“You know, you only get so many of these in this life. They’re gone so quickly. It’s worth taking the time to take them in”
These words from a co-worker as we both were dragging out of the firehouse in the dawn light, another shift marked as complete and both of us ready for some days out of uniform. He was referencing the sunrise, the one you see in the banner of this essay, taken this very morning at around 0650hrs. This particular fire station faces eastwards, monolithically guarding the western edge of our town. We’re the ones supposed to bring calm and peaceful resolution to chaotic situations, but there is little better feeling than hitting the parking lot in your civvies after a shift, your crew themselves able to head home in one piece and each of us seeking our own form of calm. Especially after over 40 years of service between the two of us, there is a peaceful weariness with that comes with being able to walk away for a moment from our shared assignment on duty.
So I took a moment, and took that picture. It wasn’t until we’d both stood in silence for about 90 seconds and turned back to get in our cars that it hit me: his perspective is so very different than mine, and he was talking about such a larger picture than the mere occurrence that happens with every rotation of the Earth. For many, many years now, he and his wife have been battling together the cancer that has consumed her body. She, a vibrant soul who’s laughter I can still hear as clear as a bell even though I haven’t seen her in a long, long time, and he, dutifully reporting to work and counting down the time till retirement when they can move to the beach and bury their toes in the sand together, as he’d promised her long ago. There are ups and downs and I witness some of the events from the distance of social media, but when we work together I try and offer an ear for him to unload some of their shared burden. It hit me, shuffling back to the car and aiming it back to an empty house, that he wanted to soak in the most beautiful and silent minute and a half of the day in…..what? Appreciation? Thanks? A plea for mercy? A prayer for strength? It doesn’t matter, it was his private moment as it was mine to simply soak in a quietly beautiful pause in a world that can be so very ugly at times.
There are sappy inspirational quotes all over that talk about how the Fall is about to show us the beauty of letting things that are dead go, and I suppose they’re nice enough, if a single statement can make sense of the inevitability of change. But many, so many of the people close to my world are going through that separation without any hint of beauty to it on the outset. Last night in the midnight hour came the news that another someone special had a relationship collapse, a love story that to me had been an almost singular hallmark of hope in the ability to grow into love from the wasted mess of a broken past. That makes five people in as many weeks who find themselves staring down the barrel of the holiday season feeling as bare as the branches of the trees referenced in a Facebook meme. Some of us are doing a great job of letting others know just how happy they are in their latest iterations of a relationship, but if we’re not careful, looking at those from the outside will only galvanize the loneliness we feel in our own heads and hearts. We then gravitate to others in the same orbit, so the next thing you know you have an entire posse of singledom, all of us gathering in kitchens and backyards, each trying to convince themselves and each other that this is so much better than the seeming shackles of love. But mostly it’s an attempt to rationalize our heavily guarded walls and lonely discourse, to make sense of why we’re here in the face of every other happy relationship, arguing with the cat about her lack of work ethic and selfish disposition.
Then I stopped to consider his situation. He was telling me in his own way to take in each of these, but it wasn’t in a syrupy “carpe diem” kinda way, it was more in the peaceful acceptance that we are ALL on such a limited timetable, we’re all on our way out the door in one way or another. I recently recorded two podcasts (listen to the one on suicide HERE and then listen to the one on death and dying HERE) dealing with the inevitable, and rather than an attempt to be morbid, they were conversations to reconcile in the heart and mind that everything is finite, from love to pain. In my hurry to put some pavement between myself and the workplace, in a quiet parking lot, someone facing the prospect of great loss in his world told me to slow it down and appreciate the temporary nature of something so beautiful unfolding right before us.
And be it a future with someone who can set fire to my soul or watching my own sons grow up into respectable and respectful men, there is no use to project what might happen and when it ever will. The very best I can do is hope to learn a little more with each chapter and to intentionally place emphasis on the moments that matter. Even if that moment only lasts ninety seconds and is spent in achingly beautiful silence.
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