It was a warm winter Tuesday Afternoon. I reached home at around 16:00, took a snack, and got ready to start doing my homework as usual.

As I walked out of my room to my study, I stopped briefly by the radio to enjoy a favorite song.

Suddenly, the music became drowned out by a mixture of cries from panicked people running to safety, rattling windows, and the crumbling sound of concrete falling apart under the mammoth strength of the biggest earthquake Haiti has ever known.

I had seen it in movies and learned about it in textbooks, but like most Haitians at the time, I had never experienced an earthquake before.

I opened the door while the building sways and burst outside as fast as I could. By the time I reached the streets, the earthquake had stopped.

That’s when I realized the gravity of what had happened. Haiti has just endured nearly 40 seconds of a violent 7.3 magnitude earthquake.

The deadliest in the island’s history.

The impacts were manifest everywhere. Commercial and residential buildings damaged or collapsed. Roads were impassable. Friends, family, and good samaritans could be seen everywhere helping pull injured individuals out of rubbles.

That tragedy transformed Port-au-Prince into a giant campsite with fellow Haitians struggling to meet their most basic needs.

We were afraid, desperate, and helpless. Everyone who miraculously survived the earthquake had either lost a family, their homes, or a friend.

Twelve years later, miles away from home, I am relieving that experience as if it was yesterday.

Every survivor of that earthquake had their entire existence shaken one way or another.

In this article, I am sharing three key lessons I learned that day.

Cherish Those You Love

A mother and her child

When I left my house running outside, like everyone else, I wanted to know what had happened to my family.

One by one, I met my cousin, my mom, and my aunt. My aunt narrowly escaped a falling wall, sustained minor injuries but was fine.

Even though we were afraid, we were together. And if anything had to happen, at least we would be there for each other.

That fateful day reminded me of the fragility of life and the importance of cherishing those we love. How many times in the last twenty-four hours have you reiterated your love for those close to you?

We often take our loved ones for granted. It’s only in the face of imminent loss that we confess our appreciation for them.

I want my experience to be a reminder to you, too. Don’t put off showing appreciation and care for your loved ones.

A regular text message, a sincere compliment, and acknowledgment for your child, spouse, or sibling, will go a long way.

Never Putting Off Enjoying the Little Things

That day, none of my lofty goals mattered. All I wanted was to survive.

Sometimes we are so fixated on our goals that we forget to enjoy the little things in life.

When was the last time you enjoyed the sun on your skin? Or admired flocks of birds migrating? Or appreciated the beautiful and innocent gaze of an infant?

Today, I still make plans for the future, but I constantly remind myself to enjoy the magic of each day.

Life is lived day by day. It’s great to have personal goals, but when we let our ambition stop us from enjoying the little things, we are missing our opportunity to be happy.

It’s Sometimes Better to Not Ask Why

I hear people say everything happens for a reason. And for some time, I seemed to believe that! But really? Why did 300 thousand people die? Why did a group kindergartner die while learning? How do I explain the death of my classmate?

Excessively focusing on looking for a reason behind everything that happens will make us see life as unfair, which in return, will stop us from enjoying life and its beauty.

Things happen we just can’t explain. We can’t always be on top of everything. And that’s okay!

While we are wired to establish causal relationships between events in life, we must make a conscious choice to choose to let things go.

Regardless of what we think of life, we owe it to ourselves to enjoy it. Sometimes, the best way to enjoy life is to kick back and give up control.

Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer is a perfect example of this: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

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As I look back at this tragic event that killed 300 thousand fellow Haitians, displaced millions of others, I want to remind you to not postpone your happiness; don’t put off loving yourself and appreciating your loved ones. Take every opportunity to cherish them and the little things in life. It’s a pity to let the day go by without ever taking the time to enjoy it.


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