This year marked the 8-year anniversary of a day that turned my life upside down in a matter of seconds. One minute I was sitting on a lounge chair outside the Hotel Montana, writing in my journal and waiting for my friends to join me. The next minute I was jumping up out of my seat, running through clouds of debris with the earth shaking underneath me. It was scary- really, really scary.
In the first 2 years following the earthquake I internally struggled with survivor’s guilt. I somehow convinced myself that Mother Natures unexpected forces was completely my fault. While I had all the love and support from family, friends, especially the Gengels during the aftermath (and still today), I couldn’t help but blame myself.
As the years went on, I truly believed I had healed from such a traumatizing experience. I got over my fear of traveling outside the United States, I returned to Haiti twice, and I was no longer taking personal days on the anniversary date of the earthquake. When people would ask how I felt about the earthquake or how I was feeling when the anniversary date would come around, I would reflexively say, “I’m fine,” and silently think to myself: “That day does not define me. I won’t let it.”
Little did I realize that while I had certainly crossed over major hurdles in my life that pointed me in the right direction of healing, I was still subconsciously putting up guards of avoidance. Reflecting back on it, I had a subconscious mindset that if I completely disassociated myself from the earthquake on all accounts, that meant I was completely healed.
To my surprise, during the weeks leading up to the 8-year anniversary, I found myself thinking about Haiti very frequently; not the earthquake itself, but Haiti. The feelings of joy I felt working with children during the very few days prior to that tragic day flooded back into my body and my heart. There was suddenly an organic pull of purpose. I wanted to return to Haiti, visit Be like Brit, meet the children, and share the gift of yoga with them.
As a children’s yoga teacher, I understand and have seen firsthand the profound benefits that practicing yoga and mindfulness can have on children. I couldn’t help but think: “if any children need to practice yoga and mindfulness, it’s the children who have experienced such heartbreaking hardship. My intentions are to go to BLB, share yoga, and help plant the seeds of mindfulness. I am going to help them heal the best way I know how.”
I felt nothing but nerves leading up to my departure date. Boy, did that change the minute the airplane touched down in Haiti. Greeted at the airport by a familiar smile from Francky Janvier (BLB’s Britionary Coordinator), I was filled with excitement. After 2 hours of driving from Port-au-Prince to Grand Goave, we finally made it to BLB. Walking in to the orphanage, Francky turned around, smiled, and said, “Welcome home.” It was at that moment I knew that coming back to Haiti was probably one of the best and most important decisions I’ve made in quite some time.
It was Friday, school was out, and the children made their way back home. I was introduced to the children as Brit’s friend who was there to teach them yoga. Within minutes, I was greeted with hugs, kisses, and love from all directions. We practiced yoga, we smiled, we laughed, and we had fun - A LOT of fun.
Later that night after dinner, the walls of BLB were echoing with music for their nightly dance party (and these kids really know how to dance). Taking a step back and a moment to myself, I could really acknowledge and absorb what was going on around me: There were 66 children here who have been through more than we could imagine and, yet, here they are with smiles on their faces and eyes shining with love.
And there it was again - that feeling of a massively impactful moment I felt so briefly but so deeply before the earthquake struck. It was a sense of peace I truly haven’t felt in years; a peace within myself and peace with that happened 8 years ago. Britney was more present to me than ever before. And as the saying goes, no matter how heartbreaking it is, “everything happens for a reason.”
The clarity continued rushing in with each moment. One of my little yogis from earlier in the day was running towards me while yelling my name. She jumped into my arms and we started dancing together. Looking at this beautiful girl’s smile and hearing her laugh made me realize that I forgot how much I loved to volunteer, to work with children, and to immerse myself in cultures that are far different than my own. The earthquake not only took the lives of my friends, but it took away a passion that I once had to make a difference in the world. It was like a fire inside me that had nearly been extinguished finally reignited and was shining bright.
My first evening was coming to an end, so Cherylann and I made our way to the roof to take in the beauty around us and reflect on the day. I pulled out my phone and logged onto Facebook to post a photo of the moment mentioned above. As if fate had found its way to my social media, Facebook featured a time-hop photo of myself with two other members from our Journey of Hope who perished in the earthquake, all of us wearing our Food for the Poor shirts. I knew then that I was exactly where I needed to be. I had the love and support from 6 beautiful angels.
I traveled to Haiti to visit Be like Brit with the expectations of making the children’s day just a little brighter and adding what I could to the hope and healing energy they continuously receive from Be like Brit every single day. However, the reality is so much different. These children are resilient, bright, and fierce (in the best possible way). My intention was to visit Haiti to help heal their hearts but, instead, they healed mine.