Saturday, November 28, 2009

Dear Neighbor….

Dear Neighbor,
We’ve know each other for what… 25 years now? We moved into this neighborhood within a year of each other and our kids, all grown now, were all around the same age. The played pee-wee sports together and we saw you quite often in those days. Later we would se each other occasionally at school plays, concerts, and the rare church events when one of us wasn’t working. I remember that time I passed your house and saw you struggling to place all those stones your wife made you buy to make the garden “pretty”. I thought twice before stopping to offer you a hand, but it turned into a fun afternoon sweating our butts off. Those long necks and steaks sure did taste good that night.
We were never what you might call good friends, but I think we both agree we are close acquaintances. I truly do like you and you are a fine neighbor. You loaned me some pipe fittings on a cold windy Sunday night in February that allowed me to fix our heat and keep the kids warm. Boy, that was huge for me.
So dear neighbor I hope you will be understanding when I tell you that no, I will not tell you what happened at your friend’s car accident last night. Of course I was there and I did take a hand in the job but that does not mean that I will share everything, or even anything that transpired last night with you about your friend.
I am very sorry that your friend did not survive. I can assure you that everything that could have been done, was done for your friend. That is all I can or will tell you. If as you say, you two were very close, then perhaps you can get the information you seek from his family.
Because you are my neighbor of so many years and we have shared many conversations over the fence I think I can also tell you this: I would appreciate it very much if you would respect the confidence in which I hold all information about the jobs I work with the Fire Department. I am sure if it were your family, you would not want me spreading that information around town. Please understand that I never discuss these incidents with anyone who was not on my crew. Please don’t be mad at me. If you consider that by just asking me the questions you pose, you have forced me to re-live the moments and experiences which I am still trying to process. You saw the article and pictures in this morning’s paper and have to know how horrific that scene must have been. Why would you want me to go through that again by relating what happened to you?
I know you probably did not consider that these type incidents have an effect on me, after all, I do this all the time, right? Well my friend, I can tell you that for me at least it never gets easier. I got in this business, as a volunteer, to help and hopefully save people if at all possible. We all train very hard to keep our skills up, which can be tough when we also have jobs, kids, spouses, and homes we try to maintain to look as nice as yours. When we fail to make a save, it affects us deeply and each in his own way. For myself, I take it as a personal failure. It takes me many days or weeks, and on rare occasions, years, to sort out the feelings and get on with life.
So when you ask me to ‘tell you what happened’, you have in effect just ripped the wound open again. I know that you didn’t think about this, but I am asking you to think about it now. You’ve asked me questions like this before, but just in passing and you probably didn’t notice that I changed the subject or gave you an answer that included only the information that was in the newspaper.
I know for you, it is harmless small town chit-chat, but for me it is somebody’s life, death, or health information. On the other side, I am sure that you have never considered that what I might tell you would overload your senses. In other words, I doubt that you could handle, or even understand the things I have seen and had to deal with. There is no way I would burden you with the mental pictures I carry. I have training and understand the ‘why’ part of the equation, which helps me parse it all out; you do not and will only see something you don’t have a clue as to how to deal with it. Telling you all might take you down a dark road indeed, with no map home.
Neighbor, I like you and we have been friends for a long time, but I’m asking you to respect my position and please do not ask me these questions again.
I hope we are still friends.
Your Neighbor,

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