20 Clues that tell you your Dad is a firefighter

20 CLUES THAT YOUR DAD IS A FIREFIGHTER

You’re a firefighter and let’s face it, you’re a little different from the rest. As the years go by, and the experiences pile up, parts of “the job” begin to define who you are.

It doesn’t happen all at once, and most of the time you can’t even notice it. Your kids, not knowing the pre-firefighter you, simply accept you the way you are.

Ask a kid how he knows his dad is a firefighter and these are some of the things you might hear:

1) HE SAYS WEIRD THINGS LIKE “STAND BY,” OR “ROGER THAT,” INSTEAD OF “WAIT A SEC,” OR “OKAY,” LIKE EVERYBODY ELSE.

2) EVERYTHING IS IN ITS PLACE…OR ELSE!

3) SOMETIMES, HE’S JUST NOT THERE, BUT HE ALWAYS COMES BACK.

4) NO MATTER WHERE HE IS, HE ALWAYS KNOWS HOW TO GET OUT FAST.

5) HE HAS MORE FIRE DEPARTMENT RELATED T-SHIRTS THAN DRESS SHIRTS.

6) HE WEARS RED SUSPENDERS TO HOLD HIS PANTS UP.

7) EVERY TIME THERE’S A FIRE ON TV HE SHOUTS AT THE SCREEN, “THAT’S NOT THE WAY IT IS! YA CAN’T SEE NUTHIN!” EVERY TIME.

8) THERE’S ALWAYS A PICK-UP TRUCK IN THE DRIVEWAY.

9) HE MAY NOT BE A BETTER COOK THAN YOUR MOM, BUT HE MAKES BETTER STUFF!

10) HE TELLS THE BEST STORIES.

11) SOMEHOW, HE’S ALWAYS IN THE THICK OF THINGS.

12) HE BACKS HIS PICK-UP INTO THE GARAGE.

13) SOMETIMES, FOR NO REASON YOU CAN THINK OF, HE WAKES YOU UP AND GIVES YOU A HUG, THEN GOES TO BED WITHOUT SAYING A WORD.

14) YOU CELEBRATE BIRTHDAYS AND HOLIDAYS THE DAY BEFORE, OR AFTER THE ACTUAL DAY.

15) EVERYBODY BORROWS TOOLS FROM YOUR GARAGE.

16) IF HE ISN’T ON HIS FEET, HE’S SLEEPING…AND HE COULD BE SLEEPING ANYWHERE!

17) ALL OF THE SMOKE DETECTORS IN YOUR HOUSE WORK.

18) HIS MOUSTACHE TICKLES.

19) OUT OF ALL OF YOUR FRIEND’S MOMS, YOUR MOM IS THE PRETTIEST.

20) IT’S FATHER’S DAY, AND HE’S NOT HOME!

So there you have it. Twenty ways your kids know that you’re a firefighter. I’m sure there are many more that I’m not even aware of. I kind of hope that some day, when I’m long gone, the kids in my life will get together over a few beverages and tell some stories about their dad, the fireman.

by Michael Morse

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Her Heart Keeps Beating

In one case, a young woman fell 40 feet from an escalator, struck her head on a steel beam halfway down and landed on a cement floor. Her fiancé and another couple witnessed the fall, called 911 and waited. I cannot imagine their horror between their frantic call and our arrival, or their sorrow for the rest of their lives. I do not have to imagine my own sadness. I felt it for a decade, and it lingers still.

I was trained as a firefighter, and that training included my EMS certifications. It was rigorous, but far from impossible. I learned how to keep people going, always hoping that the emergency room staff and then surgical teams could finish what we started in the field.

When I encountered this particular patient, I knew that everything that I — or those who followed me — could do would not be enough. The choice to start the life-saving efforts was mine. I made the choice based on the horrified looks on the faces of the survivors, and secretly hated myself for putting the young woman through a violent resuscitation effort. We managed to get a pulse, but I knew she would never regain consciousness.

EMS veterans learn early how to bury the things that need to stay out of sight. We feel things the same way everybody else does, but cannot allow ourselves proper time to heal. A different emergency always comes our way. There is no time to process grief, so we hide it, and move along.

Our strategy works for the people who depend on us. They do not need an emergency responder burdened by a thousand catastrophic events responding to their crisis. They need a person who is fresh, focused and stable.

So I moved on. Days later I read her obituary, and learned that she had a young son who adored her fiancé, and he planned to take care of the child. I can only hope he did.

Ten years passed in a flash. I had made peace with nearly every decision I made during my time at the head of the stretcher. I learned to trust other people in matters of health and well-being.

Eventually, I found myself in a hospital room with my wife who needed medical care. For four days we lingered in the surreal world of tests and results, hospital food, doctors’ rounds, worry, hope and an incredible nursing staff.

One of those nurses was particularly helpful, and we struck up a friendship. Eventually professional barriers were crossed and our personal lives were revealed.

We told stories of our families, and how fragile the human body is. We shared our mutual experiences with loss, and how we learned to cope. Family is of utmost importance, we agreed. She told us the story of her father, a great man from Liberia, and how important he is to her family. We learned how he was nearly lost 10 years ago, and how his life was saved by the heart of an unfortunate young girl who donated her organs after an untimely death.

“You may have heard of her,” our nurse said in her beautifully accentuated speech, her words sounding more like a song than sentences. “She fell from an escalator in Providence.”

Michael Morse (mmorsepfd@aol.com), a monthly contributor, is a former captain with the Providence Fire Department and the author of the books “Rescuing Providence” and “Rescue 911.”

Trust each other

I live in two realities. The first is bitter, divisive, argumentative and full of people with strong opinions who are not afraid to tell the world exactly what they think. That reality is formed by people whose ideology is more important than their humanity. There is little polite discourse, and what little there is falls apart quickly. There is little or no trust, only different sides hammering our ideas onto others who have to wait to offer their counterpoints. Inevitably one person has the strength to withstand the critics and rises to the top of the heap, most often because of their ability to drown out all reason and stick to what they believe is right. The rest get tired of the debate and slink away. Nobody wins, everybody is frustrated and all go back into the holes we have created.

Reality two is full of the same people, only we flourish as a society, drive safely, build things that others enjoy, do community service, spend money we have earned at the jobs we do supporting the other people whose existence we share, exchange pleasantries, hold doors, offer a nod and a smile to passersby and take care of our families. When we communicate it is most often pleasant; seldom are voices raised and feelings are not purposely hurt. Each individual participating in this world trusts that the people we share it with are not out to harm us and are busy making their own lives successful.

I prefer to live in reality number two, the real world, where people can be touched, and the meaning of words better understood when heard, rather than read. Reality number two is the cold, anonymous, untrustworthy world of social media and “fake news.”

Without trust we have nothing. Without the belief that the people and institutions we share our existence with are trustworthy the act of living freely and without fear is lost.  Travel is impossible without trust; those other drivers need to be trusted to follow the rules or chaos on the roadway reigns. Food without trust in its makers loses its appeal, and far too few of us can depend on our hunting, farming and fishing skills for survival. We need to believe, without hesitation that what we consume will not kill us, or make us sick. We cannot lose trust in our medical professionals, or the drugs they prescribe to treat our conditions. Trust in our representatives helps us manage our lives without the added burden of being responsible for the bigger picture. Trust is essential.

The ingredient that has allowed civilizations to flourish has always been trust in others. When suspicion replaces that trust, and believing we are being tricked takes hold, decay begins. Disillusionment festers, and is fed with the resentment of every person who has lost their ability to trust others. When the intricate systems which are made possible by our trust are lost something always waits to take their place. Most often brute force replaces it, and the environment necessary to maintain the intricate balance only achievable with trust is crushed.

Then, the best we can expect is survival. People will instinctively seek out others like them, and groups of people with common beliefs will meld together. Tribes form, and the strongest members of the tribe become leaders, not because they have the best interests of all in mind, rather they have a thirst for power. They crush new ideas, and create an atmosphere of fear among their people.

I do not want to live as a member of a tribe led by somebody who is in charge because he or she is stronger than me. I want to be part of something better, a world where I am free to pursue what I believe are my best abilities, figure out how best to make those abilities attractive to other people, and use my skills to be part of a culture of trust that enables me to obtain everything I need to exist in peace and safety. The real world is far more desirable.

Michael Morse, mmorsepfd@aol.com, a monthly contributor is a former captain with the Providence Fire Department and author.

Grateful for the 1 Percent

If it wasn’t for the, perhaps, 1 percent of humans who over the course of our history have created things that allow me live in the comfort I greatly enjoy, life would be far different.

I live in a home that I did not have to create by felling trees, cleaning the branches to make logs and then piling them on top of each other, hoping they didn’t tumble down and crush my family.

Whatever is happening outside weather-wise is handled easily by turning a dial — warm to the right, cool to the left. Water, hot or cold, appears by lifting a handle. I can fill my refrigerator by using my phone to pick from millions of life-sustaining items that can appear at my door within 24 hours.

I had the luxury of access to education. It would have taken me three lifetimes and immeasurable injuries to understand that I will never possess the aptitude to do most of the things that I have allowed other people to figure out for me.

I like nothing more than to envision myself the great survivor — a person for the ages, one who leads, invents and survives. Truth be told, without the 1 percent who actually do invent, I would be living in a dilapidated lean-to, or worse, I would be skinny as a rail because I have never hunted or killed anything on purpose, don’t know an edible mushroom from a magic one, and probably would be relegated to eating bugs and pine needles. As for leading, my guess is I would lead myself to ruin as soon as I figured out how to ferment wild grapes and berries.

I enjoy the luxury of existing on a Paleo diet, complemented by a gym membership that allows me the luxury of simulating a great hunt that provides me with the meat and greens that cavemen once had to eat to survive. I drive a shiny, quiet, fuel-efficient and completely magical vehicle two miles to the place where I act like a caveman by lifting heavy things over and over, and then spend half an hour running four miles on a treadmill.

Without the gathered knowledge of the brilliant 1 percent who made all of this possible, I would in all likelihood be forced by my own ineptitude to live like the caveman I try so hard to emulate.

I probably wouldn’t even be able to attract a mate. One of the most important things women look for in a man is competence, followed by good grooming. To be competent, one must be able to provide food and shelter. My fishing skills consist of choosing wild-caught as opposed to farm-raised salmon. As for offering shelter, protection and safety without carpenters, plumbers, electricians, the police and U.S. Marines, any fortress I actually had the luck to establish would easily be overrun by a mob of two.

I will never build a computer, a television, dependable watch or a light bulb, never mind shampoo or cologne. I might manage to pull off the creation of some pottery and a comfortable chair, but I wonder if I would even try.

Thankfully, the 1 percent have greatly contributed to my standard of living, which is quite modest by today’s standards but would be considered obscenely luxurious for 99.9 percent of the time that human beings have existed. They have afforded me the opportunity to find out what I am actually proficient at, and to hone those skills without having to worry about the basics.

Another Battle

The early morning sun had yet to break the horizon as we approached the two family home in the heart of South Providence. Places like this are everywhere in the neighborhoods, well kept multi-family homes, some a little dated, others freshly painted with ornate metal gates adorning the driveways. There was no gate here, just an old Ford parked next to the house, with a wounded combat veteran licence plate on the back.

A trend has resurfaced in this neighborhood. Somebody buys a two or three family home, Mom and pop live on the ground floor, the kids who own the place occupy the second and if available the third apartment is rented, sometimes to another family member, to help foot the bill. My own family started out like this, it actually sounds kind of nice. Absentee landlords still exploit the poor folks who settle here, their homes obviously lacking the TLC needed to maintain the old places.

I walked into the home. The old folks lived on the first floor. It looked like they had lived here for decades. Slumped in a kitchen chair was our patient, an eighty-five year old veteran named Joe. Engine 11 had arrived first, an IV was already established, vital signs taken and hi-flow oxygen being delivered through a non re-breather. Joe had tried to take a sip of his morning coffee, felt sudden weakness and spilled it all over his crisp, white t-shirt. There was obvious facial droop, and no strength on his left side when he squeezed my hands.

His wife of fifty years stood by, nervously wiping the spilled coffee from the green linoleum floor. “He goes to the VA,” she said.

As the guys from the 11’s and Adam helped Joe into the stair chair, having to strap him tight so he wouldn’t tip to the left I took his wife to the side. I hated doing it.

“When did you notice something different?” I asked.

“Right before I called you, about ten minutes ago. He was fine, drinking his coffee like he does every day, then he dropped it and couldn’t tell me what was wrong.”

“I think Joe is having a stroke,” I said as gently and quickly as I could. If we get him to the proper facility the damage can be stopped. We can help him but the VA isn’t the best place for something like this.

She started to argue, insurance reasons maybe, familiarity more likely, but saw the urgency in my gaze and relented.

“I’ll stay here and clean up,” she replied, nervously wiping the kitchen table where the coffee stained paper sat, opened to the Sports Section.

In the truck Joe was in the stretcher, listing to the left.

“Let’s go.”

I reassessed his vital signs and tried to get him to speak. He tried valiantly but was frustrated and unable to articulate his thoughts.

As we sped to the ER I gave him the news. A wounded WWII vet deserved the truth.

“Joe, you are having a stroke. There are treatments available and we’re within the time frame. We can stop the damage, you’re not done fighting just yet.”

His right hand gripped mine fiercely, he made eye contact, then he closed his eyes. We rode to the hospital in silence, him lost in his thoughts, me hoping I wasn’t witnessing his last battle.

Curbside Treasures

I swore my days of curbside shopping were over. My home is already full of recycled treasures, and I had an abundant supply of backups in the basement, waiting for a little love. But this! How could I resist?

It was almost brand new, probably less than 75 years old, and in great shape if you saw past the peeling laminate finish and scratches. Best of all, it was Sunday, and pick-up day on this street wasn’t until Tuesday (some things frugal people just can’t un-know), so this little beauty was fresh!

Now, all I had to do was fit a four-foot vanity into a three foot trunk. Never one to shy from a challenge, I backed my car as close as I could and planned my assault. In my youth I would have simply picked it up and stuffed it in, then fixed whatever damage I did later. Now, with 50-plus years of bodily abuse behind me, I needed a different tactic. Funny how some moving blankets and rope just happened to be in my trunk, waiting for opportunity to present itself.

Fortunately, before I lifted a finger, help had arrived! He was a guy about my age, tired from moving his mother’s things from her place, his childhood home, to his. She held on to her home far longer than she should have, and eventually succumbing to an assisted living facility that did not have room for her things.

“Careful not to scratch it,” he said, as he helped me pull the drawers out of their spaces and take the mirror off of the back. “You can replace the laminate if you’re handy,” he continued, “and if you go over it with some of that stuff the consignment shops use it will be as good as new.”

We worked together taking his mom’s vanity apart, placing part of it in the back seat and the rest of it in the trunk. “I’ve got another blanket and some better rope,” he said, and I let him take charge of the operation.

“Why don’t you keep it?” I asked, curious now, as he seemed reticent to let another piece of his mom go. “My wife would have liked it,” he explained, “but we lost her last year to breast cancer; just me and my son, now, and we just don’t have room for it.”

Repairing old things is a labor of love under normal circumstances. This project meant a little more.

A woman spends a lot of time at her vanity; it is her place, filled with things only she understands. I removed some pins from the creases in the drawer bottoms, peeled some old labels from the sides, filled nail holes that held … photographs? Love letters? Shopping lists? Maybe all three but I will never know; some secrets are never meant to be revealed.

I polished the brass, scoured the wood, inside and out, shined the mirror and put it back together. When I was done it didn’t look all that different than it did on the curbside.

Half of the fun of recycling something is the thinking that accompanies the work. Mundane tasks allow the mind to wander. I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about the man who had to let go of both his wife and, soon, his mother. And I thought about his son, who had lost his mom and, inevitably, his grandmother. The fact that I was doing the work in hopes of making the woman in my life a little happier was not lost on me.

The things we accumulate as life moves on are disposable, even those things that mean the world to us while we are living. We may not be able to “take it with us,” but we can certainly leave some things behind.

World Gone Mad?

The world is going mad, and has been for quite some time. Just in case you think the end is near, allow me to offer some perspective; I was a kid in the sixties, a teenager in the seventies, a young man in the eighties, an older young man in the nineties, a middle aged man in to 00’s and still in the middle in the 10’s. During my time on earth, things have remained pretty much the same. It just seems we are closer to the edge these days. In reality, we have been teetering on it since somebody invented us.
 
Yeah we have terrorists to deal with, and thugs a plenty, seems like everybody has a cause these days, some injustice or another to protest about, and let the world know how oppressed we feel. Truth is, we are no worse off now than we were fifty years ago. The sad thing is, we are no better, either.
 
It is understandable that the youth of today feels hopeless.
 
They, more than any other time in history are aware of every little mistake that somebody makes, every act of terror, every abuse of authority and every tragic occurrence. We are all bombarded with images of grief and destruction- every day, day after day. It’s enough to drive a person mad.
 
Imagine for a moment World War II with Twitter. Or Viet Nam on Facebook. Or Columbine on Instagram. The general population would have been horrified if they knew what war looked like up close and personal, and had their inboxes inundated with every heartbreaking story that happened, as it happened. But just because we were unaware does not mean that these things didn’t happen far more frequently than they do today. The world is a violent place. Having our homes and minds violated by that violence has created an atmosphere of doom and oppression that simply does not exist in our everyday lives.
 
I spent a quarter century as a firefighter/EMT in Providence, RI, a small city with its’ fair share of violent people. I responded to hundreds of shootings. I never saw a gun except on the belts of the police. I’ve never seen an ISIS flag in person, but I know exactly what one looks like. I’ve never personally witnessed a beheading, but because I can be an idiot I was dumb enough to search the internet for one. There were plenty.
 
By allowing these images to become reality, I have, in effect created a false reality that I need to override on a daily basis. Because I have lived longer than a lot of people, and remember nuclear bomb drills in grade school, daily overdoses in high school, stabbings in nightclubs, race riots, the KKK, assassinations, genocide, famine and true oppression I am able to do so. I know that terrible things exist. I also know that I have a very good chance that terrible things will not happen to me, hence my cheery outlook for the future.
 
I worry about people who choose to live in a bubble. Without the perspective gained from living in the present, and seeing for myself that though there are dangers lurking everywhere, those dangers will not affect me, a doomsday attitude may very well overtake the optimism needed to thrive in a difficult world. I wish I had the power to make social media go away, at least until we have the opportunity to grow as human beings, and understand that in a world full of people, focusing on the horrors that some unfortunates experience will only invite depression and anxiety into our lives. Being aware of heartache, danger and the potential for catastrophe is far different than inviting it into your thoughts every day, and letting it fester.
 
Life is for living, not watching. Live your life, taste it, feel it and enjoy it. Be aware, not afraid. Know that kindness overrules cruelty, and that though it takes time to see and understand it, life is ultimately fair. There is a reason for it, and some day that reason will be clear. Until then, just breathe it in and make your place in the world beautiful.

When the Last Candle was Lit

By Michael Morse

They’re in my rafters, silent and dark, in the boxes that I stored them in last January. I’m sitting here, quiet and tired, wondering if this is the year that they stay where they are, and what they are; inanimate objects gathering dust in a place that nobody goes. I see in my mind what I could create with those things, bushes illuminated, doorways made festive, windows lit with a soft glow from a candle bought in a different time, in a different home.

The problem is I just don’t feel like doing the work needed to pull it off. When the reward for doing a job no longer makes doing the work worth the trouble, many jobs just don’t get done.

A giant house with all the things that go with it just wasn’t worth the effort after our kids established lives of their own, so we moved into a smaller house, with less work to do. When the kids visit Mom and Dad’s house now, they no longer think of it as their own. I had to remind them they don’t need to knock before entering. Without memories a house is just a place to live, and we hope that the magic we created a lifetime ago won’t be as forgotten as the candles in a box in the rafters.

It seems like yesterday that I lived in my parents’ home. When Christmastime was truly magical it was up to me to make sure all of the candles were lit in our windows. The bulbs were orange then, the candle sticks colored ivory with plastic wax dripping down the sides. They were placed between the real windows and the storm windows, the heat they produced enough to melt the frost and sometimes ice that lived between the glass, creating a halo of orange light surrounded by almost surreal whiteness.

I couldn’t wait for sunset most days, and as the last traces of light receded to darkness I would begin my work, first downstairs, plugging the ends of the electric cords into the outlets that turned them on. There were five windows on the ground floor of the colonial, and it didn’t take long for me to plug all five in. The effect was okay, but lost with the everyday lighting and the racket from my brother and sisters, and the noise in the kitchen from my mother’s meal preparations.

It was upstairs where the true Christmas Spirit resided, in the bedrooms. Only during Christmastime was I allowed access into my parent’s room without an invite, and my sister’s room without being chased into it. It was quiet up there, nobody but me, and I took my time, basking in the orange glow in each room before moving on to the next.

I saved the room I shared with my brother for last, and after the final candle was lit would lie in my bunk bed and let the serenity I created fill me with happiness. I wouldn’t spend long up there. I didn’t want to miss what was happening downstairs: some treat to gobble or game to play. But for perhaps five minutes I would lie there feeling connected to something far bigger than myself, or anything I could imagine.

I close my eyes and bring the memories back. Before long I’m off the chair, eyes wide open, coat on, hat and gloves in the pocket and out the door, into the garage and up the ladder. The boxes are right where I left them last year. A few candles wouldn’t hurt, I think, and before long every last snowman, elf, Santa and wreath is on the garage floor, waiting for me to create something magnificent.

You can take away the things we accumulate as our lives unfold, but nothing can deprive us of the memories forged by doing the work needed to create them. A little hard work never killed anybody, and I’ll be damned if I let memories yet to be experienced die before they have a chance to come alive in my family’s continuing story.

Missing Captains

She actually apologized for calling us.

“I didn’t want to bother you, but I can’t stand the pain any longer.”

Her home was meticulous, nestled on a quiet street in the Mount Pleasant section of the city, surrounded by beautiful yet modest homes that showed the pride of their owners. The city has a few neighborhoods like this, though they are becoming scarce. She handled her pain well, as a lot of people from her generation are prone to do. No theatrics, just a matter-of-fact explanation of her problem. She insisted on walking to the ambulance, turned out the lights and locked the door behind us.

She was remarkably independent, especially when considering her age; born in 1920 she had seen a lot of changes during her nine decades on this earth. She reluctantly agreed to ride on the stretcher, but only after I insisted, and looked uncomfortable with “all the fuss.”

“No fuss at all,” I said and assessed her vital signs, noted a-fib, hypotension, and a weak pulse on my report. She didn’t fuss about the IV, and I managed to get it on the first try, regardless of her paper-thin flaky skin, spider veins, and obvious dehydration. I watched the IV drip, slowed down the flow, and tried to put an 02 mask over her face in hopes of getting her oxygen level past 93%. She won that argument but only after explaining that I was the first person she had talked with in weeks, and I simply couldn’t deprive an old lady her dying wish.

We settled on a nasal canula, I disagreed with her assessment of her condition, and we got moving, leaving her peaceful sanctuary and traveling through a more desolate part of the city toward Rhode Island Hospital.

We looked out the dingy rear windows, watching the world go by backward, and settled in for the five-minute ride. There wasn’t much activity at four in the morning; the old houses that we passed look much the same in the dim moonlight as they did when she was a younger woman, and it was easy to forget what is so obvious in daylight. When the sun rises and the city wakes, the real changes become clear.

A few of the houses were still illuminated with Christmas lights.

“I don’t think you will have to stay in the hospital for Christmas,” I said, assuming her ailment could be treated without an extended stay.

“It doesn’t matter,” she said, sadness filling her voice.

“Why?”

“My husband passed away last year, and I’m just waiting to join him. We were married 64 years; it’s hard to live without him.”

“You must miss him,” I said.

“Terribly.”

As we neared the hospital, she told me of the greatest gift he ever gave her. “As he neared the end he told me this: If I could live my life over again I wouldn’t change a thing. That kind of love is what keeps me going. We had a wonderful life together.”

The truck stopped at the ambulance bay. “He must have been a great man,” I said.

“He was. He was a captain on the Providence Fire Department, Ladder 5 at Point Street.” She glanced at the captain’s bars that adorned my collar and gave me a knowing smile, which I gladly returned. We wheeled her in, and she was swallowed by the hospital, but her memory lingered.

I had been at work for nearly 38 hours, having worked an overtime shift between my nights, and never had I felt so lonely. I looked toward the east, where my home sat some eight miles away, and the first traces of dawn touched the sky. Below it, my wife slept, alone in our bed, again. If she could live her life over again, would she do things differently? Life is hard for a firefighter’s family. It was up to me to make sure that she wouldn’t want to change a thing.

Sandy Hook

I wrote this while feeling hopeless and desperate. I asked for help, and help arrived…

I stood in line at the grocery store, patiently waiting for the people ahead of me to finish. A mom and her daughter; the girl filled with excitement and anticipation, her mom too busy to notice much more than the bottom line displayed on the register readout as it went incredibly higher, and higher: $68.35, then 97.32, a few more items, then 110.87.

As the last item rolled down the treadmill a look of relief crossed her face, probably mentally subtracting the groceries from the balance sheet in her head. She swiped her card, and the little girl stared at me, and I stared back. I tried to smile, but all I could think of was the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary school this time just five years ago, and how this little girl could easily be just a memory.

She smiled anyway, oblivious to the thoughts in my head, and it brought me out of my reverie, and I managed to give her a lopsided grin, then she was gone, following her mom out of the store, mesmerized by the ornate holiday decorations as only a six year old at Christmastime can be.

I wondered then about the homes in Newtown, Connecticut, and the empty places where the Christmas trees would be. Try as I might to make sense of the tragedy and put it behind me, and think of it as some aberration; a blip in the serenity that I try so hard to convey every December, it was impossible. All I lost that day was a temporary suspension of my own manifestation of goodwill toward men, and peace on earth. I did not lose a child, or a mother, sister, daughter, or friend. My life moved on, what Christmas Spirit I had managed to create lost, but likely easily re-ignited. I would be able to fake it and get through the season, and make the next one better.

But what of the people directly affected? What happened in December, 2012 cannot be dismissed, or rationalized, or prayed away. For them, their lives will forever be scarred. Time will not heal their wounds; time will allow the anger and disillusionment to fester, and the hopelessness of it all to seep in. We get old, and as we age the magic in life becomes harder and harder to capture.

Life goes on long after the thrill of living is gone, and the thrill of living ended abruptly for the victims and families of Sandy Hook.

I’m just a guy in Rhode Island who had nothing to do with any of it, yet still I find it difficult to forget the events that happened that day, and move away from the thought that such madness can coincide with the joy that the Christmas season brings. It is unfathomable to me that so many people had their faith, innocence and optimism taken away from them, and must live with the harsh reality that life veered out of control with no warning, and nothing would ever be the same.

I hope that little girl in the grocery store never has to think about these things, and that her mother keeps her as safe as she can, and manages to somehow provide a magical Christmas for her. Grant me that, and I’ll never ask for another thing for Christmas.

My Christmas wish was answered a few days later by “Anonomous from Sandy Hook, ” who read my words and was compelled to respond:

“Thank you for remembering our community. It’s so hard to answer the question of how we’re all doing since so many people are at different places in the healing process.

We will never forget and there are some scars that can never be healed. Our community has been forever changed. Our children who survived were robbed of their childhood innocence and forced to grow up faster than you can ever imagine.

In a Remembrance Mass last night, we certainly prayed for those families and first responders who experienced hell on earth three years ago. But we were also reminded that it’s in our moments of greatest weakness that we often gather our greatest strength.

Our community has been blessed with the true meaning of compassion and kindness and we are reminded of the pure love and goodness that those victims represented innocent, happy, loving children and educators who sacrificed their own lives to protect those children.

Christmas does live on, those trees are still lit in the homes that were directly affected and Sandy Hook Center just celebrated another beautiful tree lighting.

There is joy this time of year, but also a great amount of conflicting pain for many who are still broken.

Love Wins.”