“Lord, I didn’t do enough,” I prayed through a violent sob. Tears fell on the bamboo desk where I sat every afternoon and watched the torrential seasonal deluge. Streams of rainwater flowed steadily from the glistening banana leaves that surrounded the tiled porch of my room. The roar from their runoff was just loud enough to cover my sobs.
Indonesia in the rainy season – the word beautiful is inadequate. Paradise maybe. Definitely breathtaking.
During this time of year, in this particular part of the archipelago, you can set your watch with the weather. The clouds hold their tears until makan siang (literally midday food – lunch) has passed, then they wash away the morning with a kind of peaceful fury only found in the tropics.
For over a month I too had held my tears – not out of a coldness of heart, but from necessity. The things I had seen and witnessed had affected me at the core of my soul, but when you are immersed into such intense and immediate need, you have to manage your emotions – not suppress them forever – but make them wait until there is time to think of yourself. Have a breakdown in the middle of a rescue or medevac and you’ll just be in the way.
Today was that day, just after lunch, during the downpour.
Today was the time set aside to deal with the deep, nearly tangible, emotions attached to the senses – the smells, the sounds, the images – that even now, years later, I can recall if I try. It was time to open up the floodgates and let myself feel.
And so, for a moment, I unchained my sensory memory and put myself at its mercy. In my mind’s eye, I saw valleys that could boast of every shade of green. I tasted freshly picked coconuts and bananas and durian. I listened to the peaceful breaking of the murderous ocean waves upon damaged shorelines. I smelt the bodies laying in the streets. I felt the buzz of adrenaline that accompanied every aftershock.
On the sides of my tongue, I tasted the acidity of the Sumatran kopi (coffee) served to me by a man who had just buried his brother and mother. I felt the rough canvas of the military cot where I could not fall asleep because I was afraid for my life. I relived the helplessness of seeing a family discover their loved ones buried beneath the collapsed concrete that was once their home.
Sitting there, alone in my room, I scowled at the journalist who bribed their way onto the double-bladed Chinook relief helicopters, stealing the seats away from doctors and nurses who were ready to go save lives. I felt the exhaustion of under-staffed relief workers, the despair of entire villages now less than half of their original population, the fear of being threatened by overzealous extremists.
Yet, in the midst of all these painful memories, I saw the faces of good people doing sacrificial jobs far from their families, all in an attempt to restore hope where it had been snuffed out. I felt the uncomfortable hours spent sleeping on the top of stacks of rice sent from Christians around the world. I felt the coolness of the purified water flowing from pipes put in place by the U.S. Navy. I saw missionary after missionary bringing food and clothing and medicine to those in need.
Smiles, laughs, and tears – all coming from a heart of love.
As I sat, the good, the bad, the ugly, and the sad flowed over me. My experiences tossed me about, flipped me upside down, and gutted my insides. At that moment, I could tell that the terrain that made up Dustan Stanley had been changed.
Things would never be the same, and I knew it.