Grateful for ordinary heroes; a tribute to our fallen firefighters McCarthy and Croom

When others are running from danger, what kind of man or woman chooses to run intodanger instead? How many people ever stop to think of the job our local firefighters and policemen do? I watched, at length, the funerals in Buffalo NY today for two brave firefighters who died in the line of duty. About 6,000 firefighters from across the country and Canada came to pay respects, a solid line of blue uniforms and white gloves raised in salute or covering hearts. Lt. Charles McCarthy and Firefighter Jonathan Croom heard that there was someone trapped in the basement of a fire and they did not hesitate to go in to search, to try to save someone from the raging fire. When the floor collapsed, McCarthy and Croom were trapped and became victims of the fire themselves. It is a sad irony that no trace of another person was found in that basement. There was no need for them to have gone in; no need for them to have died. Some will say they should have waited to be sure, but they did what they were trained to do. When fire takes over, every second counts and firefighters don’t have a lot of time to sit and weigh the consequences. In those who have chosen to serve and protect, it is instinctive to face the danger head on. It is an extraordinary gift to have the heart to put another life before your own. these brave men and women are ready every day to do just that and we often give little thought to what that means, or how valuable they really are.

After 9/11, firefighters were revered and respected and we could not say enough about the sacrifice of those men following the destruction of the World Trade Centers. There were honors and parades and tributes, all richly deserved. A new respect for boys in blue, both policemen and firemen took hold. It was good. Eight years later we may have slipped back into our complacency. There have been no national disasters to rally our patriotism and gratitude. As we mourn and honor two men who made the supreme sacrifice, we really need to honor those who serve and are willing to take that same risk every day.  Let’s give  them our thanks while they are here to hear it.

Growing up on the east side of Buffalo in the 1950s, I have fond memories of the local fire houses, where the firemen would often be sitting outside. They took time to answer silly kid questions, show us the firetrucks or even join in a game of  jacks. We thought it was pretty neat that they got to hang around during the day while our dads were off to the steel plant or auto factories. They acted as neighborhood guardians and we were taught to give them unflinching respect. If there was a neighborhood fire in those days a crowd would gather, but it had a different feel then- it wasn’t some exciting show to watch.  Neighbors were standing by to aid the victims, wrapping them in blankets and offering to make phone calls (noot everyone had a home phone and cell phones were a Dick tracy fantasy). The older ladies stood in prayer, clutching rosary beads and making the sign of the cross. Someone would always bring cold drinks in the summer or hot coffee in the winter to weary firefighters. It was an honor and a duty to assist in any way possible. We were in awe of those men (no ladies back then) who braved the smoke and fire no matter what the weather or time of day. Those were the heroes of my generation.

I live in a small, rural community now. Our Barker Fire Department is an all-volunteer operation. We may move at a generally slower pace here in cow country, but when that siren goes off and scanners buzz, we have brave and dedicated men and women who drop what they were doing to respond. They may have been plowing a field, fixing a transmission or peeling potatoes for dinner; it all stops as they race to someone in need. The word “volunteer” may be lumped with amateur or unprofessional because few people realize the amount of training these volunteers must go through to become firefighters. Training in many areas continues while they are members. It is a huge commitment that is embraced by all too few members of the community. There’s nothing rinky-dink about local volunteer fire companies anywhere. They are dedicated people who already have jobs they do to earn a living. They have chosen to serve their community and neighbors as professionals. Our lives and property are in their hands and we rely on them. We can go to sleep peacefully at night, without having to wonder what would happen if lightning hit the house or the garage burned. While we sleep  we are blessedly unaware of the car crash that needed the jaws of life or the dairy cows that were herded out of a burning barn before it collapsed. As I watched those funerals today, I felt a little guilty. Our Barker Fire Volunteer Company, and those nearby who aid us, give me peace of mind. What do I do for them? Yes, I try to be supportive of fundraisers  and events when I can, but when was the last time I said “Thank You?”

I’m saying it now. To every man and woman who wears the uniform of a firefighter, I salute you. I say a prayer of gratitude for your noble service and a continuing prayer for your safety. I pray for those families who have lost loved ones, like Lt. McCarthy and  Firefighter Croom.  I say thank you to all those wives, husbands and children who have had to attend events alone, or have their parent miss a softball game and who wait patiently while their spouse or parent puts the needs and lives of others, often strangers, first. During the services today, Croom’s mother spoke about people saying “You must be so proud…” Her response was “I have always been proud.” That’s a very profound statement. It’s important that we let our public servants know that we are not only proud of those who have given their lives, but of all those who stand willing to make any sacrifice when that siren sounds. Yes, we are proud…and grateful. We’ll try hard not to take you for granted. Thank you for all you do.

Well done, Chip and Jonathan… good and faithful servants, well done.

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Shooting stars are a gift to the soul!

To find the universal elements enough; to find the air and the water exhilarating; to be refreshed by a morning walk or an evening saunter; to be thrilled by the stars at night: to be elated over a bird’s nest or a wildflower in spring …these are some of the rewards of the simple life.     ~ John Burroughs, Naturalist (1837-1921) ~

Take a couple of six-year-olds to the drive-in movies to see commando guinea pigs saving the world and there are bound to be a lot of laughs in between popcorn breaks. Drive-in movies, a memorable part of my childhood, are vanishing. Kids are wired up to daily movies and special effects on television, computers, video games and everywhere. It’s pretty hard to top some of the things they’ve seen.

Toward the end of the movies the Perseids made their way across the sky, tossing an occasional ball of fire into the inky heavens. It was enough to draw their attention away from the Aliens in the Attic for a bit, but there was still too much sensory overload and ambient light to see the meteors.

On the drive home at 1 a.m., I took a detour to the back of town park, where there are no lights except for the starlight and a waning moon over the ball fields of our rural community. Logan and Darian had no idea why we shook them awake, wrapped them in blankets and had them lie on the metal bleachers. “Just lie on your back and stare straight up!” It takes patience to just let go and wait for things to happen in their own time. There are no fast-forward or rewind buttons. You either see them or you don’t. Impatience turned to wide-eyed wonder as they saw the delicate arcs of meteor tails flash across the sky. “Did see that one?!!” If your eyes were on another part of the celestial ceiling, you may have missed that one, but others would follow. We tried hard to all watch the same area of the sky for the shared effect. When they came two or three in the same instant the kids were wishing hard on every shooting star.  Every time they slowed a bit and we prepared to leave, more would come and we were again caught up in the challenge. On this glorious summer night in August, the Perseid Metoer Showers were imprinted in their memories. I knew they would take root and send a reminder every August that it was nearly time to see the sky show. I don’t know what they wished for (I think Darian has her eye on a pony) but I know what my own ‘first star’ wish was. I wished them a lifetime of memorable moments that were inspired by the awesome wonder of nature. I wished with all my heart that they would learn to savor, to respect and to appreciate the beauty all around them. So many things in life are fleeting, popular and ‘in’ for a while and then extinct as we move on to new things. It is in nature that we find the only true and constant things in our lives.

No matter what life throws at me, I am sure that the sun will rise. The moon goes through her many moods, but she is predictable, after all. I eagerly await the return of Orion the Hunter, my favorite constellation, in the autumn and winter sky and rejoice when we get clear skies around August 12th every year to watch those Perseid showers. Oh, Mother Nature can be cruel and the unexpected fury unleashed takes us all by surprise. Still, after the darkness, comes the dawn. Rather simplistic, I know, but it is true in every struggle of our lives.

Before there was man to clear the land, build the cities and try to tame her, Mother Nature took care of herself. Fires in forests took away the old growth to make way for new beginnings. Floods and drought changed landscape and animals and plant life adapted. We came and put our houses and concrete right in the middle of things and we struggle to keep nature and natural disaster at bay. I sometimes wonder what the state of the earth would be if no one ever mowed another lawn or tried to tame a raging river. That would be the ultimate “back to nature” experience.

I thought of the John Burroughs quote while star gazing from the bleachers the other night. I thought about how rich I was in so many ways, to be able to share this heavenly moment (pardon the pun) with my great niece and nephew. Right now they are excited about going into the first grade next month and they still live in a world dominated by razzle-dazzle, but I’m making a prediction. Some twenty or so years from now, they’ll be telling their own children about the meteors, and maybe grandchildren too. It is how it has always been and will always be, if we are smart enough to share the timeless wonders of life with them. These moments are the ones that last. How rich I am… and how thankful!

Gratitude Watch

For some time now I’ve been enjoying the work of Daniel Brenton and his “Gratitude Watch” at “The Meaning of Existence and all that” I finally got around to adding the link in the sidebar so you can visit there as well. It’s the perfect place to visit if you are one of those people who believes in the inherent goodness of mankind, personal responsibility and the idea that we should really be grateful for the many blessings in our life. Daniel takes the time to gather the best offerings from cyberspace in one place and you’ll enjoy it! Visit now at http://www.danielbrenton.com/

and I am most grateful, Daniel, for your efforts to promote the goodness in life!

Gratitude Quote #9


Gratitude is the least of the virtues, but ingratitude is the worst of vices.    Thomas Fuller

Gratitude quote #6

You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink. ~G.K. Chesterton

Grateful to be grateful

After a roller coaster of a year, I embraced the coming of 2009 as though it had magical powers to ring in the new by leaving the old behind. It’s never really gone, you know. I’ve come to realize that the bad things, the sad things, the discouraging things will never go away. That’s, as Frank Sinatra used to sing…life. I really believe that all the hurt and disappointment added to our cosmic soup has been put there by mankind; all of our misdeeds sprinkled liberally over the top, stirred down to float back up again. The only thing that changes the swill to something nourishing and palatable is how we season it. 

As dour and depressing as this may sound, it is really an affirmation. It’s the acknowledgement of the power of good over evil, of triumph over tragedy, of being grateful for the painful moments in life that test our mettle and make us examine our priorities and strengths. If you’re making lemonade when those proverbial lemons of life are being catapaulted off your noggin, you’re having a good day!

My water pipes are frozen as the deep freeze reaches Western New York and it’s darned inconvenient. It’s also going to last a few days while the sub-sero wind chills and snow assault us. Cold and cranky? Well, I wasn’t clinging to an icy airplane wing  in the frigid waters of the Hudson, thank you very much! Was there anybody on earth more grateful than those 156 passengers who had, moments before impact, braced themselves for the worst? Watching the endless footage of the rescue, we held our collective breath as the heros of the day swooped in to save the people on board. A lot of good ingredients were put back into our soup that day, huge quantities of bravery, compassion and gratitude. The triumph over tragedy fills us all with hope and strengthens the bonds of humanity. One just has to remember the feeling of strength and solidarity after the 9/11 terrorist attacks to be reminded that we humans are capable of much goodness and compassion. I just wish it didn’t take tragedy to get everyone working together.

Oh, there are acts of goodness and sacrifice going on every minute of every  day, not as newsworthy as a dramatic plane crash rescue. Volunteers have been walking  city streets in frigid temperatures, trying to get the homeless to seek shelter or at least to offer blankets, food and chairs to keep them off the frigid ground. Soup kitchens everywhere are being stretched to the limits and beyond by victims of the economy. It is those acts of charity that save us, you know, from ourselves. Mankind at its worst is contained by the collective goodness of mankind at its best.

This week was hard for those around me. Our friend lost her battle with cancer, just 44 and the kind of good person who should be around to see grandchildren and old age. My ten-year-old friend had his kidney and a cancerous tumor the size of a softball removed this week, and this is a critical time for him and his family. Friends share grief for Faith and concern for Mykel in teary phone calls and worried email and we are grateful to be a part of that human connection. Every burden shared is lightened and we are so very blessed when we are able to share the load.

Although I was not on board that plane in the Hudson, I am grateful to those who responded. Acts of heroism and kindness rescue us all, if only vicariously, from the tragedies of life. They restore our faith in mankind and ratchet up our social conscience. We cheer them on while assuring ourselves that we would jump right in the fray if we were in their place. Tragedy and grief unite us. Hopefully, they also inspire us to get out there to save someone else, in ways large and small.  I am proud of, and grateful for, those keeping watch over those in need. Let’s all “pay it forward’ every chance we get.

Gratitude Quote #4

Gratitude is the memory of the heart.  ~Jean Baptiste Massieu