What Does Not Kill You Will Make You Stronger

It is life’s greatest opportunities that are so often missed in the midst of living life.

Have you ever thought about how boring life would be if you got everything for which you wished?  There have been times when things were not going my way, and I wished something good would happen.  There were times when it seemed as though my wish was granted. And other times, it seemed that they were not.  And as you might imagine, the law of percentages was usually working against me.  There was, I believe, a certain degree of randomness to all of this.

It is my desire that you know I have learned an important lesson from this.  Through the years I learned to enjoy the things I received because of the things I did not receive. Things that appeared to be bad, at the time, came to be seen as good, in the long run.  At other times I have ended up in a far better place because of the things that I did not receive, or the failures I have endured.  If it seems that I am seeking to confuse you, please stay with me.

It has been my distinct privilege to serve in the fire service for more than 47 years.  I have had the distinct honor and privilege of being a small part of one of the greatest elements of American Civilization.  I have been an active member of the American Fire Service.  I have seen it up close and personal in many different settings.  In each case we were there to protect and service the citizens of our community.

Let me take you back in time a bit.  Back in 2002, in the immediate wake of 9/11, President Bush stated at the Fire Service Caucus Dinner, on April18, 2002, “… the fire service has become the face of America to many in the world today.”  So it has been for many years now, with the Boston bombing being the latest example of seeing the fire service in the forefront of that city's response to the bombing attack.

I have met a number or really great people, more than I could ever recall. My personal successes have been many, and the number of people I have helped is beyond my ability to recall.  In addition, it is my belief that I have met people from just about every state in the union, as well as a number of foreign countries.  The experience has been truly amazing.

I have been blessed with the opportunity command brave firefighters in pitched battle against the Red Devil of Fire.  It has also been my good fortunate to share knowledge with people in the training and educational arenas.  It has been my good fortune to be allowed to help and support some of the finest, bravest people in the whole, wide world. 

However, I want to share with you an important fact.  All of this success has occurred because of a failure earlier in my life: a failure I have worked hard to overcome.

During the course of the last 47 years, I have been fortunate enough to rise from the position of handlineman, riding backwards on a U.S. Air Force crash-fire-rescue vehicle, to that of serving as the chief of a fire department.  There have been a great many stops in between, some good, some not so good.  The road has not always been smooth, but the trip has been exciting.  And there was always the fun of the next challenge.  Oh how boring life could have been if I had not experienced the challenge of failure early in my life. 

Let me tell you that the genesis of this commentary came about many years ago during a train trip to Washington, DC.  As our Metroliner passed by the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, the memories began to flow into my mind's eye.  As we moved slowly past the classic lines of Franklin Field, I turned to my dear friend Jack Peltier and remarked that it had actually been my good fortune to have played football in that hallowed shrine of Ivy League football.

In addition it had also been my great good luck to have also walked the hallowed halls of that ancient institution founded by Benjamin Franklin more than 270 years ago.  During my time at Penn, I had experienced the joy of athletic success, and the agony of academic defeat.

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