Once again we find ourselves fast approaching the day when most of our great nation pauses to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It is a time when we like to pause and take our lives out of gear for a few days so that we can slow down and come together with our families and friends. For those of us in the fire service, it works out like that sometimes. At other times we find ourselves rolling out to serve our respective communities. Life in the fire service does not always take a holiday from service to others.
Let me begin this holiday visit with you with a bit of a confession. I am a sentimentalist. In point of fact my friends, I am a teary-eyed, old-movie-loving, there-really-is-a Santa Claus kind of sentimentalist. There are just some times when emotion takes over and the tough guy in me flies out of the window. This is the time of the year geared to take over the emotions of folks who truly care for one another.
One of these moments which affect me so deeply comes at the end of the 1940's movie It's a Wonderful Life, when all of George Bailey's friends come into his home to pay off his debt to the old Bailey Savings and Loan. As the notes of Hark the Herald Angels Sing sound forth, my spirit is always overwhelmed with joy. I like to dwell on the comment made during the movie that no man is truly poor who has friends. Another good message from that 1947 classic is the one which states that every time you hear a bell ring, another angel has received their wings.
There is another movie which also brings forth these feelings of joy in my heart. The other night I sat in front of my television watching Miracle on 34th Street. Surely you must have seen this Christmas classic at least once. You know, the one about the old fellow who believed himself to be Santa Claus. I always tear up a bit when it comes to the part where the court officers bring in the bags of mail to prove that Edmond Gwenn is really Santa Claus.
I believe that both of these movies deal with the sort of kindness and hope which serve as the basis for our celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. While they might not be anything more than a couple of old movies to some of you, it is my belief that they show the human spirit at its best. At a time in the world when selfishness and cynicism abound in our society, it is critical for us to show that there is something really good in the world around us.
That is why I have faith in the concepts of hope, charity, and the basic elements of human kindness which each of us should embody during the Christmas Season. More than that, I strongly believe that these Christian ideals should become a part of our being on a year-round basis. Really, is there any reason for you not to be kind and helpful in July, like you are at Christmas?
In a world of diminishing resources, it is critical for all of us to husband the scarce resources which are available to our departments. Each of us must step forward and do more than we are used to doing. We will need to do the work of those who are no longer available to share the workload. Given the declining staffing levels in both the career and volunteer fire service sectors, let me suggest that the contributions of each of us who remain are now that much more important. As the number of members goes lower, the importance of the contribution by those of us who still turn out becomes that much more important.
Let me suggest that as you enjoy the joyous holiday music which permeates the spirit of this joyous season, I would ask that you make it part of your soul. Let these joyous, holiday tunes motivate you to bring the Christmas spirit to your everyday life throughout the entire year which lies ahead of us.
It is my thought that there is a gift which each of you should consider giving to your fire department. You can give yourself to others. Actually it is a series of three things, each of which is extremely important:
1. Your time
2. Your talents
3. Your treasures
These are not easy gifts to give. You only have so much time in your life. You only have certain talents, and your talents may be different than those of your fellow firefighters. However, these talents exist and they have value. Let me also suggest that your treasures in this case will not be in the form of financial wherewithal. No my friends, I am referring to the knowledge, friendship, trust, hard work, and dedication which you should make available to your fellow travelers in the fire service.
However, this will not always be an easy thing to do. Let me assure you that there are a great many people in this life who will not share your charitable nature and your love of the fire service. Many are the folks who will actually belittle you for believing that what we do is actually an act of charity for our communities. They will not understand the joy that you and I get from helping someone who is in trouble, so they will make fun of you. Suck it up and push on.
As we look forward to the year 2011, please remember that there will be the good days when each of us wants to sally forth from our homes to ride out in defense of our communities. Then there will be the wet days when we might not want to leave our dry homes, but we will. There will be those nights when we really do not want to get up from a snug, warm bed to rush out into a cold night; but we will. And sometimes there will be those times when you are jolted from your daily routine to meet some sudden, desperate need. At other times you will be summoned to respond to yet another alarm call. That is our lot my friends. There is a great deal of uncertainty in what we do.
Do not think for a moment that everyone will appreciate what we do. How many times have you responded to a call for help only to be belittled for this reason or that? What took you so long? How come you broke my windows? Why did you cut a hole in my roof? Even in your own departments you will hear the cry of what have you done for me lately? On and on goes the litany of woes which you and I will be forced to encounter as we seek to do good works in our communities.
That is just the way it is my friends. We do what we do out of love. Sometimes we share a love for our fellow firefighters. At other times we share a love for those who may be in need of our assistance. And at still other times, we will be doing what we do in spite of the other people with whom we respond.
Our time in the fire service is not all peaches and cream. Many are the folks with whom I have worked through the years who simply did not like me. However, regardless of their animosity toward me, I would not let them drive me away from my love for the fire service I have served since 1966.
It took a long time for me to understand that I could not control their feelings about me. I can only control me and how I respond to the world around me. That is something which I would like to share with you, because the same things which impact me will have an impact upon you. In this joyous season of love, do not let a lack of love by some folks depress you or drive you away from the important things that we do as firefighters and fire officers.
Let me suggest that during this Christmas season you should reach out to enjoy the company of others. Do not allow yourself to be walled off from the world and become a latter-day version of Charles Dickens' immortal character Ebenezer Scrooge, hiding behind the curtains of his bedroom, cowering in his bedclothes. The life I am suggesting that you live is best typified by the Ghost of Christmases to Come. You should seek to have an impact upon the world through the simple giving of yourself to others.
I have faith in the message that I am sharing with you about your future in the fire service. Let me share the thoughts of a man from my distant past. He was one of my instructors at the U.S. Air Force Firefighting School at Chanute Air Force Base back in 1966. At our graduation ceremonies which were held on the day before Thanksgiving back in 1966, Technical Sergeant Sherrill shared an important message with all of us.
At that time he told us that there would be good days in our lives, as well as bad days. That was just going to be how life worked. He closed his message to us by stating that he hoped that it was his belief that there would never be a day when we were sorry to have become a member of the fire service.
I am here to tell you 44 years later that he we right. It has been my privilege to have lived a great life within the fire service. In spite of the gloom and doom merchants who populate our 21st Century world, I am here to say that you and I still have a chance to make a great difference in our communities and in our nation. This is part of my faith in the future of our chosen field.
Let me close my message with you today by using a quotation from Miracle on 34th Street when Maureen O'Hara tells her little daughter (the late Natalie Woods) that, "… faith is believing in something when common sense tells you not to." I urge you again to share the gifts of your time, talents, and treasures. Please accept my best wishes for a very Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year.