They will lay Tyler Doohan to rest today.
With a hundred firemen outside the church, and a broken family gathered inside, he and his grandfather and his grandfather’s step-father will be bid farewell as they walk together into eternity.
The men had lived, but he had not, and midway through the fourth-grade he succumbed to a fire in the night.
That was a week ago Monday in the bitter cold when they think a space heater went wrong in the battered old trailer. There were nine of them, in a humble home open to all, and six of them made it out.
Tyler had come to spend the night on the eve of a day off from school. He loved his grandfather, and he died with his grandfather, snuggled beside him in the bed.
When the last amen is said, at St. John’s of Rochester, the chief will give his mother a helmet and a patch and the fire service will honor young Tyler like one of its own.
It will be a sweet and loving thing, a hug from a community the family met in tragedy.
But it will not be the thing.
In spite of the national headlines and the media curiosity, this isn’t about the story of a little boy, heroic in the pre-dawn dark, it is simply about the little boy.
Much attention has been drawn to the claim that it was Tyler who detected the fire, that it was he who awoke the family, that it was he who shepherded six to safety, and he who went back in to get his beloved grandfather.
The nation has looked on in awe at a little boy who gave his life trying to save another.
But that story may only be a story. The official investigation is incomplete and inconclusive, and the people with the best information, still recovering from their injuries, have not yet been interviewed.
It may be that Tyler perished in his sleep. It may be that the family was alerted – there being no evidence of smoke detectors in the trailer – by the shrieks of a 4-year-old. It may be that in the horrible confusion of the first minutes of this tragedy that a mistaken narrative developed, that a misunderstanding took place.
Investigators don’t yet want to say what happened, because they don’t yet fully know.
But that doesn’t matter.
The part of what happened that matters, we all know, and there can be no confusion about.
We mourn Tyler Doohan not because we were told he was a hero, but because we know that he was a little boy.
He was a child, an innocent little lad whose most-recent Halloween costume we have all seen on the evening news. We cry not because of what the fire chief said, but because of what the little boy lost.
We have seen the tears of his mother, we can imagine the chaos of his life, and we see the way it all ended.
And so in our hearts we stand with the firefighters outside the church, paying our respects and saying our farewells.
This was the deadliest fire in the history of the town of Penfield. It was the sort of blaze that, thankfully, our region sees only once every several years. It was a horrible heartbreak.
And that has nothing to do with the particulars of that morning and what young Tyler may or may not have done. It has nothing to do with what the investigation may eventually show.
It has to do with the common thread of humanity that loves children and cherishes family. The part of us all that overlays the unforeseen death of three innocents on the circumstances of our own lives. There but by the grace of God, we all know, go we and ours.
So we will say good bye to hers, this mother with the red-dyed hair, like he was one of ours.
Because he was.
He was of this place, he was of our kind, he was of the family of man.
It’s not about the helmet and the patch, or the tales of Christlike sacrifice, it’s about a life cut short, its enjoyments and promise denied.
That’s why they will gather today.
And that is good and pure.
- by Bob Lonsberry © 2014