There's an older gentleman who works in the Wal-Mart near my office. He's tall and round faced with such a warm, jolly personality that I couldn't help but strike up a conversation with him as he swept down the aisle beside me about a year ago. We chatted for a few moments and his happy baritone laced with the accent of a foreign language let me know that he was definitely not from around here. He said he was from Haiti, which caused me to immediately launch into the very limited French that I remember from high school.
"Tu parle francais, monsieur?" (You speak French?) His eyes brightened.
We went back and forth like that briefly. (Well, I did say my French is limited!) I was about to launch into the days of the week when I thought better of it. He beamed and laughed then went back to his work.
Now, each time I'm haunting the aisles at Wal-Mart and run into him, we always greet each other in French and he asks how I've been, "Ca va?" And regardless of what kind of day I've had, I smile and reply, "Tres bien!" which is "Very well!" in English and that's a good thing because I don't know how to say," This was the worse day imaginable," in French! Occasionally, when the girls are with me, he gives them high-fives and attaches one of those yellow smiley stickers to their foreheads. He's seems like such a genuinely sweet guy. I don't have any grandfathers, actually, now that I think about it, I never even met either of my grandfathers but he seems to have great grandfather qualities.
When I learned of the earthquake that rocked Port-au-Prince, Haiti last week and saw the heart wrenching faces of people caught in the grip of the disaster, I thought of my Wal-mart grandpa and wondered how he had been affected by the tragedy. Did he have children there? Siblings? Good friends? I also have other friends and family members with strong, direct ties to that little island nation and they sat by, helplessly awaiting word as communication was completely cut off. Reports have been pouring in since, stories of death and survival and terrible need.
Now, just over a week later, it’s still so fresh in my mind that it may as well have happened yesterday. I can’t begin to imagine how it would feel to be sitting at work, working on a copy job or standing in the break room with a cup of coffee, and in a matter of minutes, have my whole world turned on end, shaken and stunned surrounded by the wreckage of what was once my office or perhaps buried beneath it, trapped.
My heart goes out to all our Haitian working girls, their families, friends, and neighbors, at this time of great distress. If there is one good thing to be said in all this, the outpouring of support has been tremendous. I implore each of you to find some way to lend a hand to this city that has been thrown into chaos. Its so easy to get caught up in a flurry of emails and deadlines, meetings and travel plans but it just takes a little time to make a tremendous impact when the need is this great.