Saturday, June 23, 2007
Life's Lessons in the Small Stuff
My family came up this weekend to celebrate my birthday, and after we went out for dinner, we watched a movie; The Guardian, which, for those who have not seen it, is about the Coast Guard.
Perhaps I watch this type of movie differently than most people; whenever I view these kinds of movies, I can't help but take a trip down memory lane and recall lessons learned in my training for Law Enforcement, Firefighting, and Ski Patrol.
Some of what the movie portrays drives me absolutely crazy; Hollywood consistently can't get CPR right, they love to ignore technical details which would actually IMPROVE the movie if they were even close to accurate. And it also drives me nuts how they tend to glamorize certain aspects of such training and the jobs. Yes, it does make a good story at times, and yes, they get some of the details right, but having sweated and suffered through some very real stuff, well, let's just say there's no glamor and there's no mystery. It's hard work.
That said, I still can't help but fondly remember some of that hardship, because even now, I look back and realize that it helped to form me as the person I am today. I'll never forget our first day of Law Enforcement Skills training; Grant put us in the pushup position and proceeded to tell his life story. He'd been a Green Beret, was built like a "brick s***house", and had no problem with causing us pain. He knew what built physical strength and intestinal fortitude and didn't care if we were men or women; he was going to give us the benefit of his experience and his own training, and that began from the very first moment.
I thank God to this day that he was so good at what he did; he was one of the first people to teach me how to break through my own barriers and strive for the next step, no matter how much it hurt.
We had another instructor; actually a pair. They were part-time, were on the loca SWAT team and assisted at the Skills program. In reality, they just LOVED to pepperspray the unsuspecting students. They were good teachers, they were professionals, and they were two more guys who had no problem teaching us how to be tough, how to survive in the face of painful physical adversity, and when outside of class, they were personable and approachable and loved to talk about "the job".
Just this weekend, I actually saw one of my instructors on TV; he's the Sheriff now. I'm proud of him and I congratulate him, and I'm proud to claim to be one of his former students. My own failures were not his; and the lessons he taught carry far beyond "the job".
Another one of the cast of characters from my past is also a Sheriff. He was a Deputy at the time I was in high school, and I got to know him while I was a lifeguard at the pool since he was one of the lapswimmers.
I actually first met him while training to become a lifeguard; I was faithfully going to lap swimming every evening, and he asked me about it one day as we both happened to be taking a breather in between the facets of our training regimens. Not many high school students swam laps; those who were swimmers were training with the team, so he was curious. I explained my training, he wished me well, and we went on with our routines. (There is a certain solidarity among everyday lapswimmers - we get to know each other).
Well, as it was, I passed every lifeguard test but the sprint, and I only missed that by .08 seconds. I had a certain amount of time to retest, so I hit the training hard, really focusing on speed drills. This particular Deputy, if the pool was crowded, offered me his lane for awhile if I needed to practice sprints and couldn't do so safely. (ie; it would interfere with other swimmers, etc.).
He also happened to be there on the day I took the retest, and stopped swimming in order to see the results. Many of the other lap swimmers did as well - that solidarity thing again. I remember actually having 2 false starts; I was so ready to go that I dove in before I was given the signal!
In the end, I passed with flying colors - at the time, the requirement was 18 seconds. (It has since been raised to something like 20-25 seconds. Ridiculous). I can't remember my final time, only that I passed. That was enough.
That deputy was first in line to congratulate my success, and he happened to also be the one to offer me the Deputies' Association Scholarship for college a few years later.
He became Chief Deupty when I was in college, and as far as I know, he is still the Sheriff. I salute him; he never said much, I didn't know him well, but his support and assistance in more than one facet of my life made a difference, and I can guarantee you that there are many other people out there who also owe him a debt of gratitude.
I realize it seems that I go off track when I write of these kinds of things, however, as usual, I promise you that I have a point.
Going back to "The Guardian". This really is a great movie, because the two main characters are facing certain demons; an instructor, and a cadet, and their demons are the same. Not only does the movie take us through what created the problems, but how they were or were not resolved, and ultimately, there is triumph. What is a good movie without triumph?
But I'm going to drop a bombshell; one of the other reasons I really like this movie is because it brought me back to high school, when I seriously considered skipping college and entering the Coast Guard.
I was gonna be a "Puddle Pirate". As the Navy apparently calls them, according to the movie.
Almost every day, I went into the career center and perused information on the Coast Guard, going over the same things all the time. They had everything; they would train me, there were several things I wanted to do; law enforcement, paramedic, swimmer. I could do it all if I really desired it. There was career stability, in a way, and some of what my heart craved; adventure. But I wanted to be the hero, finally, get out of my life that was out of control, and move into the position of "savior" of sorts.
I told no one this. Some of my friends knew I was considering it, but my Mom would have flipped out, thinking I was going to war. (That's not what the Coast Guard is about).
Finally, though, I discerned it was not for me and I went to college and proceeded to build a great resume then failed my real-life tests.
Yet a part of me has always wondered "what it"? What if I had joined the Coast Guard? Where would I be? Would I love it? I know there's no glamour; time and experience in my own chosen fields taught me that even before I graduated college. But it's one of those things I never did, and I joked last night with my brother that, now, in the face of my career woes, I'll just go do what I almost did so long ago...enlist in the Coast Guard.
No, I'm not serious. And I smile to consider "what if", the idealism of my past, the hope I had so long ago, and the reality the these people face every single day. Yeah, maybe if I could do it over I'd take that leap (right out of a helicopter into a huge storm and 30 foot waves!), but in the end, it wouldn't have been the right decision, either. Besides, I didn't know anyone in the Coast Guard...still don't. I'd have been even more out of my element there than I was in real life. And all that's really just an aside.
My point is not really to discuss law enforcement instructors or Coast Guard instructors, but rather, to point out that all of us can be "that" person to someone else. It was never that someone did anything HUGE for me; the things that helped me along and gave me confidence were, in and of themselves, very small. They were simple things, courtesy, everyday encouragement, everyday affirmation, not things that stand out as one momentous moment.
We never know who we affect. We don't necesarily know why God puts certain people in our lives, and what their roles are, and very often, it's not about how they affect us; it's how WE are called to serve THEM.
I thank God for the people and situations he's placed in my life. I thank God for the lessons they taught me; not so much with regard to the jobs, but rather, how to treat others, how to help others, and how to remember it's the small things in life that move the biggest mountains.