It was a long, hard way that she walked, the mother of Ronel.
And like the long, hard walk of Christ, it started with a very bad verdict.
Ronel, at 8 years old, had cancer of his kidney.
Marise was tormented, and pondered in her heart what this might mean for her little son.
So began her way of the cross.
Weeping came easy now, for this strong and weathered woman.
Like dewfall on her cheeks, and river mist shrouding her eyes.
Marise would become known for this sorrowful look.
Jeremy is very far from Port au Prince, by water or by land
(travel by air is not a choice for poor people).
Mother and Son travelled the long road, with other poor women who also hoped that Port au Prince might bring some kind of relief from their woes.
It was a rough trip for Ronel, like being on a very bad road when your whole body aches with the flu. Christ was buffeted and stricken. Ronel was not without his literal hard knocks. Hundreds of eyes gawked at his gaunt and pale smile .
The journey ended, thank God, by an encounter with our team of good Samaritans at St Damien Hospital.
Help took a rough form. As Christ on the Cross was offered a sponge soaked in gall to quench his thirst, before long the bitter gall of chemotherapy became a staple for Ronel.
As Christ’s side was pierced by the sword, Ronel’s side was lanced by the surgeons spear, for the removal of the tumor.
As Christ anguished for many hours in the heat of the day, Ronel was blasted with the wild energy of radiation to burn the cancer away.
“Thank you for helping my son,” said the bewildered Marise.
God be praised, Ronel seemed better.
And so, back to Jeremy went the world’s newest Lazarus.
Long, lazy days in the family “lakou” at Jeremy.
New memories of sunny days and balmy breezes, of grandma working hard in the fields, looking often to see if her precious young treasure was alright, as he lounged on a hammock, held up by two coconut trees, which shaded him and gave him drink.
As Marise started to recuperate her widows mite, to renew herself with the energy of her friends, both lost during her difficult months away from the marketplace in the face of tragic illness.
The sun rose and the sun set in Jeremy
For many months.
Ronel studied and worked,
Ronel laughed and played.
Ronel began to grow tired,
Ronel started to become pale.
Marise could not NOT notice,
Try as she might.
Back to Port au Prince, guided by hope.
Battered again in crammed busses, walking through the hospital gates to the same good Samaritans,
But this time their jaws dropped and their hearts tightened.
It was too late. Very sadly, Ronel was beyond help and was going to die.
This is when I met Ronel. He was in agony. His eyes were like deep lakes, trying to drink in understanding. His body was skeletal, his belly bloated. Marise held him in her arms, and the weight of his body on hers, and the weight of his illness on her heart were very obvious. She was the sorrowful mother. “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nourished you!”
Heaven and earth were locked in an embrace, under the names of love and sorrow, under the names of Marise and Ronel. This was holy ground. Fools need not tread here.
The wish was to return to Jeremy. Marise was telling Ronel they would go back to the sunshine, to the cool breezes, to grandma and the shade of her trees. She pulled me aside to say that grandma’s hammock was the best place for Ronel to die, though she appreciated what we had done. She sobbed as she explained that if she went to Jeremy now she could start to save for a new shirt for Ronel’s burial, for a coffin to be made, for a grave to be dug.
I packed them some pain medicine. I packed some food and drink, I gave money for the tickets and to help later with the funeral. And they left after we had a simple prayer together.
Marise had the idea, I discovered later, to be at Portail Leogane late at night, and be first in line for the morning bus. She would sleep in line, on the ground, holding her place, holding Ronel, so as to be sure of a seat on the first bus.
And so she did. She sat on the ground, against a tire, cradled her son, and fell asleep.
Marise slept lightly, but deep enough to dream. She dreamt she was flying a kite, in the calm blue sky with light winds. Birds were singing, children were laughing, an old, wizened women looking on smiled her approval and enjoyment of the scene.
The kite soared, and out-powered the string.
The string broke, and the kite was lifted by the spirit-wind higher and higher,
And became lost to her eyes in the strength of the brilliant light of the sun.
Marise woke up. Two hours to go until dawn.
Ronel was dead in her arms.
Stabat mater dolorosa, juxta crucem lacrimosa, dum pendabat filium.
Two hours to wait. Two hours to grieve, to ponder, to pray.
To grieve on public display in the streets.
Public transport would start up before sunrise, but would not accept a corpse.
Even if you paid two seats.
Marise made her way to us, for a third time since she began her way of the cross in Jeremy, nearly two years before. She arrived on foot, carrying the lifeless Ronel in her arms.
I was preparing for the morning mass as she walked into the chapel, and in wailing and grief, gave me her precious son, for the mass of the Resurrection, and burial.
HIS WAY was to walk our way.
He was born in a manger, on a bale of hay,
Noticed only by those who loved him
And by those others whom the Holy Word describes as wise,
Who understood the language of a rogue star.
HIS WAY was to walk our way,
And brighten it by the heroic witness and sacrifice,
Of mothers and of strangers,
And to quicken the way with many small resurrections
HIS WAY was to surrender to the tragedy he could not control
to conquer it, and ransom its energy, transforming its terror into healing,
HIS WAY was to be buried in a borrowed grave,
and to rise again quietly and unannounced,
leaving only the sign of the folded shroud that had covered his face….
…and when needed, for people like Marise,
the sign of the soaring kite with the broken string.
RESURREXIT SICUT DIXIT, ALLELUIA!
He has risen as he promised. God be praised.
Happy Easter to you, with shared faith!
And may God bless and reward you,
for all the Ronels and Marises who come to our doorstep
who have bee helped by your generosity.
Fr Rick Frechette CP
March 10, 2013
Port au Prince, Haiti
Fr Richard Frechette CP