You Get to Decide

By Greg Baer M.D.

January 15, 2018

Three years ago, I was tending a campfire in our backyard. Typically, the fire was fueled by well-seasoned pieces of oak, which burn at unusually high temperatures. I was playing with my grandson Jack, then seven years old, and as I sat on one of the benches, he threw sticks into the fire, which he had done hundreds of times before.

Although I was looking right at him, I thought nothing of it when he picked up a stick a little longer than the others and turned rapidly to fling it into the pile of burning logs. The tip somehow caught on the ground—on another stick, a rock, who knows?—so the stick stopped moving while Jack’s body kept moving, right into the fire. Reflexively, he extended one hand to stop his fall, which kept his entire torso and head from falling into the fire. Although I scooped him out of the fire in probably a single second, and immediately jumped into a nearby pond to cool the burn, Jack’s hand was badly burned.

After appropriate first aid, Jack was taken to the nearest pediatric burn center, where he received antibiotics, the latest in burn dressings, and skin grafts under general anesthesia over a period of a year—along with splints and other techniques to prevent scar tissue that otherwise would have turned his hand into a tightly clenched fist. Three years later, he has full function in his hand, and you’d have to know where the burns were worst to even notice them.

During the skin graft process, and while he was still uncomfortable, one hospital employee—perhaps inadvisably—said to Jack, “I guess you won’t be playing near a fire any time soon, eh?”

Jack responded, “Why not? I love playing with fires.”

Just the other day, three years after the original burn, Jack sent me a card, which stated, “Grandpa, you’re my hero for stopping fire from burning my hand.”

I wept. This barely ten-year-old boy had the emotional and spiritual strength—greatly enhanced by the wisdom of his parents—not simply to react to the wounds that victimized him. So easily he could have reacted with fear all his life to fire, and could have blamed me for his burns that happened at my house, in my fire, and only a few feet away from me. But he didn’t.

Certainly the example of his parents was indispensable, but this child CHOSE to respond to his trauma with fearlessness (“Why not?”) and gratitude. This is one of the more touching and encouraging examples of choosing rather than reacting that I have ever seen—and from a child.

We can all learn to choose instead of react. It’s a great deal happier.

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About the author 

Greg Baer, M.D.

I am the founder of The Real Love® Company, Inc, a non-profit organization. Following the sale of my successful ophthalmology practice I have dedicated the past 25 years to teaching people a remarkable process that replaces all of life's "crazy" with peace, confidence and meaning in various aspects of their personal lives, including parenting, marriages, the workplace and more.

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