Gifts come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes, they are the size of a ring box, sometimes, as big as a cruise ship. I received a gift the size of a cruise ship this morning.
You see, I am staying at a quiet beach resort in the north of Haiti – all by myself this Christmas. While I have always found a way to make it home for Christmas in the past, this year was different. A trip to Ireland, the death of an uncle, and a vacation home left me gone from Haiti for over five weeks in October and November. I also surprised my family in Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving. Having just spent wonderful time with my family combined with the fact that the idea of getting on a plane right now makes me exhausted just thinking about it, I decided to stay in Haiti for Christmas.
My stay here at Cormier Plage has offered me time to sleep, to eat wonderful food, and above all reflect and pray on the events of the year that is soon coming to a close. Each morning I begin on a lounge chair on the sand at the water’s edge. I watch the sky transform from a murky grey to hues of pink and red and yellow as the sun rises over the mountains to the east of me. I read Merton, Nouwen, various other reflection books and write in my journal.
This past year has not been an easy one for me. In fact, it has probably been the most difficult of my life to date. The year began in January with a broken engagement and an overall period of deep darkness and internal despair. Raw and broken, I took time away from work to just be held up by my family. As Jane Kenyon writes, the bile of desolation filled my every pore. The year continued and I slowly began to return to myself. It was still the interim time, though.
You are in this time of the interim
Where everything seems withheld.
The path you took to get here has washed out;
The way forward is still concealed from you.
The old is not enough to have died away;
The new is still too young to be born. (John O’Donohue, Benedictus)
I knew I no longer wanted to work in Washington, DC. Yet I knew not where I wanted to go. I came to know that not getting married was the right decision, yet I wondered if I would be lonely forever.
I prayed for guidance. I asked myself where in my life had I been happiest. The answer was resoundingly clear – when I was doing peacebuilding work in Haiti. I wanted to return and continue this work. I was lucky enough to find a peacebuilding job in Haiti – what looked like (and is) my dream job.
It was through nothing else than the grace and mercy of God, the unconditional love of my family, friends and colleagues, and much time spent in quiet prayer and stillness that I am whole, living here today with joy and hope.
This morning, while in deep prayer and reflection, I looked up from my lounge chair on the sand to see the giant Royal Caribbean ship sailing through the blue ocean toward Labadie, a peninsula just west of where I am staying. I was shocked to see this cruise ship, as I was on this ship nearly two years ago, with the person who would ask me to marry him. Seeing the ship took me to a place I have not visited in some time – the spot of our engagement. We were traveling through the Caribbean, and he proposed to me in Haiti, on a canoe in a secluded beach called Malfini – away from the masses on the cruise ship.
When I visited this memory hidden deep in the recesses of my heart, after the initial surprise, I smiled, and felt a bit of joy as I remembered what was at that point a very happy time in my life. For the first time, I realized how far I had come this past year, to be able to look back at that day on Labadie with a smile, and know that despite the outcome that neither of us envisioned, our separate lives are happy and full of peace.
May I never forget the emptiness of the past when my life is full;
May I never forget the pain of loneliness when my life is full of love.
May I never forget the separation from God and one another, that I have lived,
When my soul is full of joy.