“Each of us has a special contribution to make to the human world. Each of us is born with the package of assets, deficits, problems and blessings needed for that work. Each of us struggles to understand what our task is and how the package with which we have been born suits us to our work.” – Rabbi Nachum Braverman
It took me a long time before I realized EMS represented my calling and not just my job. I did everything I could to rebel against that realization. I abandoned my early work as a paramedic to attend a small Disciples of Christ College (Bethany) in West Virginia. It was as far as I could get from my home environment without actually leaving the planet. I left the mainly Jewish neighbourhood I had grown up in to live in a town where I was one of eight Jews. Which brings us to this little bit of free verse.
“If I die in Bethany who’ll say Kaddish over me.”
Kaddish is the Jewish prayer for the dead. Ten Jewish men must come together to pray. Bethany would have required religious mutual aid if any one of us had kicked the bucket.
The late great pastor Hiram Lester once sat me down on the porch of the Alpha Sigma Phi fraternity house and asked me what I needed to do after I graduated from Bethany. It was mid-summer and we were watching the sun turn crimson red as it dipped into the horizon. I paused and answered, “Well, sir, I’d like to be a journalist. Maybe write for a big-city newspaper one day.” Hiram looked at me. “I didn’t ask what you wanted to do. I asked what you needed to do. There’s a serious difference, you know.”
I graduated from Bethany College with a bacclaurate degree in Communications. That’s not to say I negated entirely my need to continue carrying an EMS banner of one sort or the other. The siren song of the Bethany Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department drew me down the hill to the firehouse. The folks of the BVFRD adopted me and taught me an appreciation for the art of caring. They invited me into their homes and made me a part of their lives and shared their backwoods comraderie. When I left Bethany I actually believed I was going to be a big-city journalist.
Before I lit out for parts unknown I stopped by to pay my respects to Hiram. He told me a story about hitchhiking home after the Second World War and catching a ride in a beat-up old pickup truck. The driver asked Hiram penetrating questions about his life and his love and what he intended to do now that the war was over. Hiram said he told the driver he wanted to be a farmer but that he needed to be a pastor. The driver stopped at a crossroads in the middle of nowhere and told Hiram he could do anything he wanted if he gave up on what he thought he needed to do. Hiram told me it was the Devil driving that pickup truck. He says he got out of that old pickup truck and walked out of those crossroads and went home.
Hiram told me I had enough passion at my core to have the courage to listen to the sound of my soul crying out and realize that what I needed to do was be a paramedic.
I have never looked back. An old preacher man from West Virginia taught me the most important lesson in life: be true to yourself—once you realize what you need to do–pursue it with all of your strength. Don’t stop for anything other than food and water.
And so here I am in the Town of Stanstead [Quebec] where the powers-that-are have refused to allow me to play an official role in the first responder program that isn’t, or the fire department that is, or the emergency preparedness plan that needs to be better. In this small town, there is a cost that comes with passion, principles and freedom of speech – and that cost is borne by the community when people with something important to contribute are continually pushed away.
I’ve come to the realization that sometimes you just need to be the unwanted camel outside that pisses into the tent and hopes to bring about needed change through awareness and advocacy. Any good political strategist will tell you that it’s far better to invite the camel inside so he can relieve himself outside the tent. However, it’s been eighteen months and I’m fairly certain no invitations to the tent, the ambulance house, or the fire station are forthcoming.
Thanks to the inspiration provided by old and relatively new friends, I’m back on my path… and listening carefully to the siren call of EMS.
Be well. Practice big medicine.