By Sean Riley
Most everyone around the world recognizes this photo on that fateful day of April 19th, 1995 in Oklahoma City of my dear friend Chris Fields so tenderly holding Baylee Almon in her last moments of life. I’ve viewed this photograph over and over and finally had the chance to have an open and adult conversation with Chris about his experience that day and his subsequent battles and recovery in life every day after. Baylee brought so much more to this world than this picture that is etched in everybody’s mind.
As I keynote around the country Baylee and Chris are a vital part of my presentation about life, not death. One thing I really appreciate about Chris is he and I can be brutally honest about our failures in life, our struggles, why they happened and what he, Jay Dobyns and I are doing together to #changethenarrative to help others not follow our path. When you meet Chris you will be drawn towards his Midwest humility, drawl and infectious smile but there is still some pain behind the mask, I can see it.
We were in Norman, Oklahoma together and I finally had the courage I would say to confront him in regards to his years of struggle with PTSD and every other malady that goes along with it which everyone in the world believes was caused by the bombing and holding Baylee in his arms but I knew that was not true. I directly asked him, “Chris, after all these years of therapy I have to ask you this… “You tanking in life had nothing to do with that building coming down that day or Baylee dying in your arms did it?” He paused, looked at me stunningly and said, “The hairs on my arm just stood up because nobody has ever asked me that question before.”
So I asked Chris, what took you down? Remember, Chris has had years of therapy and he is one of the most courageous men I know. He replied, “Being molested at age 10.” I knew it was something of this magnitude but it’s nothing to be ashamed about. I admired Chris even more because subconsciously and probably without him even knowing it he put on a uniform to protect others so they would not have to suffer the same fate as he did at age ten. I just completely respect that. I contemplated this next question but I had to ask it because I knew he would give me an honest answer.
I told Chris that I have studied this picture for years and I have one more question for you and it’s going to be a hard one. As you’re looking down at Baylee passing away in your arms I see no “pain” on your face, I see compassion, I almost see relief… so here’s my question. “On that day, you weren’t carrying Baylee in your arms, you were carrying yourself at age ten because that’s the day you died emotionally as a human being?” Chris told me that’s exactly what happened and that’s what he learned after all these years of therapy. This solidified the bond between the two of us even further. “Respect” is an understatement for what I feel for Chris.
I hear over and over as I travel the country that the “job” is killing our first responders, sometimes that is true but for the most part it’s not. What’s taking our first responders “down” is unresolved trauma or what we refer to as “family of origin” trauma. The profession exposes us to additional trauma, long term negative exposures, critical incidents that are usually the catalyst for “blowing up” those issues/traumas we have not had the opportunity in life to process. These can lead to such negative behaviors as suicide, substance abuse, domestic violence, adultery, anxiety, depression, PTSD and others.
It is time to remove the stigma of asking for help and admitting that we have problems like everyone else in life. We are not victims and we have a responsibility to #changethenarrative. Let’s introduce post-traumatic growth, weaponizing our traumas so we are resilient and can help others. We all deserve to give ourselves this gift.
To Miss Baylee Almon and her family, you did not die in vain. You have given us all a gift and through you lives are being saved. Your sacrifice has given us all the chance to look deep within ourselves to become better people and has allowed us to pass on the gift you provided to all of us and to pass it on to others through Chris. You two will be forever forged together but remember… In death, you brought us all life. The world was very blessed to have you, even if it was for a very short period of time. God speed Little Miss Baylee.
You never need suffer in silence…
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