(This is the speech I’m giving tonight at our first annual Gala. It’s the next best thing to being there.)
It’s best to begin with the children–our burn survivors. I hope you have had some time to see and engage our burn children.
They are our galaxy of bright stars.
Have you heard their stories? Many of our burn-kids had never told their story before, to anyone. Some of the stories seemed impossible to be built into words. But we knew the words were there and by listening attentively in a safe harbor of non-judgmental love, the stories began to surface at an event that we call “Catching Courage.”
Their courage was tangible though it’s hard to speak when your spirit has been broken.
Our family has a story and it was very hard to tell even to ourselves at home.
Here’s our story.
It was a typical family Sat. afternoon going from a swimming meet to a soccer match.
We were on the expressway when our tire detreaded and the car started flipping 3/4 times.
There were 4 of us in the car–Ryan (7), Tyler (2), Ron and me.
The car burst into flames. Ryan and I caught fire first. And then it spread thru the car.
We were all burning. Ron was able to reach Tyler and pull him out of the fire. But Ryan was stuck in his seat belt and there was no way to pull him free before the fire took him.
Ron, Tyler and I were flown 600 miles away and a quarter of our bodies were burned.
Even though we know we’ll never get over this, we’re still here and our family is getting stronger at the broken places.
15 years after Ryan died, we saw it was the right time to build our foundation–Ryan Shines–in honor of our son.
One purpose of our foundation is to ensure that no burn child is left behind.
We have created a safe place where burn survivors can heal.
It’s a place where we don’t run ahead of them demanding they keep up with us.
We communicate face to face on the same level.
And when we hear them begin to talk about their day from hell, when the world reversed its rotation, we are there with them.
And not only us, but the firefighters were in the center of everything.
There are few men and women who wake up every morning to an unscripted day; a day that could be their last.
Firefighters are born, they’re not made. Their kind of courage and two scoops of craziness is deep in their DNA.
They run toward death while everyone else runs away. They have the gift of not thinking about themselves first.
Compassion is at the heart of their work.
And compassion is at the heart of our work with them. When I first opened my eyes to it, I had no idea that Alabama is 2nd in the nation in suicide over work-related death.
You understand I’m talking about our firefighters.
It breaks my heart.
So many mothers losing their sons and daughters fighting every day like our family did to make sense of it. But, you know, it doesn’t make sense.
Now. Imagine these 2 groups–our pediatric burn children and firefighters–spending a weekend or week together. Without saying a word, they recognize that they are standing on common ground. It creates a whole ‘new normal’ for them.
The bond that began the day of the fire, continues even thru tonite.
It happens at all of our Catching Courage events.
And the bond between them is indestructible.
One thing I’ve learned over these years is that when something awful happens,
“Why?” is almost always the wrong question.
When the roof caves in or a trap door springs, the only question worth asking is “Where do we go from here?”
And however we may answer that question, part of the answer will always be “together.”