Gratitude and Christmas

My friends and I are at that age where we’re too old to be kids, and not mature enough to call ourselves adults. While noting the difference between Christmastime as a child and Christmastime now, in this weird pseudo-adult phase, a friend told me, “You know you’re an adult when what you want for Christmas can’t be bought or put under the tree.”

It’s funny to think that 10, 15 years ago, the Christmas season seemed so long to me. Wrapping paper and candy cane borders covered the corkboards at school. Construction paper Christmas trees and cardboard cutout snowmen lined the hallways. My evening car rides to swim team were spent watching the festively illuminated houses pass my frosty window. Christmas carols floated away with the foggy breaths of my girl scout troop as we made our way through town. The warm aroma of baking sugar cookies drifted through the house as we decorated our little cookie-cutter reindeer with sugar crystals and too much icing. Glitter would inevitably end up everywhere inside my house during the holiday parties, when we restless children would abandon the “make your own ornament” table, run amuck, and play games. (Oh, my poor and brave mother…) My sister and I tugged on much-hated tights to wear under our fancy dresses, picked out special to wear to Christmas mass. And, of course, anticipation seemed to stretch each magical minute of the season to twice its usual length, filled with an omnipresent hope and excitement that I’d find that one special thing under the tree.

This year, I felt the season completely passed me by. Maybe it was the lack of snow in a region that’s usually blanketed by this time. Maybe it was focusing so aggressively on schoolwork and finals that kept me from enjoying the little things of the season. More likely, it was the time spent grieving national, local, and personal tragedies. This year, there was little excitement, celebrating, or cheer. Instead, there seems to be a lot of blinking back tears, holding heads in our hands, and asking, “Why?”

When I go to bed tonight, I won’t be straining to hear for reindeer hooves on the roof; or Santa’s hands rustling the tree branches, heavily laden with ornaments created from Decembers past. My stomach won’t be full of butterflies as I toss, turn, and sigh at the clock as it ticks closer to dawn. My feet will hit the floor this Christmas morning at a much later hour than they did more than half-a-lifetime ago. What I truly want won’t be found under the tree; it’ll be found around it.

I want the same things now that I–and everyone else–want the rest of the year: love, friendship, acceptance, and happiness. Maybe, because of the recent shakings and trials of life, my need for these things is a bit stronger. This year, I’ll be fortunate to spend half of the day with my biological family, and the other half with my EMS family. Each of them serves as a source of joy, laughter, frustration, love, and strength. Through smiles and tears, they are there. Nothing has made that more evident than these past few weeks. My gratitude for such a blessing could never really be put into words.

I’m grateful for what I have. And I’m grateful that my losses weren’t worse.

Finally, my heart, thoughts, and prayers go out to anyone fighting through a tough loss this holiday season–especially the families, victims, and first responders of Hurricane Sandy, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, and the Webster fire department shooting. May you find some comfort soon.

Thoughts and Prayers for Worcester

There’s an organized chaos about the station when a fire call comes in, especially when it’s for a confirmed fire. Pick-up trucks and cars swoop into the parking lot, grills and windshields glittering with red lights. The bay doors open, and firefighters move quickly past the trucks to get to their gear racks. As they stomp their feet into their turnout gear, they shout to one another, determining who will get on which truck. Those who are dressed file off to the trucks, as more come in from the parking lot to don their gear. Doors click open and slam shut, engines roar to life, and drivers sign on to dispatch.

Not being a firefighter, I watch the commotion. Emotion swells inside me whenever I watch them prepare to respond to a confirmed fire. Maybe it’s just a newbie thing, and maybe, with time, it will fade. But when those tones go off, and those men and women go to work, I worry. As they climb into their seats, I say, “Stay safe.”

I might not be a firefighter, but I am on a fire department. I know the faces under those SCBA masks, the people beneath those heavy coats. They’re my family.

And time after time, I have been blessed and relieved to have them all return home. But I remember a time where they almost didn’t.

It started as a first alarm fire in a neighboring town. Our pagers beeped, and dispatch called for an engine to respond. I watched as the flurry of activity descended upon the station. The truck pulled out of our station, lights and sirens. We EMT’s sat in the radio room, writing down notes from dispatch, and recording which members were on the engine for the report they would later complete. A few firefighters joined us, waiting in case another truck needed to be sent. We heard our truck sign off at the scene, and we ventured guesses as to how long this fire would last. Then a word on the radio caught our attention. “Explosion.”

Our eyes narrowed, and we glanced at each other. We didn’t need to speak to know we all thought the same thing. Did they really just say explosion? The radio went to static, until dispatch’s clear voice rang through. “Confirm there was an explosion. You would like to raise a third alarm.”

Momentarily, the world froze. Were our men inside? Were they okay? Then, the station filled with a more urgent rush of activity. Firefighters ran to the trucks, ready to leave before dispatch even officially called for them. Our ambulance pagers beeped, followed by a long series of tones belonging to other towns. My heart thudded in my chest for those minutes that we didn’t know.

We soon learned that no one had been hurt. Although the fire raged for hours, and numerous companies were called, everyone came home safe the next morning.

I could not imagine the grief and sorrow that would follow if our fears had come true. And I pray that I will never truly know what that is like.

But, yesterday morning, one Massachusetts brotherhood was not so fortunate. Firefighter John Davies, 43, of Worcester Fire Department lost his life in a 3-alarm blaze. Firefighter Brian Carroll was also injured in the partial collapse. This comes only days after remembering the 12th anniversary of the Cold Storage fire in 1999, where six firefighters lost their lives after becoming trapped at the Worcester Cold Storage warehouse.

Today, I continue to pray for not only the loved ones and biological family Firefighter Davies left behind, but for his second, larger family as well. I am beyond grateful that I have not had to experience such a loss. But my heart and thoughts go out to those of you out there who have. I pray that I never have to endure such a heartbreak, and that you won’t have to either.