that Haiti is not only our neighbor, but is very much a part of everything we are and value as a people. Haitians fought in our Revolution for our freedom, just as they fought in our Civil War against slavery, and just as thousands of Haitian-Americans have served more recently in our armed forces.
Haiti is a country that we occupied militarily from 1915-1934, when we created the very Haitian army that for ensuing decades propped up brutal dictatorships, orchestrated coups-d'état, and terrorized innocent Haitians - all with U.S. support. The resultant political instability is part of the story of Haiti that goes far in explaining the nation's perpetual struggle and enduring abject poverty.
As such, we share in the responsibility for Haiti's plight, just as we share in the responsibility for its healing and reconstruction. No one causes earthquakes, of course, but there are human causes for shoddy buildings that collapse with alacrity when the earth trembles. But even well-constructed buildings in Haiti, like the U.N. headquarters, Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption and the National Palace, have fallen. Think of the White House collapsing! It is that grave, and it is that close to home.
I conclude with an image of hope rising out of destruction: The 1842 earthquake in Haiti that destroyed much of the magnificent city of Cap-Haitien also created one of the most beautiful places and one of the most moving forms of human religious expression in the world.
A mountaintop split and a waterfall appeared right where the Virgin Mary was believed to have appeared the year before. The place is called Sodo (Saut d'Eau - Water Fall), near the town of Ville Bonheur (Happy Town). Every year in the middle of July, tens of thousands of pilgrims flock to Sodo to sing songs to the Virgin Mary and to the ancestral spirits of Africa beneath the cool waters of the falls, which bathe them with abundant blessings and hope.
A personal note: I lived in Haiti for a long time - two of my children were born there to a Haitian mother, my first wife, who tragically died of cancer in 2001. When I learned of the earthquake, I felt very much like I did when I learned of her diagnosis.
Our house there may well be destroyed; it is quite near the Montana Hotel, which is itself now rubble.
There were as many as 300 people inside when the Montana collapsed. They had no warning. My wife and I would often go there to sip rum punch while watching the sun set over the city and the Bay of Port-au-Prince, the city on the very plain that late Tuesday afternoon was covered with rising smoke and human wailing.