I live in a town made of three streets, three bars, five churches, one gift shop, a drug store, a grocer, a school, a bank. It’s not much to look at, especially in the winter when the evergreen goes down and it is too cold for the garden club to gussy everything up with hanging baskets. Always, though, we’re surrounded by bluffs always eager to glow with sun set or rise.
There are mornings this town is too small to contain the amount of life which flourishes, tucked away here in the valley bowl. Parking becomes an issue. This morning for instance, is the annual Doughnuts for Dads breakfast at the elementary school. At 1pm we’ll have first Friday early release as usual. At 11:00 we bid farewell to the fire chief.
When the fire chief of 30 years in a small-town you’ve probably never heard of, dies, the governor will order flags to be lowered. Your streets will fill with over forty fire trucks, twenty ambulances, dozens of sheriffs, from departments up to 100 miles away. Mourners will be shuttled in from lots outside of town Over sixty men and women in uniform will give the chief his last call. They will line the school children up on the sidewalk to wave in all the heroes. To learn, this is the heart of community. Of service. It’s America. America before it got all pear-shaped and shade-eyed.
I’m going to tell you a secret. The fire chief had a habit of getting on my nerves. For one thing, he was also the town electrician and never showed up for a job when he said he would. Sometimes he would show up months later. Sometimes this was forgivable because he was off saving lives and stuff. Sometimes he was playing cards or driving around in a big red fire engine for kicks. Sometimes he was inexplicably digging up the lot he bought across the street from my house with a back hoe at 6am. While he was also brave and kind and funny, in a small town, you become well aware that no one is perfect. And you learn that life is never based on fairness. You can, for instance, dedicate over thirty years of your life to saving lives, bearing witness to tragedy and miracles, fighting fire, and still drop dead of a heart attack, playing cards at 62. In a town this small, you will be remembered for the hero you were. You will be forgiven and loved for being human. And easily enough we will forgive ourselves and all the others who cross our paths. You can’t afford not to around here.
Our town is made of three streets and they are double parked with emergency vehicles. The sidewalks are sea of navy blue and well shined badges. It’s touching. In my own life, I’ve never done anything which would inspire such a farewell. And that’s okay. But still I wonder what I could do better, not necessarily for posterity, but maybe just of service to others.
What I mean to say, is sometimes, the fire chief got on my nerves. He was just human. I have spent much of my life so aware of my flaws, my insecurities, I have been inhibited when it comes to doing much of anything big. One does not have to be perfect to be perfectly of service. To make lives better. That is a legacy I am thinking on today.
I keep thinking of this really woo-woo thing I heard on a documentary about meditation once. How in this modern age 1/3 will die, 1/3 will go mad, and 1/3 will awaken. The past year seems to have buried so many dead. Probably no more than any other year, but subjectively more, because so many more were people who touched my own life either personally or artistically. And more than once I have thought the world is going mad. And while I dismissed such a sentiment as woo-woo, I can’t help but wonder which heap I’ll be sorted into.
It’s enough to make a girl feel sort of mindful.