I Believe in Community
I believe in community. I believe that we each belong to at least one and possibly many and that we each owe a contribution to that community.
When I was growing up, Mom bought one of each of anything a kid was selling at the front door. In college I read in a farm magazine of someone not too dissimilar from me who bought his uncle’s farm. He thought he had bought the land, machinery and animals. His uncle let him know that along with that came a membership in the church, school board or maybe the town council. He expected his nephew to contribute, to be a member of the community in which he now resided.
Shortly after I moved in to my current home, there was a knock on the door. It was the 5 year old neighbor girl and her father. She wanted to hide behind his leg and have him do the talking. We’ve all been there. Once she warmed up, she did just fine. She was selling candy bars to support the local swim club. Years later I saw her in her lifeguard swimsuit using a very efficient stroke. I took an altogether inappropriate and undeserved pride in her accomplishment. I keep a handful of dollar bills in a drawer by the front door for the next kid that shows up.
Six years ago I joined the local volunteer fire department and I’ve been a member of the local ambulance squad for 5 years. I had looked at the other volunteer town administrative positions but decided I didn’t have time to do them all so rather than trying to do many things poorly I would stick to a few things and try to do them well. Shortly after I started one of my worst fears was realized. A call came to respond to a friend’s house. She had fallen down the stairs and came to rest lying against the front door. I was sure I was going to inflict more pain on her and so did not want to do that. Two weeks later she found me in the local market and came to thank me. She expressed just how reassuring it was for her to look up and see a friendly face bending down over her. She helped me more than she will ever know. This community thing is a two way street.
Two years after I started with the fire department we had an early morning call for a car over the edge at ‘Tunnel View’. That’s the famous view in Yosemite that we have all seen. Our intent was to go and do good. When we arrived at the scene the paramedic was climbing up to the road after declaring the driver dead. Well, we were too late to save him but at least we could put our training to good use. Later when we found the suicide note the good feelings became feelings of resentment. I want to give, I want to help when someone needs the help, but when that person takes, when they place those who respond in danger in a selfish manner my willingness to help runs short. This park attracts too many people to it as a place for their final act. Last year the cousin of my ex stepped off the roof of a parking garage. She was heartbroken. I felt sorry for the poor people that had to clean up his mess. Four years ago someone killed his family, drove 3 hours to Yosemite, hiked in 8 miles and started a 2000 acre fire before killing himself. Just two weeks ago somebody else swallowed all his meds, stripped off his clothes and lowered himself into the creek that becomes Yosemite Falls. The next day a member of the search and rescue team was asking if anybody from fire was available to help with the body recovery.
Often my involvement in this community is one way, when I go to help someone in need. I give that willingly. Often I don’t learn how they turn out. There was a little girl in a school bus crash I worked on last year. I wonder how she ended up. What is she making of her life? Some times it is two way, as when my friend told me how glad she had been to see me. Occasionally my involvement is forced and I resent that. This takes two forms, the first toward those that come to this beautiful place to commit suicide. They cause me to be pulled out of a deep sleep in a warm bed on a cold night and subjects my coworkers to potential danger in cleaning up after them. The second is that it brings out this meanness in me. I entered this line of work to help. I didn’t get into it to feel resentful at someone when the pager goes off.