On this day - June 14th, four years ago I was out late in the evening with my wife Lisa on a date. It was the first time we had both been able to get away from the NICU in the hospital after our twins were born 14 days previous. Liam, our 20-month old toddler was at our home with Grandma. Not really knowing what to do, we decided to go to an old favourite - Boston Pizza. Not exactly the best location for “a date”, but we didn’t care as we just wanted to get out from the hospital and talk about life.
If you’ve ever been to a Boston Pizza you’ll know that TV’s on every wall dominate the atmosphere of this family friendly sports bar. But I can’t for the life of me remember what sports and/or games were being featured on the screens that day two years ago… but I will never forget the “Breaking News” that kept interrupting the games being shown.
“2-Year Old Attacked by Alligator near Disney Resort”
Two years earlier, I probably would have dismissed this headline with a curt “that sucks”; but life and times had changed. My thoughts immediately went to Liam at home with Grandma. He was essentially 2-Years old too. For some reason, I was instantly drawn into the story – almost captivated by it. Tears began to well up as I heard that the father jumped into the lagoon in an unsuccessful attempt to get his son back. I couldn’t imagine witnessing ANYTHING steal my son from me, let alone an alligator. And then… would I be stupid enough to jump in the lagoon like this father did and take a swing at this beast in attempts to get him back?!? HELL YEAH, I WOULD! And if you say you wouldn’t, chances are you've never had a defenseless 2-year old!
My heart physically hurt – and it wasn’t from the nachos I was eating. My mind was flooded with thoughts and questions. Why would this happen to someone? What would I do if it happened to me? How would I react? How would I cope? How could I get onto an airplane to return home and not notice that someone was missing – that there was an empty seat.
I had to move on. I had a wife across the table from me who wanted to enjoy the evening, and I now had three kids who needed me – two of whom were still struggling to breathe in the hospital. But I couldn’t just move on. Sure, I blocked it temporarily the best I could, so I could get through the evening… but I kept going back to it on my phone or computer in the days that followed trying to make sense of the tragedy.
A week later it was in the news again, as the parents had set up a Foundation in their little boy’s honour. A week later! Who has the composure and thought to do something like this?!? I would still be out randomly shooting innocent alligators (is there even such a thing?) looking to find my revenge!
I have never been able to shake it. I think about Lane Graves often – definitely more than any other stranger who has been killed in my lifetime. I cried and cried when I saw pictures of the stunning memorial statue Disney World installed shortly after the 1-year anniversary of Lane’s death. The memorial statue is of a lighthouse, the symbol of the foundation, adorned with two blue stars. Visiting this memorial immediately made it to the top of my bucket list. Again, I don’t know why! I still struggle with why this story connected so deeply with me. And now, every time I see a lighthouse I think about Lane and the Lane Thomas Foundation.
And just the name of the foundation touched a nerve too. Why Lane Thomas and not Lane Graves? Well, it’s because Lane would refer to himself by his first two names… similar to how Liam used to refer to himself by all three of his names.
I'd love to meet Mr. and Mrs. Graves and their family some day – again I don’t know why or what that would accomplish – but I can’t seem to shake this story and memory that occurred 5,000 kilometres away. But for now, all I can do is write out my thoughts and share with you what I’m wrestling and consumed with today. Perhaps you too will be inspired and encouraged by the amazing story of how two parents and their daughter turned a tragedy into a “Beacon of Hope and a Light of Love” helping countless families in crisis.
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