A man once told me with pronounced reverence; make the most of every moment because in the blink of an eye 30 years will be gone and so your career will be as well.
That man was my very first fire chief.
During our Academy graduation in April (or so I vaguely recall) of 1995 our Chief stood before us expounding upon the virtues of becoming what could arguably be the most trusted citizen within our society today.
We were all proud. Very proud, as if superman’s cape had been bestowed upon us that night and instantaneously we began to carry the troubles surrounding our little world.
Those words of wisdom and others from our chief flowed through us that night. Piled upon the months of training, fire attack equations and medical terminology/practices our newly formed brains were ready for work. We sat in awe as one after another stood and were gifted if only temporarily the prominence associated with our glistening new probationary badges.
My journey, our journeys had only just begun.
Our academy class was a newly formed family. Brothers and sisters in arms, who without hesitation had each other’s backs. We came from everywhere but after four months we were one. Being probationary firefighters we became accustomed to lifting each other up and forming a wall for those who cast shadow upon our existence.
18 months of trials, tribulations and growth, always growth.
Some of our family would stay, some would go, some would rise to the challenge, and some would fall from grace. After 18 months a smaller group stood tall as our silver dollar sized probationary badges were gleefully replaced by gleaming full sized firefighter’s badges. The honor immense, the ensuing challenges limited by our own imaginations, the future uncertain.
We were young, cocksure, and beside ourselves.
We were firefighters.
I recollect this moment in time today because my personal time in the fire service has come to an end.
Oh not of my own doing mind you.
But the human body can only handle so many stressors before it holds the amazing ability to take oneself offline.
When I embarked upon this journey my outer shield was thick, strong, like blinders to the plow I could only see directly ahead. A forward motion was all I deemed necessary and nothing would place a chink in my armor.
26 years later I sit before this computer, writing, trying my hardest to forge a new resolve, acquire a sense of purpose, and accept a new vision with gratitude and fervor.
My armor is gone, my cape pilfered from the confines of my locker, passed on to another as if never having been slung upon these now tired, older shoulders.
“Make the most of every moment because in the blink of an eye 30 years will be gone and so your career will be as well.”
I hear it, over and over again…..
I never achieved all that I had wished for. I never was able to get my feet firmly on the ground as the ground continually moved out from under those feet. My mind sees the faces of a thousand souls and hears the cries of a thousand more. The world that we know is not for what we believe. Only a firefighter, police officer or EMS provider knows what that means.
26 years later the chinks in my armor became cracks, the cracks began breaching the inner sanctum eventually rupturing, leaving me no choice but to silently slip into darkness/obscurity.
The time has come for me to pack my bags and go.
Always a man who worked extra hard at separating my off duty life from my on duty life it never dawned on me just how deep my on duty life truly ran.
Never the guy to place anything but an IAFF (International Association of Fire Fighters) sticker on my car, I thought I had done an astounding job of keeping my cape safely at work, stored neatly in its locker. No off duty shirts, no custom license plate telling the whole world what I did to support my family. Not because I wasn’t proud of my occupation mind you but because I always felt in the end, when it was over whether by design or divine intervention. My path would be easier, my inner self pleased, not agitated or disheartened upon departure.
Yet here we are……
On April 1, 2021 I will no longer cease to be a person who has garnered the public’s trust through years of honest deed. I will no longer be a part of a crew, a family of brothers and sisters that reach our hands out in a time of need. I will no longer be a part of the banter and shenanigans that follow a firefighter’s career. Some of the very best times I have ever known were within those four walls. For you will know no joy like that of a firehouse bursting with laughter. I will no longer be able to mentor the young, feel the adrenaline associated with our profession or quite simply relish in the 2 am silence that follows between calls in a busy firehouse. I will miss the look in a child’s eye when we step off our engine, capes on, ready for battle; the “thank you’s” that follow a job well done and the pride that comes from working with such outstanding human beings. I will miss every moment, every second, and wallow in a strange pride filled sadness each time my fire engine goes by without me. My job was more to me than I ever gave it credit for becoming.
Because of the circumstances surrounding my health and recovery I have already hung up my helmet, folded my last uniform shirt, emptied my strike team bag and neatly pressed my Class A uniform for storage.
I watched with great sadness as my cape was quietly taken away.
I am alive.
I hear that a lot. From friends, from acquaintances, from people who have just recently learned of my story.
I am alive, yes I am.
I always knew this time would come. I always felt it would be at my request, upon finishing what I chose to achieve. But you see that is the thing about life and about unknowingly carrying the weight of so many with no regards to recognizing the weight burdened within you.
It takes a toll.
That toll becomes heavy, and after a while unnoticeable. You become a good almost gifted actor.
Trust me the toll is there, lurking, waiting for the right moment to rise from the ashes of what was, what is and creating what will forever be.
In my particular case I paid with my heart.
One bodily function we truly need to keep us alive. I paid, as many others have paid, some never coming home again to the ones who they so adore and for that I am thankful to be right here, right now.
My problems are now my own; I wake up each day and wonder what’s next? Where do I go from here? What should I be looking forward too?
Upon my final day I am not sure how I will feel. I am hoping excited, filled with optimism, able to accept congratulations from those I cherish. I am hoping it feels just as I had dreamed; as if one door is closing and another is opening.
There are definitely new limitations to my existence. Going from a strong, gung-ho type A fellow to what I am now has been difficult. But not intolerable..
26 years…… Twenty Sixxxx, hmmmm
With my hand placed over my much louder, sometimes irregular beating heart, taking a moment to judge its steady rate, I devour my morning medications to keep it doing just that, running steady and I think……
I think….I may need to find a new cape……..