So It Goes
This essay was posted on Facebook, January 10, 2019, to commemorate the day. It is re-posted here for the record.
Today, I hang up my helmet and hand off my bunker gear: retirement day. I don’t want to leave, but my body is old, and has finally cried “uncle! enough!” It’s time to hand the reins over to younger folks. I get it. I don’t like it (don’t have to), but...so it goes. So it goes. Please permit me a few parting thoughts:
Leaving emergency service is not simply a matter of a few handshakes and a tip of the hat. There’s a lot of identity tied up with this world. Few jobs involve the concept of “brotherhood,” but this is one of them. At the core of what we do, there’s always the comfort of the people who share the same patches and call-signs. Goofball times of lightheartedness ride the current of what we do along with the times when all we can do is stand and endure the dark depths together. We have each worked hard to become proficient, and sometimes even harder to stay proficient. We share something immense and unyielding. I already miss that cocoon.
I’m sad to leave the mystery. No matter the call nature, every scene begs to be unpacked and assessed carefully so we can discover the true needs of those who called. Sometimes it’s plain, straightforward work. Other times, it’s a real mess. But how I have relished working together to dig in and get the job done, whatever it was.
I’m sad to wave goodbye to the outright fun: climbing ladders, wiggling into crunched cars. Successfully getting the water to flow, or the bleeding to stop. Riding in a fire engine. Better: driving the fire engine! Today, I put the cap on all those years on a paramedic ambulance, followed by the seven more recent years as Ada (Michigan) Firefighter #33.
So what I want to say is this: I don’t want to not be #33. I don’t want to turn in my radio and pager and gear. I don’t want the magic to fade, of being up in the middle of the night, of being the one willing to turn a wheel in dreadful weather, of being the one with answers for lost people. I have no interest in leaving all this behind, but I must. It’s time.
Many have said, “you’ll always be one of us.” I know (and appreciate) these sentiments, even when heartfelt, but they are not really true. The brotherhood honors its departed, but that’s a different thing. It just won’t be the same, sitting in the training room as a guest, or even helping out at the Pancake Breakfast. It can’t be. When you go, you’re gone.
So let me suggest this: should you ever begin to doubt your own place in the emergency services, stop and take time to remember your good fortune just to have a place at the table. Not everyone can get there. You earned it. You probably sacrificed a few things to get (and stay) there. You do cool stuff, and no doubt you help people—strangers, usually—more than you know. Think about how your opportunity is something someone like me won’t have again. Certainly there are always ways to improve the experience, so dig in and start working on it. Sometimes it’s a team thing. We’re all in this together. Shake off whatever bad tastes might arise. Find the refresh button and remember the privilege you have, right in your hands, to be that person who knows how to do the things we do and has the go-ahead to go do them. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Bear this in mind because someday, you’ll be like me. Your retirement will sneak up on you, and smack you in ways you can’t imagine ‘til you get there. I know. It’s hard, stepping away, but so it goes. I’m wistful as hell, but I’m grateful for these sad feelings in an odd way because they mean this: apparently, what I’ve spent time and effort doing out there has had some meaning.
It’s been a blast. Make your efforts count for you, too. Have fun, do right, and come on home again when you’re done.