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Where do I even start?
Every once in a while a project comes along that is as much inspiring as it is challenging. One that gives you back much more than you put into it.
This is one of them.
I’m here to tell you though, the most impressive thing about Chris and Jennifer is not in this video. Unless you had cameras on their family 24/7 you would never be able to get the entire story. That’s because what strikes me most about them after 2 months of shooting is how normal they are. And how normal they are in spite of dealing with this situation every minute of every day.
I’ll never forget the first time that I met Chris and Jennifer. I walked into their perfectly maintained home, and within 2 seconds I immediately thought “I’m so glad I’m wearing clean socks, because this is definitely a take-your-shoes-off kind of house”. I didn’t know what to expect. I had heard snippets of the story from the news, but really had no pre-conceived notions of who these people were. Any apprehension I may have had was squashed immediately with Chris’ first words to me: “Sorry, I’m the only one that’s allowed to wear shoes in the house.”
I quickly realized that this was not going to be a story about physical rehabilitation as much as it was about perseverance of spirit and an overwhelming drive to live as much of a normal life as possible. For their boys. Always for their boys. Every tough answer, every strong statement that Chris & Jennifer make, you can see in their eyes that it’s about keeping that family unit going. For Christopher and Braden. And although they seem to downplay it, for each other.
The beginning of this video is pretty intense – it’s Chris recounting the accident and Jennifer talking about coming home and finding him. I know it was probably hard for some people to watch. Originally, I had no intention of spending so much time on this, but as time went on I realized that it had to be in here. It had to set the tone.
It’s cliche, but to understand how far somebody has come, you have to know where they have been
I say this with no hesitation or drama: this family has been to the gates of Hell and back.
This was a tough story to cut. There’s just so much more to it than I was able to include. When something happens and it rallies so many in the community, how can you possibly mention every good story that you’ve been told? How can you express the deep love that family and friends have for these people? It’s impossible. Unless I was allowed 3 hours for the piece. And even then, it would be a stretch.
The totality of all of this hit me about three weeks ago. I can’t remember what exactly we had just finished shooting, but I was leaving their house and as I said goodbye, Jenn said to me, “pray for us”, as she usually does. But something that day hit me as I looked at their house in my rear-view mirror. I was going home. And I was going to get out my car and walk in my house. And while they would be on my mind somewhere, I would go on with my normal, easy life. And complain about stupid things like my shoulder being sore from shooting too much handheld that day or some other trivial annoyance.
But not them. I leave the story every day, but it never leaves them. I hope that makes sense, and I hope that it could bring some small bit of understanding of how hard these people fight.
I’ve been blessed to do this project. When you look at this family it makes you take stock in your own life a little more. I wonder if I would have the drive that Chris does to keep pushing and fighting. I wonder if this happened to my wife, would I be able to be as strong as Jennifer has been. I look at Chris’ mother and wonder if this happened to one of my children, how would I handle it. It all gives me a stomach ache just to think about.
At any rate, my sincere thanks to the folks that have let me into their life these past few months to tell this story. To my interview subjects, I know some of the questions were hard and believe me asking you to relive some of these moments was just as tough on the other side of the camera.
“I don’t want to look back at my life and say I wasted time,” Chris said. And maybe this is the strongest line for me in the entire piece.
How much time do we waste bemoaning our problems instead of tackling them? Hopefully after watching this video, the answer for all of us will be “a little less”.
Here’s the video. It’s 20 minutes, but worth it.
This video was produced for the New Castle Community YMCA for their 2012 Salute To Courage award.
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