The first time it happened is really a blur. I was young. I had traveled to Romania before, but this time the presence of military officers watching the airport crowd from above stood out. Although it was routine, it was alarming. See . . . guns were not part of my up-bringing or familiarity. My family didn't sit in trees waiting for Bambi to walk through the forest or hide in brush to shoot down Donald Duck. We didn't play with BB guns to knock down cans for fun or hit the bulls-eyes on a makeshift target. And I didn't even personally know a police officer, so the sight of artillery, especially military grade, might take anyone in my position a bit off-guard.
Fast forward over two decades, numerous international trips, and countless experiences that matched the one mentioned above . . . I found myself watching police pull up beside our car window to alleviate a riot further up the road.
Our team was crowded in the car. I'm talking about getting in each other's personal space for hours. Popping every personal bubble that existed. That's just how you have to roll when you travel overseas - especially in third-world countries where you're trying to bring as much food as possible to devastated communities that were hit by a catastrophic hurricane a few days prior. Haiti was in a survival-state and people were getting hangry. Literally . . . they were angry and hungry and had every right to be.
It was October 2016 and Hurricane Matthew had just torn through already poverty-stricken areas not even leaving them with healthy lifestock, clean water, nor upright palm trees with coconuts to sustain themselves. I was part of a small team from The 610 Project that came to Haiti and quickly shifted gears days earlier from our original trip intent (from photojournalism to hurricane relief). It was crisis mode and we were anxious to help in any way we could on the ground. In fact, we were the second commercial flight to land in Haiti after the storm hit.
We spent a short time at a school in Port-Au-Prince and then drove 5 hours South where the devastation was the greatest. Our team and the Haitian American Caucus packed two cars of food and medical supplies and headed to Les Cayes, but people were getting upset seeing vehicles drive past them with supplies . . . so they took matters into their own hands. They blocked the road with brush and started to loot cars. Our team was seeing things that no one in the world had yet seen. (See more images here.)
Our Haitian-American friend got out of the car to survey the situation ahead and one of our team members that knew how to drive a stick got in the driver's seat . . . just in case we needed to bolt quickly. The four of us in the car handled the situation remarkably well. Although we were aware of our surroundings, we were all calm. Even when the police showed up with guns and gas.
In uncertain moments like this (even if they don't involve guns), we have a couple choices. Freak out or stay calm. I've learned that over-reacting to the unknown only makes matters worse. Not knowing what the future holds and not having control of circumstances is uneasy, unnerving, but it reminds us that we are not in control, only God knows the future. And because I felt like I was right where He wanted me to be, I was okay with any outcome.
In these moments, we need to take a step back and breathe. Sometimes we just can't change the variables. Just breathe. We can't heal the disease. Just breathe. We can't make the car start. Just breathe. We can't mend the broken heart. Just breathe.
To lighten the seriousness of the moment, our team took a rather calculated picture to depict the situation while waiting in the car and then a "real one" . . . obviously, the breathing worked.
As musician Johnny Diaz so beautifully wrote . . . "If you're feeling like your falling behind, just breathe. When chaos calls but all you really need is to just breathe."