A Few Thoughts on First Responders

Let’s hear it for first responders in the United States of America.

Whether you’re being airlifted from rising flood waters, getting rescued from a burning building, being rushed to the hospital with excruciating chest pain, slowly being extricated from your mangled car with the Jaws of Life, being rushed to safety from a hostage situation, shielded from a shooter – you are relieved and grateful to hear the welcome police sirens, fire truck horns, helicopter blades or racing footsteps.

Thank goodness – they’re here – everything will be all right – I’m safe.

These are the selfless individuals who go toward danger rather than away from it, who save lives while risking their own.

We’ve come to expect them to arrive in force, like the Calvary – in the nick of time, never afraid or tired or sick or hung over; never preoccupied or moving slow or sleeping in or ignoring the call.

Indeed, some disasters can be identified simply by an iconic photo of first responders:

We expect them to be there and to work tirelessly until the job is done, whether one hour, one day, one month or one year. In wildfires, firefighters might work to save our homes while theirs might be burning down. After a tornado, they might be searching for survivors through the debris while their own home has been demolished. We get back to our own broken lives while they work until their duty is finished.

When they finally have time to breathe, and to return to their families for hugs, food and sleep, that’s when the crushingly difficult part begins. Their sympathetic nervous system, having been hypervigilent for so long, is overly stressed, unable to relax.

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder is not only suffered by victims of traumatic events. Feelings of guilt or failure, insomnia, intrusive images, recurrent nightmares, irritability, hyperarousal, stomach-aches, headaches, difficulty concentrating, emotional withdrawal, flashbacks – all these, and more, could plague the first responders for months or even years.

What was it like for the police, EMTs and fire department personnel to view the carnage upon entering the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT? Or for the physicians and related health care personnel at the hospital to wait for the injured children who never came? Or for the coroner to perform autopsies on 20 innocent first graders?

You can replace Newtown with Oklahoma City, Columbine, Hurricane Katrina, Aurora, Virginia Tech, Sandy, 9/11 (WTC, the Pentagon, Shanksville), any war, the Boston Marathon…

Their souls must be bruised.

Perhaps haunted by these experiences, these images, they will run into the chaos and destruction anyway. For you, for me, for anyone in need.

They give tirelessly of themselves, day in, day out, with little recognition, because “they’re only doing their jobs.” Those jobs are demanding, draining, debilitating. But they do them, regardless.

So who cares for the caregivers?

In honoring them here, by recognizing their tremendous worth, I hope to do my part in helping each soul to heal. Perhaps you might find your own way to do the same.

Light in the midst of darkness. Hope in the midst of despair. Love in the midst of hate.

My blessings. My respect. My gratitude.

Once again – Holiness – Sacred Ground – Circles of Compassionate Grace.