A friend is one who knows you as you are, understands where you’ve been, accepts who you’ve become.
After the Fire: A True Story of Friendship and Survival recounts the tragedy that struck Seton Hall University in January 2009 and how two of the victims, college best friends Shawn Simons and Alvaro Llanos, pulled through with the love and support of their families and the people who cared for them in the most difficult period in their lives.
This tear inducing book, simply put, is real. It is a take on feelings and emotions that define us humans in the face of adversity and in different stages of moving on.
To be human is to get hurt.
We all want to avoid it, but getting hurt—physically and emotionally—is an inevitable fact of life. Life has its way of hitting us with an intensity that can bring us down to our knees, or in Alvaro Llanos’ case, left him on the brink of death.
The only way to deal with pain is to endure it with a positive attitude as Shawn and Alvaro demonstrated. Pain can work for our improvement or can bring us further down in the dumps. Either way, we hold the power to decide on the person who we become. We can either spend the rest of our days anchored onto the devastating past or release ourselves free from the chains of the past only looking back at the lesson learned we can use to move forward.
To be human is to be afraid.
Everyone feared the misfortune that Shawn and Alvaro had to bear. Their families feared they might not survive. The medical team feared the quality of life the boys would have should they survive. With the scars the tragedy left them, they knew their lives would never be the same again.
Fear is brought about by the recognizing the possibility of our negative thoughts turning into reality. How do you survive fear?
Shawn had picked up much from his mother, but Christine considered her optimism to be her greatest gift to her son. Both said such things as, ‘Everything will be all right,’ and ‘Every day is a good day,’ and ‘God will take care of it.’ And they believed it.
To be human is to hope.
In as much as we fear the future, we also hope for better things in life.
The burns left Alvaro unrecognizable and no one could affirm his survival. With arson being the toughest crime to prove, the possibility of justice being served and putting the souls accountable for the crime behind bars were slim to none.
When confronted by life’s uncertainties, there is nothing left to do but hope. If there’s one thing about hope that we should learn, it is not to be undermined. Hope—no matter how great or how little—transcends logic and serves as an impetus to fight for our lives and chase after our greatest desires.
To be human is to love.
A unique human faculty, love is indeed the key element in the journey of Shawn and Alvaro towards healing, survival and moving on. Love fueled the heart of every character in this success story. Because of that love, the two are alive sharing their testimony and serving as an inspiration to the rest of the world.
This novel is an enriching read that one should not pass up. From it we learn about staying strong even when the situation seems impossible to overcome. This story of Shawn and Alvaro is proof that there is certainly life after a tragedy. One should not be weary in looking forward to beautiful things to come out of a dreadful experience. Even in our darkest moments, there can emerge heroes that will whole heartedly extend themselves to help us get back to our feet so we can live out our purpose.
Some scars are not merely marks of suffering, but medals of true strength, courage and perseverance.