appreciate life

Living Close to Death

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I am a volunteer fire fighter. There is nothing quite like going on a call and making a difference in an emergency situation to crystallize some things in life. I get amazing perspective and find that all the little stuff — dishes undone, messy living room, home renovations — regain their place of insignificance in my life and all the big stuff — my loving husband, my sweet cat, my health — comes back into focus in the place of appreciation they belong.

In some ways, I wish I could recommend everyone join a volunteer fire department or other emergency service in order to share in my insights! Of course, this isn’t practical, however, my sister is considering joining her local volunteer FD, which really got me thinking about what is so great about it.

Being an emergency responder forces me to slow down. Fire fighters can’t be in a panic — we aim to be the most level-headed ones on the scene. Although I am not literally slowing down, I am slowing down the processes and the steps I have to take in order to be sure I do them right. I do my best to keep my breathing slow and make sure I have the tools in hand for the job I need to do (or am preparing to do).

Living closer to death makes life more precious. This is a universal truth, I believe, and one safe and helpful way to live closer to death is by helping in emergencies. By facing death, either in helping extricate someone from a smashed vehicle or by dousing flames or even going inside a burning building, my zest for life is renewed! My priorities in life are refocused and I am happier. I think many doctors and nurses may feel the same.

Although some situations we have to deal with are hard, most have happy endings. Often, we are able to save a house by working quickly to contain the flames. In other cases, we lose the house on fire, but are able to save the ones beside it. In MVAs, we help keep the road situation safe by stopping traffic and giving medical aid to the victims. Sometimes, we truly are the difference between life and death when someone is trapped in a smashed car. Even when there is a less-happy ending, we have still made a difference. Without emergency service workers of any kind, our society would be more ruthless, like the middle ages.

Facing death makes you realize that people can’t always be saved. Our time here is limited, so if there is something I want to say to someone, I had better do it now. If there is a grudge I feel tempted to hold, I must drop it now. If I were to go next, how would my loved ones feel? Have I lived my life to the fullest? What am I waiting for?

I think ultimately, being on the fire department has helped me learn to control my thinking. I have to force myself to stay calm, think ahead, think of the safety of those around me, and stay in the moment. There’s no time for mind wandering when you’re responding to an emergency! Perhaps that is the best part of all — being fully in the moment, being alive, and making a difference.