The fire department pager squealed loudly as the tones for Station 27 filled my house. I listened carefully as the county dispatcher called for equipment and fighters to respond to the scene of a dwelling fire. Still groggy from a less-than-deep sleep, my curiosity piqued as to whether this was “toast on the stove” or something graver. A call like this sends shivers up spines.
We live in a world filled with noise.
We live in a world filled with noise. The busyness of people, commerce and life, reverberates off of the piles and stacks of stuff screaming for attention. If we don’t intentionally slow down, we often miss tremendous opportunities to care for and salve the hurts, wounds and pains of others. Most noise is, well... just noise. Better ignored. But some alarms should snap us to attentiveness.
“2750 to County, please dispatch a RIT.” said the Fire Commissioner. At this point, I knew it wasn’t good. A Rapid Intervention Team is a specialized, trained unit of firefighters put on standby for the sole purpose of rescuing trapped responders. It’s a safety precaution not needed for “toast on the stove”. Not having even brushed my teeth, this was my signal that the fire could be catastrophic, so I said goodbye to my wife and started my truck.
Being the Chaplain for our department, I’m deployed to care for people. My primary responsibility is to tend to those who douse flames and secure safety. Secondarily, I’m called on to serve the community in times of difficulty and disaster. So, while en route, when I heard the Commissioner say, “Everyone exit the building now! Exit the building, everyone out.” I knew this would be a terribly sad day for someone. Hopefully, not horrific.
There’s a learned art of sympathy and compassion that must be utilized for moments when people flip between emotional turmoil and horrific cognition.
Orange licks of flames shot skyward as I parked my truck and pulled on gear. Lengths of hose, mutual aid departments, police, spectators and a stunned woman focused their attention on a single dwelling engulfed in flames and smoke. Working rapidly, Station 27 members strategically deployed equipment to fight the Beast as the RIT watched. There are few days equal to the stunning shock of watching your possessions and memories go up in flames; it's one of the worst days of a life. Great tenderness and sensitivity need to be employed when seeking to care for people in distress. Sharing matter-of-fact comments or simplistic answers in stressful times is thoughtless. There’s a learned art of sympathy and compassion that must be utilized for moments when people flip between emotional turmoil and horrific cognition.
After securing a phone, the homeowner dialed the emergency number of her insurance company. In disbelief, I interpreted the questions based on the answers the owner was giving. The Jake-from-State-Farm personality seemed to be asking scripted questions better suited for another time. “How many stories is the house? Yes, I have a patio. An inventory of my belongings? Yes, I have a fence, but the firefighters cut it in half…” The woman’s voice trailed off as she tossed one hand in the air in disgust. Then, as I watched her eyes roll upward and then setting on me with an angry glare, I heard the unspeakable. “Yes, you have a nice day, too.” repeated the owner.
“Have a nice day?” Really? No WAY did they just say that! They told her, two days before Thanksgiving and now shelterless to, “Have a nice day.”
If there’s an art to caring for others, there’s got to be an art to completely missing it! But we do it, too, don’t we? We’re all guilty! Caught up in our scripted lives, rushing here and there, self-focused, we miss the calls for help sent out by others. We write them off, or we just go about our day, hoping that our, “Have a nice day” makes everything okay! Are we that insensitive?
As the investigation began, the homeowner surveyed the ruins, salvaging pictures and computers; rescuing a scrapbook and some medications. But in the midst of the black soot and water drenched belongings, her singular focus wasn’t on rebuilding or the loss of furniture; it was for the safety of her spouse, child, dog and rescued cat. She focused on life, others! Something the claim agent failed to do. She knew what was most important and didn’t lose sight of it despite the missing roof and gutted second floor.
We must always keep in mind that people matter! They eclipse programs, tasks and agendas. We must intentionally keep this at the forefront of our thoughts lest we, “have-a-nice-day”, our way through life leaving a trail of missed opportunities and shattered lives. We must tune our ears to the often subtle and soft tones of others crying for help. We have to toss out the script we’ve become so accustomed to and be willing to walk alongside those with burdens not fit for them to bear. We have to learn to be present. It’s only in disconnecting from our personal interests and considering others better than ourselves that we’ll have any chance of escaping from the art of completely missing it.
What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well” —but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? James 2:14-16