As a former emergency responder and having dealt with responders, I have some feel for the stress related to the job. But I also see a parallel line with people in general.
How well do you sleep at night? Do you sleep at all without help? I don't think emergency responders ever really rest although sleep will fall into the equation somewhere. For the average person, it may be work, money or marital problems or a sick child. We wondered if the alarm would sound in the middle of the night. You may be awakened by a sick cough. Maybe it's a layoff or plant closure. Maybe the last work shift left some nagging questions. Or maybe an emergency run we made three years ago is still proding us. Even something as simple as carrying a radio can have the same effect. How about a cell phone? Do you really sleep or do you find yourself cursing the darkness?
I was told that psychologists call this phenomenon, "Anticipatory Stress" which basically means you worry about these events whether they come to pass or not. That's a pretty rubber-meets-the-road definition but it will do for a simple mind like mine. Also, these events aren't limited to our sleep time. My bet is, our minds are busy anticipating whatever the hour.
It's a big problem. Whatever your chosen field of endeavor, it's what you do and those stressors don't just leave when the sun comes up or when you're finally back in the living room. They pile on. Like WWF'ers in a grudge match, they continue to pile on until those inside stressors show up as outside symptoms. Rest assured, there are some steps you can take such as diet, exercise, relaxation techniques or counseling and they help. They can help ease the load. Just keep in mind that these steps are measures for coping with the stressors of the job but the job is still there. Those outside elements haven't changed. You still sleep wondering when. As a responder, you still see, hear and smell things that you're never going to forget and the best medical science can give us is either counseling to cope or medication to cope.
Next question. How many months or years do we cope before the mask starts to slip? How long until we can't do it anymore? At what point does the day arrive when even our best efforts can't maintain the smile? What do we turn to then? Prescription drugs? Infidelity? Divorce? Family violence? How about alcohol or cocaine? I may sound alarmist to some but I'm not making this up. The problems are there and these things are happening. Folks are trying to cope in some ways your doctor wouldn't exactly call healthy. On the extreme, there are those who end up with a pistol in their mouths. That, or something just as deadly.
Whether it's that first nagging feeling or the last mortal breath, I can almost hear satan laughing. He's laughing because we're being eaten away by the results of our own good intentions. Responders have similar personality traits by which we want to help others. But they are the same traits that are eating us up inside. The average Joe or Joan goes to work every day. At least they try to. It's hard to find or keep a job these days. You want the best for your family. You want your kids to go to college. We want them to be better than we are. And it's eating us up. Our own goodness is nibbling at our sanity. Our best intentions are gnawing at our equalibrium.
In part, it comes from thinking we can do it ourselves. Emergency responders are taught to be self-reliant. To do the job under stress and sometimes under fire. And help can be seen as for sissies. Or so we think. Even those of us who consider ourselves religious will turn to God for help and then take the reins out of His hands and try to drive the buggy ourselves. Never mind that we just ran over three squirrels and the town drunk (figuratively speaking of course). We know where we're going better than anybody, don't we? That rock in the pit of your stomach has a name. It's called "self".
Aren't you tired of dragging around every mistake you ever made? Every death you ever witnessed. The pain that you've seen people inflict on each other? The pain we've inflicted ourselves? Would you like to lay that bag of bricks down and walk away from it? I'm not talking about continuing to drag the sack while numbing yourself with something so you don't feel it as much. I mean, lay it down and walk away. Clean.
When was the last time you honestly felt that clean? I'm talking about baby bottom, powder fresh, squeaky clean. I'm talking about rocky mountain, puppy breath, new born spotless. Has it been months? Years? Never? Well, now's the time. You can leave that bag of guilty bones in the dust and all you have to do is ask. Just accept the gift.
"But, you don't know what I've done," you say. "You don't know how bad I've been".
No I don't. But God does. We're not hiding anything. He knew about David the adulterer, the murderer. Peter the liar. Paul the tormentor. The list is long and wide but nobody ever got so low that Jesus wasn't willing to follow them down. To repeat my favorite author, Max Lucado, "He'd rather go to hell for you than go to heaven without you".
And then there was the thug. The convicted criminal. The John Gatti wanna-be who had the good sense to turn to the mutilated man on the cross beside him and say, "Remember me in Your kingdom". Right now, he's walking the streets of glory with an understanding of love that we can only ponder. Did he do anything to deserve it? No. He just made the right plea to the right man.
God is a 24/7 practitioner and He's listening. The Bible says that when one solitary person comes home, heaven almost bursts at the seams with joy. One lone individual out of billions who's willing to ask the question.
Just one who will say the prayer. Even somebody like me. It's a little awe-inspiring to think that a host of angels broke out in song over my little raggedy self but they did. And did it gladly.
For just a minute, think about a child on his or her knees at bedtime. "Now I lay me down to sleep," she whispers.
I can imagine God leaning forward with anticipation. Maybe He's got His hand cupped over His ear (like He actually needs it).
"I pray the Lord my soul to keep......."
The voice is tiny, almost inaudible. But the message rises and crescendos through the heavens until it hits the ear of God like ten thousand choirs. And there's a party every time.
Does God smile? Oh, yeah.