Sunday, January 29, 2006

A Eulogy for Jackson:

The following eulogy was delivered at the end of the funeral Mass for Jackson Jean-Baptiste, which was held at St. Martin de Porres Catholic Church, the oldest Catholic church in Peoria, named after the first black saint from the Americas. Across the street from the church is a statue of another Haitian Jean-Baptiste, Jean-Baptiste du Sable, the founder of Chicago and former resident of Peoria.

How does it come to be that a young man who was born and spent most of his life in Haiti has a funeral in Peoria Illinois? Through the grace of God, we were able to know and love Jackson Jean-Baptiste.

Jackson was born 21 years ago near Port-au-Prince to Maxil and Rosette. His father was killed when Jackson was 9 and two of his brothers have also died. He has one younger sister, Nadia.

When Jackson was a teenager, he was suffering from heart disease due to rheumatic fever. Some friends brought him to John Carroll, who arranged for him to have heart surgery in Peoria. During his time in central Illinois, Jackson befriended many people. He lived with the Mike & Susie Zobrist in Goodfield, and he attended Eureka Middle school. After Jackson returned to Haiti, he continued to keep in touch with his friends. John would bring him medicine to Haiti and continued to examine him.

This past May, it became apparent that Jackson was sick again. We brought him medicine in September. In December, Jackson had become so weak that his mother and sister carried him to us from their home, two hours and four tap tap rides away. Jackson stayed with us for the next four weeks. You learn a lot about a person living in a small room with them for 28 days. Here is what we learned:

Even in the face of his suffering—it was hard for Jackson to eat, sleep, and walk—he wanted to live. Poor Haitians, even those who are healthy, have very difficult lives. Jackson’s sister spends 13 hours twice a week walking for and carrying the water the family needs. His mother travels many hours on bad roads to buy second hand clothes which she sells near her home. Despite the difficulties of Jackson’s life, he had a strong drive to live—God made life good. His faith and hope played a big role in keeping himself alive as we searched for a hospital to accept him.

Jackson loved his family and friends in central Illinois. His mom and his sister visited him as often as they could each week. He was concerned about their safety and asked them not to come to the airport, where it was dangerous, to see him off. They said their good byes the day before. He spent hours looking at a small album of photographs of his time here. He was very hopeful that people at home were trying to find help for him.

Jackson conducted himself with such dignity. He never complained. He always spoke English to us, one of three languages he knew. He kept himself and the room very neat. He was thoughtful. When he heard us talking about Barbancourt Rum, he told us his home was not far from where the rum was made. Would we like some rum? he asked. The next day when we returned from the clinic, there were two bottles of rum in the refrigerator.

Jackson had some bad days during the time he was with us. But he had some good days too. We won’t forget the evening, shortly before we left, that we sat by the pool. As we dangled our feet in the water, Jackson told us about his life. People where we stayed grew attached to Jackson.

We were overjoyed when through a series of miraculous events, Jackson was accepted by Cleveland Clinic on December 23. The next few days were a flurry of activity. We got his passport extended bought plane tickets, and obtained a precious U.S. visa. Jackson was happy but weak; John had to carry him through the buildings.

Jackson was at Cleveland Clinic from December 28 through January 21 when he died. As the doctors tried to get Jackson ready for surgery, he waited. But it was hard. His suffering continued in Cleveland.

Suffering is one of the themes that runs through Jackson’s life, most obviously in his last few months. It is often hard to make sense of suffering, especially in those who seem to have an unfair share. We know it exists. We know God calls us to try and relieve suffering in others. But still it comes. Jackson’s suffering often reminded us of the suffering of Jesus. Jesus suffered for us. Perhaps the suffering of Jackson and all of us hollows us out in a sense, strips away all that is non-essential, and makes a larger space for God’s love.

It’s a mystery that with our limited powers we can not fully understand. But we can have faith. “We know that God makes all things work together for the good for those who have been called according to his decree.”

Jackson was surrounded by love and support from many people of the Apostolic Christian faith. Tomorrow at 10 am he will be laid to rest at the Goodfield-Congerville Apostolic Christian Cemetery in Congerville.

We thank God for the opportunity to know and love Jackson Jean-Baptiste, the boy from Haiti with the beautiful smile, and we ask God’s blessing upon his soul and upon all those who love him.

No comments: