Full Tilt

It’s crazy, but every now and then I have to remind myself just how good I have it. You would think that being a firefighter on one of the best departments anywhere would remind me of that every time I went to work or, now that I’m retired, remember going to work, but it doesn’t. All too often I find myself taking what I have for granted and failing to see the bigger picture. I forget that while the job is hard, there is a world of people out there who would give just about anything for the opportunity to do what I did. Fighting fires and rescuing people are hard, make no mistake, but what can be harder still is working for 20-, 30-, or 40-plus years without the opportunity to save a life, or make a difference.
Most people have a little hero in them, I think. Most people think they will stop everything and risk all to save a baby from a burning building or dive into a freezing lake to rescue a person drowning after their car went over an embankment and quickly submerged. There are tons of people ready, willing, and able to do CPR on a person who has fallen at the gym or restaurant or bike path. But most people will live their lives having never been tested and never knowing if they could, or would, perform.
It’s got to be hard to never know. It’s got to be difficult to show up for work every day for 20 years with no end in sight, no pension for another 20, a few sick days, two weeks’ vacation if you’re lucky, and not a chance of anything exciting happening. It’s got to be hard to wonder.


A guy took his kid’s bike and went for a ride. He lost control in front of my sister’s house and hit a pole so hard that he was thrown back 20 feet, his son’s motorcycle traveled without him 100 feet forward and then collapsed. He was killed instantly. His covered body lay in the street for hours behind the ominous yellow police tape while the accident scene was reconstructed and the medical examiner was summoned.

He was 52. My age.
Talk around town focused on the man’s poor choices, aka “What was a grown man thinking, taking his son’s bike, speeding, and losing control?”
I’ll tell you what he might have been thinking. He might have been thinking that at 52 his fuel light was blinking, and time for him was running out. Not so much the length of time, rather the quality of it, and that motorcycle was calling his name, and he knew that he had a few good runs left, but they were not infinite, and someday soon the desire to saddle up, hear the roar of the engine, and let it rip would dwindle, sputter, and die, and never again would he ride.
“Oh yeah, life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone.”
John Mellancamp may have had a point. I don’t know, because I don’t know what he was thinking when he wrote those words.
I’ll tell you what John might have been thinking, though. He might have been thinking that he has the power to reach a lot of people, and by using a song’s lyrics get them engaged in their life as it progresses, and embrace each moment while letting the past go, and have peace with the memories of youth, and use those memories as the basis of wisdom, and try not to recapture those moments when anything was possible and you were going to live forever–instead keep on living, and keep on enjoying the gifts that come our way, appreciate the ride, know that the peaks and valleys level out as the ride goes on, and the thrill of the throttle wide open can be just as gratifying when at half tilt.
Maybe then the motorbike in the driveway and the thought of opening it up won’t be as tempting, and the impulse to let it all go with the abandon of youth long past won’t be your last.
Hey, wait a minute! Who am I writing about here?
I’m still a firefighter and always will be. Nobody can ever take that away. Not even me.



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