One of my enduring memories of childhood centers on a burn victim.
When I was about six or seven, I had a belt. It was blue, it was made out of vinyl, and it had panels from Peanuts comic strips printed on it. I outgrew the belt, and I’m sure that it was thrown out a least a half-dozen moves ago, but I do remember it.
A few years later, middle school I think, I remember that in one of our classes, perhaps it was health or it might’ve been science, we were shown a movie about the dangers of fire. In the course of this film, the film showed a burn victim, a little boy who was about six or seven, who was caught in a house fire and suffered second and third degree burns across all of his body. He had survived, though not without severe physical damage. His fingers had burned off, his face was very badly scarred, his nose and ears were gone. What I especially remember is that he was dressed in a shirt and pants, as if for Sunday school or a school picture, and he wore the same Peanuts belt that I had owned when I was his age.
Maybe it was because the little burned boy wore the belt that had been my favorite which led to a “There but for the grace of god go I” sort of thinking, maybe it was that, even at that early age, I was profoundly sensitive, but either way, I found myself moved by thoughts of this little boy, his childhood, even his life, robbed of him by a tragic accident with fire. Even at the remove of almost thirty years, I’m tearing up at the thought of this memory and the little boy in the movie.
I wonder what became of him, I wonder if he died, perhaps from an infection made possible due to his badly burned skin, and I find myself mourning him, a stranger that I never met, who once wore my favorite belt.