Michelle Martin

God bless you guys

Sunday, August 4, 2013

When I first moved into the house where we live now, I didn’t think too much about the fire station around the corner. It’s about a block and a half away, not visible from the house, and in the city, at least, you’re never really far from a fire station.

It’s always just been part of the neighborhood: the older kids went there on field trips in preschool; we trick-or-treat there at Halloween — they let us take a picture of Frank on the step of the fire truck when he dressed up as a firefighter; we wave when we walk by with the dog.

Then came Teresa. Each child of ours has his or her own quirks. One of Teresa’s is that she gets scared, or at least claims to, every time she hears a siren. And with a busy fire station, home to an engine, a ladder truck and an ambulance, a short distance away, we hear sirens a lot. Several times a day, at least.

When Teresa notices them, she runs to me and flings her arms around whatever part of me she can reach — my neck if she can get there, my legs if I’m standing up — and whimpers a bit.

If I sound less than totally sympathetic, I should note that I’m not entirely convinced of her fear. Maybe at some point it was real; by now, I’m pretty sure she’s enjoying the drama. Especially since she ignores the sirens if she’s doing something more interesting.

In any case, I always respond the same way: by reminding her to say a quick prayer for the firefighters and paramedics, a prayer that normally comes out, “God bless you, guys.” As soon as she says it, she lets go and goes about her business.

Lately, she seems to be acknowledging that her fear is at least partially playacting, coming to hug me and then on her own saying, “Now we say ‘God bless you guys.’” She asked me the other night why we say it, and I reminded her of the other part of the conversation we often have, the one where she asks where they are going, and I tell her I don’t know exactly, but they are going to help someone who needs help, and we want them to be safe.

But I also told her that I know praying for them will make her feel better, because it’s hard to be thinking about yourself and your fear when you are busy thinking about, or doing something for, someone else. Finding it in you to have compassion for others is, in an odd way, the best thing you can do for you.

The other day, after watching the fire trucks drive by, she said she wants to be a firefighter when she grows up. Maybe she will; maybe not. But I think she will keep praying when she hears the sirens go by.