Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Question

One of my writing group friends had an interesting comment after reading a chapter from the first draft of my book.

“Tell me about the emotions you are feeling when dealing with such a critical situation,” he said.

I gave him a terrible answer that didn’t really encompass how it really is. This is what I should have told him.

You don’t really “feel” during the incident. You have to perform. Any feelings are buried deep inside. If you let your emotions come out at that time, the job wouldn’t get done.

Even afterward, we don’t handle things the way one might expect. Firefighters are witness to many ugly tragic events. The longer you do it, the more of them you see. Everyone deals with these things differently.

I compartmentalize these incidents. You can’t think about them constantly or even regularly or you’d go crazy. I stick these them in a corner of my mind behind a door in an attic room that only gets visited on occasion. You have to go there every so often to maintain your humanity, but not so often as to destroy your ability to do the job.

Everyone who does this job for an extended period of time is a very different person than they would have been had they done something else. You can’t see and experience the things we do and not have it change who you are.

For myself, I think it has made me more immune to people’s suffering, harder, and more distant. Not because I don’t care, but as a protective mechanism.

At the same time, it has made me more sensitive. I avoid sad movies; simple things like the boy’s dog getting shot that have little or no effect on “normal” people who find such stories entertaining. These bother me.

The way I look at it, I go out and expose myself to real world tragedies. I don’t want to watch a movie or television program about fictional one’s for entertainment purposes.

Probably not the answer he would expect, but its how it is; for me at least.

1 comment:

  1. I am currently reading your book, for review in August.

    I am the wife of a volunteer (paid on call) fire fighter. He's been doing so for about 8 years of the last 10 years. I would say, though I didn't ask him, that he would agree with what you've said in this post.

    In addition to the tragedy he sees on the job, we've had our own tragedy (a baby died in the first 2 weeks of life). Having you explain this side of the job, has helped me see how he is coping and existing and grieving. Now it makes sense that he is grieving so differently than I am.