Keep the Faith
Monday, June 20, 2016
Fire folks are known to be a little eccentric. Well, wildland fire folks, anyway. Come to think of it, just today I had a new friend say to me, “who voluntarily goes into a burning forest, anyway?” To me, that sounds like a whole lot of fun. When do we leave? I would be so all over it. In fact, I recently figured out there had been a grass fire in my neighborhood - and I was super bummed to have missed it.
I had this boss when I worked in wildland fire management who said “Good morning!” to everyone - no matter what time of day. He started his emails that way. Any speech. Pretty much any phone call. Any time of day.
This little bit of quirkiness was endearing to me. Not just because quirky is endearing, but also because I am not a morning person. To the night owl, late afternoon can feel like morning. Even evening feels like morning, sometimes.
There was something else my boss did - but it wasn’t so much quirky. “Keep the faith,” he always said. That was how he said good-bye. That was how he closed emails. That was how he reinforced certain themes. Or made certain points.
One thing good fire leaders have is fierce loyalty… loyalty to firefighters. It’s loyalty to all those who have come before, and all those who are still to come. It’s loyalty to the folks who are out right now on a 4,000-foot mountain on a 105-degree day… cutting fireline. To the hotshots and helitack crews and engine slugs who keep at it - because they love it. You keep the faith because of everyone out there. Because of the community.
How you keep it is a mystery. Everybody’s own personal struggle.
I don’t think I really understood this until I worked in fire management for a while. When I was a firefighter, I didn’t see it. I didn’t get a whole lot of exposure to the passionate fire leadership crowd then. I didn’t see it when I was on a fire engine - far removed from the leadership on complicated incidents. And I rarely had that experience, anyway: complicated incidents. I didn’t see the really huge incidents until I got into fire management - at the busiest interagency wildland fire coordination center in the world. There’s nothing like it. There’s risk and intensity and chaos and calm… and faith.
Even then, no one person can explain to another what faith really means. It’s such a personal and powerful thing. It is fierce and sacred and subtle and solid… yet it can also be quiet. Or questioning. Sometimes it’s all of that; all at the same time.
I mentioned this scene on another post, but it’s worth repeating.
There’s a scene in the movie Serenity, where intense action has occurred, and things are at a critical juncture. The situation is dire. In that moment, the preacher character, who is a mentor and a friend, emphatically pleads with the main character, “I don’t care what you believe, just believe it!!”
Put Your Faith First
The life coach who sold me on coaching is the coach who helped me successfully counter a paralyzing fear. I knew it was paralyzing. I knew I had to get past that fear to move on… but I didn’t know how the hell to do it. It was larger than life.
Fear can do that. It swells all up and starts to get shadowy and foreboding. It dominates. It hovers. It can make us think it is more powerful than it is.
And then: in a moment, my life changed. We were deep in discussion about this terror that I had, and I was more than lost. I was pleading. I was stuck.
My coach said, “Put your faith first."
People talk about moments of clarity - and I had had some before. Nothing like this, though. This literally was like the sun breaking through. Clouds dissipating.
This moment occurred while I was on the phone, in the center atrium of the National Portrait Museum in Washington, DC. It sounds museum-y, but it was actually more like a mini botanical garden. Stone benches surrounded squares of trees that reached up into the light. The undulating roof of the hidden oasis was tiled in clear glass, like it flowed. It is a sacred space.
When I picture myself in that moment - I picture a ball of stress, furled up in a phone call to a remote person; grasping for any bit of light. Like I was bent down; unable to look up. When I heard those words… the clouds shifted away. Light sparkled in through the glass… lighting up the trees above me. I started to stand up; to look up. Because I could. The dark cloud of fear I had had trailing me was pushed away. It wasn’t gone - but it was away. I could see light. Even if my memory sounds more like a metaphor.
It was such an unexpected moment. I don’t think anyone had ever confronted me before - with my own faith. When I think about it… at that time I didn’t know if I even knew anyone who truly lived that way - in faith. Walking the path. It’s a different way of being. It is an adventure, and a tremendous leap. It is everything at once.
Since then, I have seen. I have seen the people who keep the faith. Who live the faith. Who walk the path. It is one of my greatest aspirations to remember this more often. To put my faith first. To live it. To shine. What do stars do?
I write this blog because today I needed to remember. Sometimes I get off the faith track. Because: life. Because of the details. The volume. Whatever.
Today I just needed to remember.
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POSTED: 2016-0620, 2034 hrs
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