As the guy behind the counter of a little coffee shop in a quaint Texas town, I get a unique view not only through the big glass front windows, but also into the lives of everyday quaint town Texans. More often than not, looking outward leads to reflecting inward.
When we first moved in and lived in what is now the art studio, Ilya had just turned three. With the excitement of a child, she insisted her bed be right below the middle upstairs window so she could see the firetruck when it drove by. No matter what time of night or morning, when she heard the sirens from the ambulance or firetruck, her head would pop up and she’d push the curtain aside to see the first responders in action. Eventually, many of them made a point to wave to their biggest fan on the second floor.
“Engine 4,” she would announce, and we’d make it a point to pray for them and those who they were saving.
When asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, she’d say, “a firetruck.”
We’d even sit outside and tell firetruck stories, giving me a chance to talk about all ways fires can get started – from knocking over candles to people throwing cigarettes out the window. The superheroes with the hose and ladder always came to save the day.
From our windows we have heard the sirens and seen the rescue vehicles whiz by daily en route to answer a call. Hundreds of times since we’ve been here. We’ve learned their schedule is busier on the highway every time it rains. We’ve gotten good at guessing how bad a grass fire is based on how many respond and how fast they are driving. And when the EMS beats the fire trucks out the door, we know to take a deep breath and pray for even the families of those involved.
Even though Ilya now wants to be a zoo veterinarian, I am thankful she has had these windows to look through and understand the role of first responders in a community. All of my life, I’ve lived farther away from the stations, and only visited them on an occasional school field trip.
Looking back on these memories makes me realize that seeing the emergency vehicles through the windows was not only influential for Ilya, but also for me. Knowing that there are people willing to put their life on the line every day for others is powerful. Getting to know the people in the uniforms is even more so – everyday people, just with the training, equipment, courage, and selfless sense of duty comparable to fictional comic heroes like Batman.
I like to think I would save someone if the situation arose, and I would probably try. But I’m not trained for special circumstances or have the jaws of life, hose, ladder, or other equipment that make the saving possible. Perhaps I can say I save lives by providing coffee and food for your co-worker or spouse. Undeniably, I am not at the level of lifesaver as our first responders. There is something special about these people, and like you, am deeply thankful for them.
Imagining the community without these teams of individuals, I picture a lot of unnecessary pain, loss, and danger. I envisage fires growing out of control, minor health problems that lead to death, and accidents that only cause other people to crash as well. And my mind took a turn from town infrastructure to the deeper connections of personal and spiritual community.
When there is a small fire in your relationship, is there someone to call? When the harsh realities of life hit you like a freight train, is there someone there to pry you out and see to your rest and recovery? When you are at your weakest and you catch a hard case of depression, anxiety, or anger and it knocks you to the floor, is there someone a button away to ensure it doesn’t kill your spirit?
I, like many of you, recognize I am fortunate to have a close family and well-knit church that is a quick phone call away. They will respond with encouragement, consul, and even correction – and they will speed to my side with the sirens on.
Is it not logical that those without access to emergency responders are more likely to suffer more, lose more in a fire, and even risk death? Our society ensures physical access to such help. But spiritually, there are many out there with no one to call in the time of need.
From the counter, serving coffee, I have had customers rush out before their order to assist a friend in despair. One customer broke down in tears as she got off the phone with her doctor, finding out she had cancer. Her friends consoled her with their presence. Countless friends have met up at a table to discuss a nagging problem over a hot cup of tea. I’ve seen the progression of recovering addicts over time, and the deterioration of those whose fire has grown to large, too fast. Our societal infrastructure is a poignant metaphor for our spiritual connectedness.
The next time you meet a local superhero, be sure to say thanks. The next time you see a fire truck from your window, or hear the sirens of an ambulance, give a call to the person who is your first responder and thank them for being there for you. And the next time you cross paths with someone who seems like their life is leading to a wreck, consider giving them your number – because even though you don’t have the training or the equipment, you never know when you’ll have the chance to be a hero, too.