I want to introduce you to someone who changed my LIFE, who changed LIVES in a small village in Haiti, someone whose LIFE taught so many people how to LIVE and LOVE differently and whose LIFE will continue to teach and change LIVES even now after he has breathed his last here on earth. His name is Jay, and he was my friend, my adopted nephew, and somebody whom I will NEVER forget. Death is never easy. Loss makes who you are at the core of your being feel as if something has been ripped violently and unexpectedly from your hands. Saying a final goodbye is never going to be something that our hearts embrace willingly, but death is not the end of a person’s LIFE, the end of a person’s story. Just like the quill marks on an ancient manuscript, the strikes of the keys on an old typewriter, or the keystrokes on the latest laptop, the words and actions of a LIFE will live on after he is gone. Thus is the case with my sweet friend Jay. In the days after his death, his adoptive father began calling him The Teacher. A truer title could not have been chosen for a young man who called himself by so many names (Apren Jay, Jay, PwePwe, Jaspewa, Ti Pat Tomate to share a few). The Teacher-- my teacher, OUR teacher--a young LIFE that taught all of us, Americans and Haitians in the small village of Neply how to love and how to LIVE, and teaches us still today as we continue to LIVE and speak into each other's LIVES.
We all want to know that somehow the things we did while we here on earth made a difference. I cannot say for certain if that thought or thoughts like that ever crossed Jay's mind, but that is not the point. His LIFE did make a difference. It was a LIFE, all be it short, that spoke volumes and spoke change. Jay's LIFE echoes the words of Bessie Stanley from her poem "What Constitutes Success." In Haiti, a country that tends to look upon people with mental and physical disabilities with disdain, shame, hatred, fear, and disgust, Jay's LIFE was never supposed to be viewed as a success, a LIFE to take pride in. When I read the words of this poem, I see how this young man's LIFE was a LIFE defined by not only survival in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, but a LIFE that can and will always be viewed as a SUCCESS STORY in the truest and purest sense of what it means to LIVE a LIFE worthy of such a title. Here are her words that so perfectly reflect the LIFE of Jay:
“What Constitutes Success” By Bessie Stanley (1905)
He has achieved success who has lived well,
laughed often and loved much;
who has gained the respect of intelligent men
and the love of little children;
who has filled his niche and accomplished his task;
who has left the world better than he found it,
whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul;
who has never lacked appreciation of earth’s beauty
or failed to express it;
who has always looked for the best in others
and given them the best he had;
whose life was an inspiration;
whose memory a benediction.
Jay did indeed laugh often, and what a precious laugh it was, often followed by the cutest sly, little grin. And how he loved. He loved with a love that was pure, simple, and true--the love a child whose mind did not allow for complicated emotions, only love at its best. I look at the LIFE of Jay and can honestly say he earned the respect of countless intelligent men and women. He earned that from everyone he met because of who he was, a special, precious child who was so full of LIFE and SPIRIT! As for the love of little children, he left behind seven brothers and sisters whose LIVES will be forever changed because they had the honor of calling him "fre m," my brother. A village full of children began learning to love differently because of their short time living with Jay. My friend Jay has left the world better than he found it. He was a child that was never supposed to have an impact of any kind according to his country's definition and standards of a LIFE worth any value. He was the rescued soul that she speaks of, the soul that was given a second chance to thrive because God knew Jay would give the best he had every day and could only see the best in others. This short, beautiful LIFE was and will continue to be an INSPIRATION and his memory, a BENEDICTION for us all. He found beauty in the small and simple things that to many of us would seem trivial and mundane. My memories of the pride and joy he found in these small, simple things often bring smiles to my face each time they flood my mind.
Jay was a GREAT SOUL. I have wept because of the void his absence has left. I know I will weep again when I feel the sense of that void. To be completely honest I felt it deeply this morning as I walked home from church with all seven children in our myLIFEspeaks family, and he was not there. I felt his absence so poignantly as I pushed a stroller and held a small hand this morning because his hand was not there to hold. The pain of grief and loss is intense, but as Maya Angelou says in her poem, "When Great Trees Fall," --
"And when great souls die, /after a period peace blooms, /slowly and always /irregularly."
There are moments when I catch glimpses of that peace blooming and smile, but as she says, it is irregular. It ebbs and flows with sorrow. I would like to share with you the rest of this poem because I feel it speaks so truthfully into who Jay became in all of our LIVES. He was our teacher. We learned so much from him about how to LOVE differently and about how to be a part of something BIGGER than ourselves. He is that GREAT SOUL that has fallen, and we miss him dearly and daily.
When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.
When great trees fall
small things recoil into silence,
eroded beyond fear.
When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
gnaws on kind words
Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
dependent upon their
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable
of dark, cold
And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
For they existed.
Jay you EXISTED, but you did more than that. YOU LIVED, and you CHANGED LIVES. Precious boy, your LIFE spoke, and it will continue to speak. We will not let your LIFE be silent. We will tell your story, and we will make sure everyone knows that you did just as Walt Whitman talked about in his poem, "O Me, O Life," --
"That you [were] here--that life [existed], and identity
That the powerful play [went] on, and you [contributed] a verse."
You contributed a verse Jay. You sang for us. You told us you loved us with your words and your touch. You comforted us when we were sad with sweet words of "sa ou gen? (What's wrong?) and I love you." You played with joy and abandonment. You cried with hurt and frustration at times because your body and mind did not always cooperate with your spirit, but we rest in the comfort knowing that your body is perfect now and your laugh is ringing through heaven sweet boy. You are running with abandon, without care or hurt. We weep because we miss our TEACHER, but we rejoice because you taught us so much, and because of that, "We can be. Be and be better."