Ramblings: … still the “land of the free and the home of the brave”

Along the fire line in Idaho. Josh, my brother-in-law, chainsaw in hand.

As I drove my daughter to preschool this morning, I said to myself, “what a beautiful blue-sky day”, and with that thought, feelings of regret in the moment afterward swept over me. It is Sept. 11th after all. And much like the weather outside today, that specific morning, a robin’s-egg blue filled the sky, and the air had a slight crispness to it, somewhat unusual for this time of year in the Lowcountry. Looking back, it felt like change was literally in the air…and boy, was that ever the truth.

While I am just an average American, do not live in or near any of the locations struck down on that fateful day, I will always remember where I was, who I was with, and the horrific sadness inflicted on America that day. And while I will never forget, in the years that have passed I have moved on from anger and emotional distress, not to complacency, but to appreciation for what and most importantly, who I have in my life.

In attempting to honor those who were lost that day and in the resulting years of war and strife, I like to think that all these people – who I’m sure thought of themselves as everyday people – are in the realm of true heroes, nay, super-true heroes, if you will. Put into precarious situations and without thought for their own lives, 9-11 first responders represented the best in humanity through their selflessness.

Water drop from a helicopter. I think this is in Utah.

Yes, 9-11 was a tragedy in so many ways. After the shock, sadness and the anger of that day, I do not allow whining and complaining (think airport security) resulting from that act of terror to overshadow the big picture. Get to the airport early and remove your shoes without comment, people. Being a “cup-is-half-full” type person, I think about what good can come from such calamity, if at all. It is a hard nut to crack, but in the last 11 years and especially since I became a wife and mother, much of the energy previously spent with inward focus has turned outward. I am more altruistic in general, more aware – and more appreciative.

In that light, I want to honor 9-11 heroes by moving on some, as I believe most of them would prefer that we move on, always remember and learn, but move on too…

Just recently, there was a hurricane in Louisiana and Mississippi and wildfires all summer in the western US. During Hurricane Isaac, a father and son team, Jesse and James Shaffer, rescued 120 people in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana when flooding rains overtopped and burst the levee. In heavy downpours and winds up to 80 mph they trudged through, putting their own lives at risk for neighbors and strangers alike.

Hot shot crew in for the duration.

This past June in my own county, a quick-thinking UPS driver, Eric Logan, rescued a family (including 3 children) from a submerged vehicle after the driver suffered a black-out and veered off the highway and into the adjacent marsh. There are heroes all around us…

My brother-in-law, Josh is a wildland firefighter, working on a “hotshot” crew in Utah. Just this summer, he and his crew worked to contain and put out fires in Colorado, Idaho and Utah. Of course, we worry about him but he has a good head on his shoulders and he has been well-trained. While he would be most reticent and probably embarrassed at my describing him as a ‘hero’ (he would say, “this is my job”) it takes courage and fortitude to handle the tasks and environment of his particular ‘job’.

Fire crews are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week during the fire season, which typically lasts six months. Crews pack all water and supplies needed for work shifts that frequently exceed eight hours, and may be 12 hours or longer, sleeping on the ground and hiking long distances with heavy packs and tools, like chainsaws, to reach remote areas. So far this fire season over 7 million acres have burned in the US – mostly in the west. It has been a very busy summer for wildland firefighters and local firefighters alike, dealing with these forest fires. Countless lives and much property (including pets and livestock) have been saved due to the work of these brave folks.

Crews work throughout the night to contain the fires that have threatened and taken lives and property this summer. Josh has accrued hundreds of overtime hours this fire season.

This summer I have thought often about Josh and the hardship he encounters daily in his work, and even though he signed up for this ‘job’, he – like a soldier, sailor, airman, or police officer – lives with a varying amount of uncertainty, never knowing when the seemingly mundane may become extraordinary.

Just after Sept. 11, 2001, I think all us in America probably felt this way to a certain extent – nervous and stressed when it came to the unknown. The optimism and thrill of imaging the future gave way to fear and anxiety, for a good while at least.

Today’s America and world may be quite different than it was 10 years, 364 days ago. The power of humanity and the courage of those who responded during the events of 9-11 – and those who, today, perform courageous acts of their own volition, or work the truly hard ‘jobs’, by their own example, lift us all up as Americans…and as human beings.

Now go hug your family… and tell them you love them.

Fighting a fire in a remote location sometimes requires that the crew be deposited by helicopter into the back country.

Josh heading out with his best friend during fire season – a chainsaw.

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3 thoughts on “Ramblings: … still the “land of the free and the home of the brave”

  1. Betsy, what a great article…moved me to tears (besides the fact that it also includes Josh…who you know I worry about every minute of every day). Thank you!

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