Growing up Different
By Celia Belt
We all grow up differently. For some of us it’s the home we live in and the circle of friends we associate with. For others—those in the military world—it’s constant moving and adjustments. Some of us grow up rich, while others struggle financially. None of us is alike, yet each of us forges his or her way through this world.
For me, different was being the little burned kid. Each morning I stood motionless as my mother lathered Dermablend on my scars in an attempt to cover them up. After that came the careful selection of clothing; it was important to choose just the right items that might hide the frightening burn scars my body carried. When spring arrived, things became more difficult. With the warmer weather, I knew I would be forced to wear clothing that allowed a greater view of my scars. Summer for me was nearly nonexistent—the thought of joining in on the fun at the local pool, in a swimsuit, was beyond any of my wildest dreams. It was not my reality and never would be.
The scenario went on, year after year. This was in addition to the yearly surgeries I underwent to correct the scarring. The simple fact that I was absent from school yearly and would arrive back in bandages and casts gave way to me once again being an outcast. There was no escape; I was different, and to most, I was disfigured and frightening.
Children at school were cruel. I was ostracized for my burned body and had not a friend in the world. I was beaten and humiliated because I was different. I did not choose to be different and all I could do was live with it and pray that one day it would get better. I spent countless hours on my porch, dreaming of a world that was different from the one I knew, a world where people were kind and I was invited to be a part of the games and activities. I found solace in books and the occasional teacher who took interest in me and recognized that beyond the scars lay a child with a hunger for learning and acceptance. I excelled in all the work they gave me, which offered me the confidence to know that I was more than the little burned kid. I was somebody—with a good mind and a work ethic to match.
Through all of this I developed a strength that I would not fully understand until later in life. The beatings, comments, and sneers only made me stronger. I became forged of steel, unstoppable in the business world, empathetic to all those I came across who were a bit “different,” and kind to all those I knew. Eventually, those scars led me to a higher purpose, and in 1998 I founded the Moonlight Fund, a 501c3 nonprofit for burn survivors and their families that has served nearly 12,000 people in its first twenty-one years. There exists very little nonprofit support for burn survivors and Moonlight Fund leads the way in providing support coast to coast.
As I reflect on the torment I endured in my young life, what those scars represented and how they made my life a living hell, I am grateful. There would have never been a Moonlight Fund without the pain and sacrifices I endured as a child and young adult.
I’ve found it much easier to find the humor in my experiences than to dwell on the negative. I’ve lived much of my life by my friend’s words, “laugh you live, cry you die.” My path to a life of meaning may not have been straight or easy, but I am fortunate to have found my personal stepping stones, laid out before me like a masterpiece. There is not one stone, not one memory or one experience that I would have changed. I am grateful for the good and the bad, for I am the sum of all my experiences.
For many years, I avoided becoming close to those I assisted through my work with the Moonlight Fund. Yet, eventually they would and have become so dear to me and occupy a place in my heart and my life that can be shared with no other. I’m extremely blessed to walk that path among my family. No, not my blood family, but my burn family. In them I have found the love and acceptance that had always eluded me. My time spent with them, even during times of my own turmoil, brings me back to the center and reminds me of just how powerful survival and love can be. I will be forever grateful to them, for they have provided me a life of servitude and meaning. For in the end, kindness is all that matters, and it is through our selfless acts and kind ways, that each of us will remain . . . Remarkably Intact.
Celia Belt, a burn survivor, is the founder of the award-winning Moonlight Fund Inc., a non-profit organization that provides financial and emotional assistance to burn survivors and their families. She