This is a story. It is a story about a firefighter, a firefighter who has been both a follower and a leader. It is a story about a man, a man who has both excelled and stumbled. It is not a life story, but a story of a brief moment in time.
All good stories have characters, or players if you will, because not all elements are represented as people. Sometimes in stories inanimate objects can play a large role. As I am no screenwriter, bare with me while I just simply describe the players.
The first player, is an automobile, yes a car. Don’t think of CARS the Disney movie, but just simply your run of the mill motor vehicle. It’s a four door, just an average car with a firefighter sticker in the window. The next player is a light pole. Now this is not just any light pole, but a light pole located in the exclusive enclave of Summerlin in Las Vegas, Nevada. There were others players in and around this story, but for now these three, the firefighter, the automobile and the light pole are all that are really relevant.
One spring evening or night to be more exact these three players were brought together in what could have been one catastrophic evening, if it were not for the actions of the firefighter that cool pre-summer night in glittering Las Vegas. It could have been catastrophic not just for the obvious reasons that emerge when objects like automobiles and light poles collide in the dark of night. It could have been catastrophic for the career of this firefighter. I am getting a little ahead of myself, so lets back track a little.
This firefighter had worked long and hard to become who he was now. He had overcome many obstacles throughout his life and career to stand there that night, as a firefighter. He had been taught and full well knew that by accepting the job that he was now in, he would never be just himself. That all actions he took would reflect not just upon him, but upon the fire service as well. The headlines would not read “ Joe Smith” hits light pole, they would read “Firefighter Hits Light Pole”. Whether or not this is fair, has no bearing on this story, it is something firefighters just have to accept. Unlike the multi-million dollar athlete that extols how he is not a role model, firefighters must just accept it, because we are in fact, role models.
Life has all kinds of lessons for us to learn. The difference in life being how we as individuals handle these lessons, how we learn from them and how we move forward in life from each “lesson” that is handed down to us.
Again, a little ahead of myself, so lets go back to that evening in the west side of town, and that slightly breezy and quite evening in Las Vegas, where the firefighter, the automobile and the light poles history intersected.
The firefighter was feeling pretty good, and had reason to. He had been successful, he had friends, a good life, and even at this stage, a good future. His hands were on the wheel, he was in control, and the music was on and was playing a good tune for life’s background music. In the blink of an eye, or even less, things drastically changed. He was no longer in control, and he new it was his fault; he had been doing something he should not have been doing. He was doing something that he had flirted with several times, and was driving with a level of confidence he really had never earned. In times past he had just been lucky, as he was about learn that hard lesson. Like most type A personalities he had determined that his past avoidance of the consequences for his actions had more to do with skill than luck. Next, what seemed like hours but in all reality was merely seconds, that false world would come crashing down around him. In the end he would be standing there, seemingly alone, staring reality in the face, his next actions crucial, what to do next?
The squeal of the tires was loud and was accompanied by the immediate smell of melting rubber. The sound of the tires reverberated off the inside of the car, and what seemed like the inside of his head, it all became just another background noise like the music pumping from the stereo, as he gained the first glimpse of the light pole. The front end of car no longer leading the way, he struggled to regain control, steering hard against the skid, as he had been taught. To no avail, he had really done it this time. It was obvious there was no escaping the inevitable. For the first time in his life he felt completely helpless. Nothing he could do was going to change what was about to happen. As the car rapidly approached the solid and immoveable light pole, the sounds of screaming, squealing tires, and the smell of burning rubber, gave way instantly to the sound of crunching metal, breaking plastic and glass, and the smell gave way to that of dust, and the iron or metallic smell of blood. In a strange twist, as the sounds and smells seemed to keep pace with reality, the visual aspects seemed to slow to such a speed that one could account for the tiniest of details. As he watched the car cave in around him, as the windshield shattered and cracked, the dashboard crumpled up, and the passenger seat tilted up and towards him, the visual and the audio came crashing together in one loud and ear piercing collision of metal and earth. As the vehicle first tilted as to roll on its passenger side, the light pole itself, unmoved, settled the car back down on its four wheels, as he felt his seatbelt pull against his collarbones and hold him in his seat. Then, silence, as the dust settled and reality sunk in. His passenger turning to look silently at him, as if to say “really?” as blood began to roll down her face.
Recent events in the firefighters life had made this evening more than just a collision between a car and light pole, but more of a collision with destiny. He had been warned both professionally and personally that his behavior behind the wheel would eventually have an affect on his career. In his arrogance he ignored these warnings. He came from a lifestyle of fast cars, and grease under the fingernails. A life where his ability to control the horsepower under his foot was not just a sign of manhood, but determined his position in the “pecking order” of his peers. Although he had already distanced himself from his previous life, the behavior itself was another matter. The life style of street racing and that of a professional firefighter were colliding and only one was to be the victor. Already having been called on the carpet for behavior behind the wheel the firefighter could not only loose his recently earned money, but all future earnings, as now his career was on the line.
What is one expected to do at this point, everything is on the line. Well in this story, the firefighter chooses to do the right thing. He stood in the furnace of truth and accepted the consequences of his actions. He paid the damages to those he owed, accepted his fault, and changed his life.
He used his recently acquired skills to help save the life of his passengers. All of who still play a major role in his life. The most grievously injured, is now his wife of almost 14 years and mother of his two children. One of the others, the best man at his wedding and still close personal friend.
He stood on that night and was transformed from one life to the next, and almost 17 years later is still standing, proud of whom he became, the lessons he learned, and the path he has traveled.
Is this story real? Does it matter? Does it change the story line or the lessons learned? Does this story extol a virtuous perspective? No, I don’t think so. Is it so virtuous to have to be beat over the head to get the point? If you walk away with this then you have missed the point. We all have our shortcomings, our moments of success and our moments of failure; we are not the judges of each other.
When I am taught in John 8 not throw stones, why should I then throw stones? The point is we are the same; we are all flawed in one-way or another. When I am attacked because of my personally flawed past, I guess that’s okay. I would prefer that we get past that and have discussions on the facts and the problems facing us. As this story from my personal past, I hope demonstrates, we are the same. If you choose to attack me instead of what I am saying, it can go both ways. It achieves nothing, hurts feelings, and tries to force us to live to unachievable standards, so we can tear down each other, instead of working together for the common good.
I disagree with what my union is doing to “look out for my interest” at the national level. I believe they are being intellectually dishonest. I believe at the local level we have all been duped. If speaking my mind to this and having a discussion about it, means I have to suffer the slings and arrow of outrageous fortune, then so be it. Whether we are to survive or not survive is the question, and how we go about surviving is an even larger question. Forgive me please, for wanting to talk about it.