Reflecting the Light

Yesterday, the Raleigh Fire Department laid to rest one of its own, Captain Scott Nipper.  I didn’t know Scott that well, enough to speak to him when I happened pass through  Station 1 on a B-shift day (sorry Chief, after 22 years it’s still a “shift” to me, not a “platoon”), but that’s about all.  There are some things I can tell you about him, though, because there are certain, fundamental character and personality traits that are very common among firefighters.  Things like an addiction to adventure, a twisted sense of humor and a love of people.  I’ve always thought that many  firefighters have, at the very least, a mild case of Attention Deficit Disorder.  I say that because most of us would rather crawl through 100 yards of broken glass than spend our lives in an office, chained to a desk.  Even the people who make it to upper management still feel this way, deep down; it’s why they hang around fire stations and show up on those early morning fires.  But, the one thing that I, and every other person who has ever put on their turnout gear, hooked their up their Scott mask and humped an inch and a half into a building with smoke banked down the floor that’s so black you can’t see your hand in front of your face, have in common with Captain Scott Nipper is a desire to serve others.  We don’t like to talk about it, though.  We don’t see ourselves as heroic, or special, or any other superlative that might be applied.  In fact, when civilians come up and thank us for “our service”, it makes uncomfortable; in our eyes, we’re just doing our job.  Even though we don’t say it, it’s more than just “our job”.  It’s our calling.  I think this story told by noted peace activist, Alexander Papaderos explains why we feel that calling very well:

“When I was a small child, during the war, we were very poor and we lived in a remote village. One day, on the road, I found the broken pieces of a mirror. A German motorcycle had been wrecked in that place.  I tried to find all the pieces and put them together, but it was not possible, so I kept only the largest piece. This one. And by scratching it on a stone I made it round. I began to play with it as a toy and became fascinated by the fact that I could reflect light into dark places where the sun would never shine–in deep holes and crevices and dark closets. It became a game for me to get light into the most inaccessible places I could find.  I kept the little mirror, and as I went about my growing up, I would take it out in idle moments and continue the challenge of the game. As I became a man, I grew to understand that this was not just a child’s game but a metaphor for what I might do with my life. I came to understand that I am not the light or the source of the light. But light –truth, understanding, knowledge–is there, and it will only shine in many dark places if I reflect it.  I am a fragment of a mirror whose whole design and shape I do not know. Nevertheless, with what I have I can reflect light into the dark places of this world–into the black places in the hearts of men–and change some things in some people. Perhaps others may see and do likewise. This is what I am about. This is the meaning of my life.”