"Do what you know.”
While teaching a class on mechanism of injury and secondary patient assessment at an area fire department recently, I gave them my standard answer. We were discussing a particularly tragic traffic accident, and the question was, “When faced with unimaginable tragedy or overwhelming odds, how do you know what to do first?”
I generally follow my canned response with, “If it’s on fire – put it out. If it’s squirting blood – stop the bleeding. Just do what you know.”
As simple as it may sound; it isn’t.
This past week I watched Jamie Koonsman, my cousin and a Waxahachie firefighter, do exactly that. Jamie’s wife, Robyn, has determinedly battled cancer for several years. He has buried a brother, a sister, and his father. And he’s not yet 40.
And then last week, the unthinkable happened. Jamie and Robyn’s 19 year old daughter, Hope, died suddenly and unexpectedly of an acute medical condition. "Unimaginable tragedy" doesn’t even begin to describe it.
By all accounts, Jamie has done things right. He is a devoted father, a caring husband, a gifted athlete, and a dedicated firefighter. He has given back to his church and his community. He raised two beautiful daughters, Hope and her younger sister, Jordyn, to be loving, faithful and committed. And he is one of the kindest men I have ever known.
And this is his fate?
Comparatively, I’ve lived a rather charmed life. My wife and children are healthy and flourishing. My parents are in excellent health and my sisters are both high-maintenance and well-maintained. At times I have questioned my faith, and essentially made a career of tempting fate. And here I sit - wearing a scar or two, but virtually unscathed.
I fail to see the justice.
As I sat down to write this column, I wondered to myself why a loving God would saddle a man like Jamie with such heartache. A man, who despite great sorrow, has remained committed to his faith, his family and his community. If this is how He treats His faithful, what hope is there for a lesser man like me?
My question was answered by a two year old. Brazos drifted through the room toward the front door like she was sailing a gypsy wind. She quickly opened the door and squealed, “It snowed, Daddy! It snowed!” And I knew.
It didn’t come to me as a great truth – but as a lesson an ordinary father could understand. God doesn’t do it ‘to us’, but ‘for them’. He didn’t do it to Jamie. He did it for Robyn and Jordyn. He did it for Hope.
When I saw Jamie on Wednesday, I couldn’t find the words. As a father, a cousin, or a friend, all I could do was hug his neck and try not to turn into a blathering, snot-slinging fool. My heart broke for the man. The only words of comfort or advice I could think of were as a fellow firefighter:
“Do what you know, Brother. Just do what you know.”
Jon Koonsman is a local builder and rancher and 6th generation Erath County resident. He is married with two sons, one daughter and resides on his family's ranch near Duffau. He is also a member of the Empire-Tribune's community columnists. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.