Friday, January 29, 2010

Home Town Heroes

It was too late by the time anyone had called the fire department. That can't be changed and one man is dead in a house fire, the tragedy for his family and loved ones irreparable.

I get an e-mail from my home-town paper and the headline caught my eye. Small, small home town, everyone knows everyone... certainly I used to. It was a long time ago. I quick clicked through and skimmed until I found the name. Not familiar. Thank goodness.

And then I read more carefully.

The call came at 12:30 am. Someone driving by saw the farm house in flames. My childhood is full of memories of the daily noon siren that could be heard for miles around. It would raise into a wail and then die off again. Other times it would wail on and on, eight times or nine. And the men would stop what they were doing and get into their cars and trucks and rush to the fire station to go to fight the fire. They even came to our farm once, when a trash burn got away from us. My mom, who was responsible for the blaze, made cookies and lemonade for them.

It would have been different men that night, but in a sense the same men, too, who went out to fight that fire. January in Minnesota... it wasn't quite 20 below zero. There was a stiff wind but no one counts wind-chill. The news article didn't even mention it. It was a battle to keep the pumps and hoses working in the cold and the men had to work in shifts to keep from freezing. The fire department from the neighboring town, the one big enough to have a news paper and paid fire fighters, more trucks and more pumps, came to help.

It was only ever a battle to keep the blaze from spreading, to contain the fire and put it out. It was dawn before the last ember was cold.

And somehow it seems to me to be even more noble, more heroic, to do something so difficult, to battle both the killing cold and the fire through-out the night, to persevere knowing from the beginning that there was no victory. There was no hope, only duty. Only duty and what is expected of men.

We lose too much when we forget what people are capable of, what ordinary people consider themselves capable of and what standards they hold themselves to.

Sometimes the minimum standard is being a hero.

And this is why true heroes never think they did anything special.

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