Losing the Inspirer, Not the Inspiration

Millions of events, tiny or catastrophic, occur in a person’s lifetime and lead that person to become who he is. Each one of us is guided, to some extent, by these events. We make choices based on these events. We fight against them. We embrace them. We accept or deny them. We learn from them, expand on them, prevent their recurrence, or are inspired by them.

It is one of the inspiring events that I ponder today. Twenty-six years ago, my husband decided to become a fireman. In job interviews, many prospective firefighters will say, “I’ve wanted to be a firefighter since I was a kid.” It is likely an honest, yet vague, canned answer. My husband can pinpoint the exact moment he felt called to serve his community, to save what lives he could, and to devote his life to firefighting.

When he was ten years old, my husband spent the night at his aunt and uncle’s house. His uncle, his cousin and he were all going to get up before sunrise and be in the woods by the time the deer started walking. An event happened that derailed these plans. In the early morning hours, someone pounded on the front door of the house. My husband heard and went to wake his aunt and uncle. The sight they saw when they opened the door was enough to make a boy of 10 cower, but my husband took it all in.

The house across the street was engulfed in flames. The adults, whose room was over the garage, had jumped out the window and both suffered crushed bones and broken legs. The mother dragged herself across the street to wake her neighbors for help. There she lay, badly broke and frantic, on the front step, pounding on the door, begging for help.

My husband’s aunt called 9-1-1 and tended to the woman. My husband’s uncle, knowing that in an all-volunteer town in the middle of the night rescuers would be precious and lengthy minutes away, sprang into action. The husband was injured, but was out of the house. The couple had a son who was paralyzed from the neck down and in the chaos, no one knew if he was home.

My husband’s uncle, Uncle Homer, was already one of those people who was more than just a relative or just a friend. He was the embodiment of knowledge, honor, respect, discipline, life lessons and this night he became the mold upon which my husband based the rest of his life’s decisions. Uncle Homer wasted no time in grabbing a blanket, soaking it through with water, throwing it over himself and running into the burning house to try to rescue the paralyzed boy. My husband watched in awe and fear for his beloved mentor. Homer emerged safely and as it turned out, the boy was still in a hospital therapy program an extra day longer than he was supposed to be there. Thankfully no one was killed. But a fire was lit inside my husband that night.

Last week, we laid Uncle Homer to rest. In his small town that is still all-volunteer, this man, a postal worker by profession is deeply missed already. His Southern drawl, his talent for good cooking that can put Paula Deen to shame, his sound advice, his farming skills and his endlessly creative playfulness with my girls are all things I will miss.

But my husband has lost so much more. He lost his mentor in the hunting world; the man who gave him one bullet and said, “Make it count.” He lost the knowledge of Uncle Homer’s lifetime of outdoor and farming skills that we are just getting wise enough to want to learn. He lost the man who shaped the man my husband has become. He lost his inspirer, but the inspiration lives on in our lives and the lives of many others touched by these events and these choices.