This past Sunday, like too many Sundays, we walk into Mass late, yet again. We scoot into the section where we always sit, because us humans, we are creatures of habit, near dear friends with their five children, one a baby boy just learning to talk. I try to focus on the readings, but in the back of my head is running the list of things that must be done before the alarm clock rings Monday morning. I scan the doors, waiting for my husband coming straight off his shift to join us. I am praying today for patience and for guidance. You see a few weeks ago, my husband told me he was thinking about joining the SWAT team. Yes, that SWAT team, the one you see on TV facing off the bad people, running towards trouble.
When I met my husband he was studying to be a pilot, and when he told me he was thinking about joining the military, I point-blank told him I would stop seeing him. Not because I don’t respect and honor our military, especially now that in my work I directly serve veterans, but I knew myself. I knew that the fear that I felt already everyday would be overwhelming. I could not bear the thought of lying in bed at night worrying about him. I said it calmly, as a statement, not a threat, then logically persuaded him to continue with his schooling, because I am not a reactor. My oldest is the same. We never tear into presents, always taking the time to admire the wrapping and read the card, then carefully going to the seams and pulling off the tape. Before starting anything, I have to look at all the angles, deduce all the potential ramifications of what could happen if something went wrong. Though I am a joyful person, I live my life by knowing what the worst-case scenario could be. I have been motivated by fear and the avoidance of danger all of my life. When my parents left me in charge of a grandmother who could not really speak English and 3 younger siblings, my goal was always to keep them safe. I took real-life stories from the newspaper and Reader’s Digest as lessons on how to avoid tragedies, incorporating them into my arsenal of weapons to keep fear at bay.
And so, when he very off-handedly mentioned while we driving to the store that he was interested in training for a spot on the SWAT team, I didn’t react. I didn’t yell or cry. He reminded me of an incident in which a police officer had recently been shot, and how her life was saved just because a paramedic firefighter like himself had been nearby. You see, although firefighters and paramedics are standing by in scenes of emergencies like with what happened at Sandyhook Elementary, first they have to wait until the scene is secure, deemed safe by our brave police officers who although they have some medical training, are not medics. He would be wearing SWAT gear, of course, covered in armor. “If I were there,” he said, and my heart skipped a beat imagining this, “We could get to people sooner, and be there immediately if a police officer is hurt. It would make a real difference.” I know this. I know how minutes, even seconds count when your life’s blood is pouring out on the ground. It is part of our training as physician assistants, sayings like “Time is muscle” as in the heart muscle, or “time is brain” as with stroke patients, are just part of our vernacular. I understand this, and he knows it.
I look at my watch. He is late, and unlike days where I am working, he can’t call me while I’m in church. My girlfriend’s husband gets up to take his youngest daughter to the restroom, and the baby boy begins to call “Da da” repeatedly. Everyone glances over, and smiles, even me. Father Charles begins his homily and I feel like he is speaking directly to me. “Be not afraid,” he says. He speaks of climbing our mountain, the same mountain I referred to a few days ago in my blog post High Desert. His words fill me, pushing back the fear. For some people, church is the desert, or a quiet place where they can meditate. I am not one of those people. I miss church if I am not there at least on Sundays. I feel like something is missing if I am unable to attend. Days like this when the Gospel and the community to which I belong lift me out of the mires of fear and ordinary life are part of why I am here. I need this connection, this reminder to get out of my head, to stop carrying around this burden by myself. None of us is alone, not truly.
Here is the difference between now and when we first met. I am the one who suggested he investigate becoming a firefighter. It sounds counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? That I would suggest he spend the rest of his life going into dangerous situations, when I prevented him from doing it so many years ago just doesn’t fit. But knowing him, I knew that this man I jokingly referred to as the Boy Scout, would love this work. That his steady hands in an emergency, knowledge of all things mechanical and construction-related, and his aptitude for medicine would serve him well. This is what you do when you love someone. You don’t hold them back from what they are meant to do. No matter what it does to you.
Communion arrives, and he is still not here. I stop scanning the doors, knowing he will not come this late. When I see him later, I will smile and tell him about how well the baby is talking now, and about our friends who asked about him. I will be able to tell him and mean it this time, that I will support him no matter what he decides to do.
He was still speaking when suddenly a bright cloud covered them with shadow, and suddenly from the cloud there came a voice which said, ‘This is my Son, my Beloved; he enjoys my favour. Listen to him.’ When they heard this, the disciples fell on their faces, overcome with fear. But Jesus came up and touched them, saying, ‘Stand up, do not be afraid.’ And when they raised their eyes they saw no one but Jesus.” Matthew 17: 5-8
Today I am thankful for our police officers, all the firefighters, our military and for all of those who make our world safer by running towards danger.