Monday, March 31, 2008


Brave enough to be crazy
Strong enough to be weak
I see all these heroes with feet of clay
Whose mighty ships have sprung a leak
And I want you to tell me darlin'
Just what do you believe in now?

--don henley
heroes still exist.

i knew this all along, but the knowledge was buried beneath years of disappointment and disillusion.

when i was a kid, athletes were my idols. pete rose, for example. man, i wanted to be like him. to play the game like he did, all hard-nosed and relentless and steely-eyed. then pete gambled on the game, lied about it, and exhibited years of unheroic denial and cowardice.

all the good stuff was washed away by the bad.

there were others, as there are with any kid, but eventually all of them proved to be less than heroic. and i'll never forget how empty it felt to stop believing.

maybe that's the price of growing up. you can't be a rational adult and insist people live up to your impossible ideals and idolization. still, it left a void where once there was...what? inspiration? a jarring disconnect between, "i want to be like that" and "i don't want to have anything to do with that."

this week i discovered i can have it both ways.

for four days at a conference for emergency medical service (ems) professionals, i got to see, up close, who these people are and what they do. i got to see their idiosyncracies and reconcile them with the heroic work they do every day.

like prying small, broken bodies out of a wrecked minivan. or looking into the mess that was a face before someone put a bullet into it. or charging into a skyscraper that's about to collapse. we take it for granted, don't we, that "someone's got to do it"?

these are the people who actually do.

as heroes go, some of them aren't my cup of tea. some of them are a little surly. some of them can get a little loud and obnoxious at the pub. some of them look down their nose at "civilians."

that's all fine; while i wouldn't necessarily want to hang out with those particular guys, i'd love to buy them a round of beers. any time, anywhere.

because they're heroes.

then there's the other side of the coin. the majority of ems folks are just the nicest, most intelligent, most endearing people you'll ever meet. they're the kind who would do anything for you, thank you for the opportunity, then try to pick up the tab at dinner.

but you can't let them. because they're heroes. (plus, as noted elsewhere, they don't get paid near enough to be buying dinner.)

every year at this conference there's a skills competition between teams from around the world. it's promoted as "an extraordinary display of techniques, technology, and teamwork by some of the best EMS professionals. Each year’s winner demonstrates unsurpassed assessment skills, clinical knowledge and the ability to work under pressure."

i can confirm that. all of it. five teams competed in the finals, responding to a simulated mass casualty incident the way they might to the real thing. the teams came from iowa and nevada and west virginia and north carolina and new york. and you could see the exercise was serious as a heart attack to all of them.

in the event of an actual emergency, these are the people you want showing up and taking care of you.

the winner was announced the next morning--the team from fdny. these guys are new york to the core; burly, in your face, no fear. and yet when they were presented with their medals (along with a state-of-the-art video laryngoscope), they were like kids who just won their first little league trophy. they didn't know whether to laugh or cry or go to disneyland.

i got to meet them afterward...they spent half an hour in our booth. all i'll say is, that half hour went by way too fast, and i wanted to hug every one of them (but i didn't).

before it was over, though, i realized i can still have my heroes. i can have them without the unreasonable expectations, without the baggage i used to hang on them. i can have them without being disappointed that they're not perfect.

after years of being without them, i've got my heroes back again.

it feels great.


L to tha G said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart for these words. As the daughter of a firefighter and the granddaughter of a highway patrolman I grew up surrounded by the true every day heroes of this nation but it's so wonderful to see that other people have come to this realization as well. Your description of them as a group is so spot on...great job! Thanks again!

spaceneedl said...

lg, truly, the pleasure is mine. i live up the street from a seattle firefighter/paramedic, and i'm just grateful to know him.

thank you for stopping by.