Pastor Beauvais is a twig of a man. Five feet tall and one hundred pounds, maybe; a 36’ belt would surely ring his waist twice. In a country where the average life expectancy at birth is just over 62 (Index Mundi, 2011, the shortest lifespan in the Western Hemisphere), Pastor Beauvais has beaten the odds and then some. He is a very old, very spry man.
I first met Pastor Beauvais in 2009 when Andy and I built him a house behind his original one, damaged by the earthquake. Pastor Beauvais was not content to have workers arrive and build him a new house; he had to be in, under, and over every bit of the place. He held joists true and stretched his tarp walls and when the house was complete he huddled everyone together and whooped out some really loud praise.
A year later he accompanied Len and Bernie Gengal and me up the hill for our first look at the site of Brit’s orphanage. He stood on the wide meadow and opened his arms, a little guy with a Napoleon complex channeling Rio’s Christ the Redeemer statue. He blessed the site in every direction. He bowed, he exalted; he made great noise but no sense.
I chalked up my lack of comprehension to feeble Creole. But now, after seeing Pastor Beauvais for years, developing some ear for the language, and talking with others about his mangled vocabulary, I realize that no one really understands him. When he preaches, his energy has tornado force, but his message is anyone’s guess. I am sure that many understand more than I can unscramble, but I don’t think anyone fully grasps everything what rattles around this guy’s head. What is clear, despite the garbled syntax, is that Pastor Beauvais has a passionate, unified vision of the world; one that has sustained him through a long life in a difficult place and continues to nourish him. If he is only one with the full picture, so be it.
Born during the American invasion, persevering Doc and Baby Doc, the excitement of Aristide, the terror of the Tontons macoutes, enduring the UN’s attempt to bring order to Haiti’s chaos, surviving hurricanes and earthquakes and floods and droughts, Pastor Beauvais has lived through it all. He appears to have been untouched by the tragedies yet energized by the successes. He is relentlessly cheerful despite that fact that to most of us, he hasn’t much to be cheerful about.
I believe Pastor Beauvais’ vitality comes from a solid sense of self and contentment in his world. The zealots would say his spirit comes through Christ, but I see just as many unsatisfied and frustrated Christians down here as folks of other stripes. Pastor Beauvais would be equally as indomitable if he identified as a Buddhist, a Jew, or an agnostic. He is an upbeat guy and if Christianity is his chosen vehicle to express his joie de vie. I’m glad it works for him. Appreciating his character does not make me feel the need to be Christian. What draws me is his authenticity; the vagaries of popular culture or passing fashion don’t make a dent on this guy.
I should be so fortunate to grow old with such a strong, particular identity. I can’t think of anything better than being lively and energetic beyond my years, full of joy, with a mind brimming from a life so well lived that I can’t quite verbalize it coherently. It’s always a good idea for geezers to keep the youngsters guessing.