In my short, twenty-eight years of life thus far, it's never quite hit me just how close life and death are to each other.
For the past seven months, Jasper House Haiti has cared for a young girl who was carrying a baby. Early Monday morning, 4:00a.m., to be exact, I received three phone calls telling me she was going into labor. I hopped out of bed without a second thought and within the hour was on a moto to a nearby hospital.
It was one of the most intense, beautiful, terrifying and incredible experiences of my life as I watched our precious girl bring new life into this world at 6:25a.m., on Monday, September 5th.
It was magnificent.
In the small coastal town of Jacmel, Haiti, a perfect baby girl took her first breath.
Yet, on the other side of the world in Beijing, China, someone so very dear to me would take their last.
At 12:45p.m., I received one of the worst text messages I've ever read in my entire life. It was the most horrific and sudden news that my dear friend and Jasper House board member, Sam Cornthwaite had unexpectedly passed from this life.
I sat in disbelief, hoping that the message was some type of sick joke. How could it be? A man so young, so vibrant, who was full of so much life and passion? A twenty-six year old who had given his life to see the marginalized and disadvantaged empowered and liberated, and had moved his life to Beijing, China only one year ago to make this dream a reality.
How could he be gone?
Samuel Cornthwaite came into my life in the most unconventional of ways. Nearly two years ago, our paths were brought together by a chance meeting on none other than the social media channel of Instagram.
His account, GoodWorks Development was in the stages of bringing to life Sam's dream of unifying his passion for coffee and desire to provide opportunities for not only people living in poverty, but more specifically orphans living with disabilities who had aged out of the orphan care systems in China.
I was immediately impressed by his direct and focused vision, and a most contagious and genuine love for people. Sam was absolutely authentic, and had an energy and vigor for life unlike anyone I had ever before encountered. After reading his account and researching his project, I knew we had to speak.
I reached out and Sam enthusiastically responded. At the time, in the fall of 2014, I was living in Bèlans, a small fishing village on the southeast coast of Haiti. My own passion was just beginning to be stirred up as I was starting to dream of what it would be like to have a program that empowered women out of poverty and abuse. I had a small flame that was rapidly growing into a burning fire inside of me, and an inclination that Sam would be someone who could see the value in an idea most would hail as impossible and unachievable.
My intuitions were correct.
Sam was one of the very first people whom I shared the vision of Jasper House Haiti with before we even had a name or any type of construct. He loved the idea and breathed life into it almost immediately. Our first conversation was filled with excitement and energy as we discussed our mutual passion to use coffee as a tool to provide empowerment and dignity.
We shared an instant connection of kindred spirits and likeminded hearts. Thus the idea was born to create a partnership between Jasper House Haiti and GoodWorks Development to one day have a model coffee farm in Haiti that would employ local farmers, and cultivate premium, organic beans, which would in turn be roasted into a delectable cup of coffee that "made your mug matter."
Over the next year, Sam would watch as Jasper House slowly but surely came together. He would proudly join our board, provide me with countless hours of advice and consultation, and would cheer me on every step of the way.
Sam became someone I knew I could always rely on, who would "get" wherever I was at that particular moment, and be able to empathize with whatever challenge or emotion I was working through.
He was an endless source of encouragement and wisdom; an old soul that was far, far beyond his years.
I would rejoice with him as he moved to Beijing in August 2015, and began his life abroad. We would share joys, laughs, struggles, and even relationship advice.
He was my soul brother.
Even as I write this, I struggle to reconcile with the fact that I'll never receive another email or text from him congratulating me and Jasper House on our latest accomplishment. I'll never again FaceTime with him and see his bright and joyful face reminding me that even when I want to give up - I can do this.
Sam was a man who lived life with more purpose and drive than almost anyone I've ever known. He was the type of person who could make you feel invincible, like anything was possible if you only put your mind to it.
It was because of Sam that I made it through some of the most difficult challenges I've faced over the past two years. It was Sam, who, countless times kept me going when I truly wanted to give up.
We had a wild dream to start this collective together that would empower women and farmers in China, Haiti and eventually around the world. He was already setting into motion his plans for his vocational training center in Beijing, and the model farms in Yunnan, a rural countryside in China, were making sensational progress.
In Haiti, I was gathering information, plans and dreams for our farm, and an eventual cafe that would employ the women from Jasper House with dignified jobs.
It was an incredible plan for global empowerment of marginalized peoples, all because Sam believed in investing in the invisible.
Jasper House celebrated its first birthday on Sunday, and is preparing to reopen our home to five new residents, and twenty-seven new students who will participate in our education programs.
I know that if Sam was able to get this update, he would be beaming with pride.
Although the coffee farm and cafe are currently on hold, I refuse to allow Sam's dream to die.
He leaves behind an unbelievable legacy, and I will not allow that to be forgotten.
I know what Sam would say, I know he would tell me that I had to go on. That we had to keep fighting for those who can't fight for themselves.
He would tell me to never give up, and that Cafe Liberté must come into existence.
He would tell me to turn my mourning into dancing.
So, that's what I will do.
I won't give up.
I won't let go.
For those who feel invisible.
For those who feel they have no hope.
I will continue what we started.
I won't lose heart.
I'll love you forever, Samuel Hudson Cornthwaite. You made an eternal impact on my life, and I can confidently say I'm who I am today and where I am today because of your influence and friendship.
I told you from day one I was in this for the long haul... and those words still hold true. My eyes fill with tears as I write this, and a pain stings deeply in my heart, but for you, I will keep our hopes and plans alive.
Rest in peace, my brother, and I promise you, our dreams will one day finally become a reality.
In loving memory of Samuel Hudson Cornthwaite.
July 3rd, 1990 - September 6th, 2016