Friday, September 12, 2014

What did you do on 9/12?

"It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live."
-Marcus Aurelius

Every year the dreaded day comes around:  9/12.

We all have our stories about the day before.  Mine took place 1.2 miles away from the maelstrom.  

But, it's the next day that haunts me.  In my ideal version of my own history I bravely answered the call and immediately rushed to Randall's Island and joined the FDNY, desperate after the loss of 343 of its members.  

This is a lie.  

I hid.  I held my wife as tanks rolled down the street and I tried my best to put on a brave face as NYC seemed to crumble around us.

I did this for five years.  My true 9/12 moment didn't happen for another thirteen.  It took me five years to come out of my stupor; to quit the job I took after 9/11 in a place with no windows.  I approached the firefighters at a recruiting table and let them know I was finally ready, emotionally and mentally, to give back to the city I love so much.

Did you know the FDNY has an age cut off?  They are one of only a handful of fire departments in the country that do.

I was too old by only a couple years.

Looking back on my 9/12, I feel a sense of shame, of opportunity wasted.  I talk a lot about the common good, of larger purpose and "doing" for the community.  And yet...

But life is long and full of surprises.

The rest of our time in New York, I dove into my work, helping create and produce great new theatre as part of an Obie award winning theatre company, co-writing an award winning film script and an award winning short.  

Next up, fatherhood where I jumped headfirst into a movement of male care givers.  

Inside I still felt I needed to do more.

So, thirteen years later, I have been given a do-over.  As of last week, I am a fully certified Colorado fire fighter.  I am the oldest probationary fire fighter in my class at age forty two.  I am working for the department that serves the community in which I live; a department that was all volunteer since 1942 and hired full time crews for the first time this year.

Nearly 70 percent of all fire departments in the United States are staffed by volunteers.  At the moment, there is a shortage of fire fighters in communities all over the country.  If you've ever felt like you need to do something more, something for your community, consider becoming a volunteer fire fighter.  If rushing into a burning building is not your thing, look around you.  Does your local school district need another great teacher?  Are there community programs that help the poor or elderly that need your assistance?  Are there youth programs where you can share your experience and expertise?  

Let today be your 9/12.  

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