LooseCrew-JeffO: Wondering about Life


Ramblings of an adventurous guy living in Denver and playing in the mountains.
For my trail adventures, visit my Trail Bum blog

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Wondering about Life

I'm acquainted with someone who had a baby daughter who was your typical energetic and vivacious tot. They had a great relationship.
Thursday evening, the daughter developed a fever and headache. She died several hours later.
I don't know what to say about that.

A couple of decades ago, I took evening courses to become EMT certified. The EMICT's that taught the course were burned-out. I finished the course with the nickname "Johny Gauge" (if you know the significance of that, you're way too old), but I decided not to pursue the career. For one thing, Kansas had a law requiring you to volunteer for several years before allowing you into EMICT training. EMT's make chump-change, but requiring me to donate years of free time for a career with a three-year burn-out rate seemed stupid.
The other reason I decided not to pursue becoming an EMT or even go into hospital medicine was that I don't think I can deal with dead children.
My upbringing wasn't fun or warm. I guess that's made me - I'm not sure how to say it... "Tough" isn't accurate. Tough is when you feel pain but deal with it. I tend not to feel pain. I guess that means I'm a cold, heartless bastard. Except that I care a great deal. I bend over backwards to do the right thing, say the right thing, and be the right guy at the right time. I believe in social and civic duty. So I guess I'm a cold, hard, boy scout.
I've witnessed two shootings, a death by suicide that including literally gallons of blood, and been to about a dozen auto accidents that were very gruesome. A couple of those accidents were worse than "gruesome". For some reason that didn't bother me much.
Except for three experiences that led me to believe that as cold as I am, there must be something fuzzy lurking within.

The suicide was a biker. Big, tough guy from a broken, tough family.
His mom looked like a tough woman. Heavy drinker, smoker, ex-biker-babe, and leather face that showed the years of wind and self-inflicted lifestyle abuse.
This tough woman had to identify her son. She made almost no sound. Almost.
It was more than I could take. I had to leave. Blood, guts, gunshots, death - no problem. Seeing someone else's emotional pain - full-stop.

About two years ago, I was driving to the mountains and a massive beam fell from a highway overpass. A father, mother, and newborn were driving to Denver at the wrong time and the timing was perfectly bad. The top of the Durango was sheared so cleanly that everything above the windshield wipers was gone. Without any details about the occupants, guess how it left them.
The suddenness is what freaked me out. Not just that, but HOW they died so suddenly. I was shaking for the rest of the day and actually lost lots of sleep over the months after that. I couldn't stop seeing the airbags laying over... and the crumpled top section still stuck to the beam.

About 30 years ago, I was in Amarillo doing missionary work with street people and some other "desperate" people. Two of these people were a mother, Renee, and her 1yr-old daughter, Jessica.
Jessica was born with a heart defect that caused it to stop beating approximately once every day or two. Renee was virtually physically attached to Jessica so she could revive her each and every time with CPR.
Jessica's father was a dirt-bag. He was a typical redneck - drunk, temper, occasionally beat Renee, kept threatening to beat Jessica who he said was a worthless defective child that was ruining everything. Certainly made him broke with all the medical expenses. Just as he was about to grab Jessica and beat her, Renee took her and ran out of the house and never stopped.
Us missionary types were segregated. I worked with the men, Sandy worked with the women. We were headquartered in an abandoned motel.
One morning, Sandy told me Renee and Jessica were at the hospital. Jessica's heart had stopped the night before and she was almost beyond saving, but they were okay now.
Sandy said, "Renee wants you to come see them at the hospital." I said, "You mean all of us, right?" She says, "She specifically requested you."
Well I didn't know Renee. Everything I heard about Renee's husband was 3rd-hand from Sandy. So this was a mystery. Why me?
I showed up but Renee was sleeping, so Sandy and I went into Jessica's room.
Jessica was crying. You had to see this kid. Most kids take years to understand death. Jessica wasn't even a year old and knew what it was - totally. You could see it in her face. There was a seriousness and fear in her face that normally takes a lifetime.
I went over and knelt by her crib and rubbed her back and told her it was okay.
Jessica stopped crying and looked at me in a way she didn't ever look at anyone else. It was odd. And then she said, "DADDY!"
The hair stood up on the back of my neck. I figured I'd misunderstood her. It wasn't so clear. She started crying again and I comforted her some more.
Jessica said it again, but this time there was no mistaking it. And she looked at me like she knew me and needed me.
To this day, even as I type this, it's hard to hold back the tears.
Apparently I was the spittin' image of her dad, but I wasn't a redneck jerk. Renee thought I'd be good for Jessica.
Unfortunately for them, in spite of my good heart and intentions, at that point in my life, I was gutless, spineless, and weak. Life takes more than just good intentions. You have to be strong enough to stand up at the right place at the right time and do what needs to be done. You don't have to like it - you just have to do it. Liking it is only icing on the cake - if you're ever that lucky.
I don't guess I'll ever let myself remember that I failed them. I was at the right place at the right time, and failed to do anything but wish them good-luck. And ever since then, I've been particularly hard on myself to be skilled and ready for anything.
I've jumped out of airplanes several times before I'd ever landed in a plane. I can walk and run forever, even with a pack. I can shoot laying down, standing up, and running towards, away from, or sideways from a swinging target. I'm trained in emergency medicine, Chinese boxing, and I can improvise under stress. Snow, ice, rain, sun - no problem (but heat is my Achilles heal).
The most important ingredient, though, isn't any of these skills. The most critical ingredient is something any girl, or weakling accountant can achieve. It's mind-set. You have to be mentally ready. Guns are no good if you can't pull the trigger. Emergency skills are no good if you panic and get flustered. You have to have the guts, the spine, the willingness.

Maybe that's why I gravitate to ultra-running. Some say ultra-runners are always either running from something, running to something, or both. That's me.


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