Aunt Muriel was one of those missionaries who refused to leave Haiti when she reached retirement age. We North Americans often saw her on Delmas, the main street that ran from Petionville in the mountains down to the Bay of Port-au-Prince. Wearing sneakers, the stooped, diminutive widow, with thick white hair, moved with a purpose down Delmas. If we spotted her near her destination – and we all knew her destination – we passed without stopping. If we saw her still several blocks away, we would offer her a ride.
On the rides down the mountain, she would say, “I’m going to see my babies.” On the trips up the mountain, she would say, “I’ve been to see my babies.”
We would nod as if it were news to us. We never said much on those drives because she chattered nonstop about her babies until we reached her destination.
“They wait for me,” she would say. “They know my voice. They wait for me to come.” And she would recite the stories we knew by heart.
We would interrupt long enough to ask, “Is this your street?”
“My street? Yes,” she would reply, then without pausing say, “you’ve been to the hospital haven’t you? You know where it is, don’t you? I go there….” And she would again give us her weekly schedule.
We knew about the hospital. Everyone in Port-au-Prince knew about Grace Children’s Hospital. And everyone who visited Grace Children’s Hospital knew about Aunt Muriel.
The hospital specialized in prevention and treatment of children with tuberculosis. When we passed the facility, we would see mothers sitting under the shady Royal Poinciana trees waiting to get treatment in the out-clinic section of the hospital. The mothers and children had walked or taken one of the brightly decorated camionetts that provided transportation in Port-au-Prince.
One part of the hospital, however, housed children who had been abandoned or whose homes were far from Port-au-Prince. These children had been left alone at the hospital. In one white stucco-walled room, at least a dozen of these forlorn children lay in cribs. Skeletal, some sat staring vacant-eyed. Others lay statue-like, too weak to move. None had the sparkle of children curious about their surroundings. An empty rocking chair, the only decoration in the room, sat near an open window.
One day, Aunt Muriel had entered that desolate room. Though not physically strong, she had managed to pick up one of the underweight children. She carried the child to the window and eased herself into the rocking chair. Smoothing the child’s brow, she began to rock, then to sing in a quavery voice. Gradually some of the other children turned in their cribs to better see the pale, white-headed woman who sat rocking and singing by the window. When she stood to put the child back in the crib, another child held up her arms. That day, Aunt Muriel began to rock the babies at Grace Children’s Hospital.
Day after day, Aunt Muriel sat by the open, sunny window, cuddled the children in her arms, and sang to them in her tremulous voice. She couldn’t rock all the children on the same day, but she rocked as many as she could. Each day, she promised the others that she would return and that they would have their turn. Soon the children began to wait for her. Their vacant eyes grew bright when she entered the room. Some even bounced or rocked in their cribs and called to her, as they anticipated their moments of loving, personal attention.
With Aunt Muriel, the time with the children developed into an inviolate appointment. Although unpaid and unappointed, Aunt Muriel considered rocking the babies her mission. The appointments with the children even took precedence over her meager social life. When we in the North American community invited her to a daytime gathering, she would sometimes turn down the invitation. “I would love to go,” she would say, “but I rock the babies from 10:00-2:00 on Thursdays. They’ll be waiting for me. I couldn’t disappoint them.”
As she grew older, we felt responsible to watch over Aunt Muriel since she had no family in Haiti. Anytime we inquired about her welfare though, her answer was the same. Her eyes would grow soft and film with tears.
“I can’t do much anymore,” she would say, “but I can rock babies.”
[Jesus] also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “I tell you the truth,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” (Luke 21:2-4 NIV)