Fallen Firefighters

Date: Mon, 6 Dec 1999 02:10:07 -0500 (EST)

Dear All,

It is for me a bit uncomfortable to single out certain deaths as somehow "special," more worthy of our attention than others, for what does that say of the countless, nameless others whose deaths, as their lives, do not catch our attention, are outside of our consciousness?
Sometimes, however, recognizing, honoring the lives of certain people in the shadow of their death can teach us, help shape us, and the gifts that they gave to a few in their lives can -- even in their deaths -- grow into gifts to us all.
You have probably heard of the tragedy in Worcester, Massachusetts. On Saturday, two firefighters perished in a five-alarm warehouse fire when they entered the inferno because of reports that there were homeless people trapped inside. When the two firefighters radioed for help, four more firefighters entered the blaze in order to rescue their endangered comrades. They never came out.
I think it is worth reflecting for a few moments on what happened in Worcester. People undertook tremendous risks, risks that cost them their lives, in order to save strangers (it is now strongly believed that no one was inside the warehouse when the first firefighters entered). These strangers had no home. They are people whose lives our society seems to think, by its actions if not by its words, of lesser value than the rest of ours -- not entitled to sufficient food, to a place they can call home. They are people who are often treated as though they are outside of society. When we talk of how the economy is prospering, or how living standards are improving, they are decidedly outside the scope of our thoughts.
Yet the Worcester firefighters recognized that the dignity of a human being, the value of human life, does not rest upon whether or not a person has a home, or is so situated that s/he can contribute to national productivity or some such measure. The firefighters were told that there were people inside the burning building. People who no doubt had hopes and dreams and plans for a better future. Like all of us. People who wanted to live, who did not want to leave society, even if that society has, in its pulsations of coldness, not welcomed them.
There were people inside, people in grave peril, people who needed help. And that was all that mattered.
I think this is why we are so moved, so touched (I am) by these firefighters' actions and their deaths. And it gives me hope that the nation seems to be responding to the fact that these firefighters, heroes, put themselves at such risk in order to try to rescue people without any regard to whom these people were, without regard to the sad reality that the people they sought to rescue were at the bottom of the social ladder. There were people inside, people in grave peril, people who needed help. And that was all that mattered.
Throughout our country and our world, there are people in grave peril, people who need help. They face fires of their own. Hunger, disease, war -- these and like fires rage on. And on.
There are many ways to be a firefighter, many types of fires to be subdued in many different places. I cannot think of any calling more life-affirming than that of the firefighter. And there are many, many ways that each of us can be a firefighter.
John Glenn once said that he hopes that we will one day live in a world where "stranger" will come to mean, will come to be translated into, "a friend I have yet to meet." The firefighters were already living in that day. We all have countless friends out there...

As always yours,

Take care,


"I have only dreams: to build a better world, a world of harmony and understanding, a world in which it is a joy to live. This is not asking for too much." -- Yitzhak Rabin

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