ode to a firefighter

Your very presence, not under fire, but under more celebratory and even ordinary circumstances, might just be what makes you great.

You stand at the crosswalk with the crossing guard at school because just the sight of you makes us want to be better, to do what is right. We might religiously drive twenty in a school zone, but for your face and your blue t-shirt we will drive fifteen.

You kneel down to speak to a child so that you can be on level with wide, awestruck eyes.

At Christmas you drive your sparkling red truck around and around the little town, laughing kids and parents high atop. Just the sight of you passing the children up the back ladder warms the cold air. You recognise the three-year-old who desperately wants to go but can't find the courage to allow herself to be lifted so high, and you ask her if she can be brave enough to ride along in the cab.

You always wave back.

At the Fourth of July parade you spray each other to the entertainment of the crowds, and there's that lingering realization of how many of you it actually does take to hold one of those hoses when it's going full tilt. You duck your head under the stinging spray, laughing but perserverering under the impact, and we see how you will do the same under the heat of fire.

You offer up your temporary home for birthday parties, and you put your scary mask on and let the kids see that it is a real person under there, and don't hide and don't be frightened because if you see one of those masks then you know you will be safe no matter what.

You always smile at us in the grocery store.

You never fret over little fingerprints on your spotless truck, but you hand out stickers and plastic hats and let the kids pretend to drive as you check fireplugs in the neighborhood.

The most seasoned of you never seem to lose that grace, that almost embarrassed surprise, when we recognise and honor your greatness.

You risk your life, of course. But you also live with the constant worry that your best efforts might not be good enough, and that is a risk that few will take on.

But still you try, because you fight an endless war against a faceless, relentless enemy which will not die and which strikes without warning, and you face it down again and again, because you are brave; you are strong.

You are a firefighter.

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