Written by Reverend Michael Bartley.
Dominique Domercant is a Haitian artist and former minister of culture for the country of Haiti. Several years ago the Wesley Foundation brought Dominique to Oklahoma State University to participate in an arts demonstration and to share the story of the Haitian people with the students of Oklahoma State. During the last few days that Dominique was in Stillwater, he stayed in my home. One evening, Dominique and I sat in the living room attempting to talk. Dominique knew French and Haitian Creole – I know English! Language was not going to be the stuff of our conversation. However, during the five or six hours that we sat in the living room, the two of us began to share each other’s story. Dominique, like many Haitians, was raised with the syncretism between Catholicism and traditional cultural voodoo. He was raised in the poorest country in the world. Dominique is an artist who sees the world through the lens of a canvas. Dominique is an intense thinker and observer.
I am a United Methodist clergyperson raised in a traditionally conservative American evangelical protestant white family. I am the classic example of a WASP! I was raised in Topeka, Kansas in a relatively wealthy family. I have attempted painting before but to be honest my painting is not something that should be viewed without eye protection. Dominique and I’s stories stand in stark contrast. Sitting in the living room that evening was not just a language event. In fact, I would suggest, the biggest obstacle to communication wasn’t even language.
Had Dominique and I shared the same language we may have heard each other’s words, and been able to decipher the consonants, the vowels, the definitions. We may have even thought that we understood each other.
However, deeper than our language differences was our story dissonance. Dominique and I have experienced the world differently.
Tonight, as I sit here writing, thinking about my encounter with Dominique, thinking of the students and friends of the Wesley, wondering what I should share with you – these thoughts and experiences all converge. Dominique, work, you. All come together and challenge me with a set of fundamental questions. How is it that we become a people, a single people? How is it that we communicate? How is it that we live?
In that evening with Dominique, I learned as much about myself as I learned about Dominique. I was led by an artist who understood how to communicate with color, picture, smile and tear.
Dominique and I talked about the earthquake
We talked about our children
We talked about our parents
We talked about our countries
We talked about politics
We talked about faith
At one point, as we exchanged eye contact, he asked me, in the color orange, about hope.
Hope the image of looking at each other!
Hope dreaming out loud!
Hope word acts exchanged!Hope shared space?
Hope respect of difference?