Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Fire-fighter (10/05/06)
By Bonnie Derksen
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“Hi, it’s Jim. How’s Philip?”
Molly blew her nose, then exhaled loudly.
“Bill just called. The doctor was in, things don’t look good.”
Now it was his turn. He felt the lump in his throat and tightness in his chest. Jim blew out a shaky breath to still his quivering chin.
“Do you mind if I stop by…one more time?” He’d almost said “last”. There shouldn’t be “last” when it concerned a six-year-old.
“That’d be great, Jim. Philip would love to see you. I’m heading back there now.”
It took half an hour to get through traffic. It seemed like forever.
Hard to believe he’d only known this family for six months. He remembered the call from the “Make A Wish Foundation” explaining Philip’s desire. The next day, he gave Philip and his parents a tour of the station, took them driving in the ladder truck with lights flashing, sirens blaring. Turns out it was a pivotal moment, not just about making Philip “Fireman For A Day”.
He pictured Philip with the fireman’s helmet perched, lopsided, on his towhead and had to swallow around the lump again.
He was Philip’s age when his buddy’s house across the street burnt to the ground while the entire family was trapped inside. That day Jim determined to use his energy to fight the very thing that took his friend’s life.
He’d been in the force thirty years now. He had fought countless fires, had seen plenty of pain, torment, anguish and ended up losing his own family, sacrificing his happiness, in the process. Like a fire, the childhood memory consumed him.
Jim, the workaholic, became an alcoholic to try and extinguish the pain of another loss.
Gradually, he soured to life in general. He became surly and angry; if asked, would admit he didn’t believe in God. How could he when he saw, and experienced, so much needless hurt?
But then the Foundation had called.
Things had come to a head the night before. In desperation, he had shouted through the haze of “one too many” drinks. “If you’re there God, then prove it. I’m empty like this room, ‘cept for this ache.”
And God had indeed proven himself. After the call and the drive in Engine 59, he had become a weekly part of the family’s life, eventually accepting an invitation to their church.
Through Philip’s valiant fight with leukemia, Jim discovered strength and peace he hadn’t known still existed. He asked Jesus to move into the ashes of his heart and now he was connected to the source of Philip’s strength. He confidently faced each day without the bravado of alcohol.
If his Barbara could only see him now, maybe she would change her mind about him.
Room 206. Jim took a deep breath, walked through the door, and absorbed the scene before him. Bill was stretched out on a recliner in the corner, eyes closed. Molly was reading to Philip from his children’s bible.
Jim smiled at the irony. Philip’s favorite bible characters were the three “dudes” who were thrown into a fiery furnace, only to come out unscathed by the heat.
“Jesus, gave them special suits Cap’n Jim.” Philip, eyes sparkling with excitement, had explained on a previous visit. “That’s the kind I’m gonna wear when I grow up and fight fires.”
“Cap’n Jim. You came.” Philip called weakly.
He looked into Philip’s eyes, though affected by the advanced stages of the disease and pain medication; they were lit with hope found beyond the hospital room. Even cancer had not been able to penetrate it.
Jim perched on the edge of the bed, held Philip’s hand and smiled as he talked intermittently. The hiss of oxygen, beeping monitors and strong scent of disinfectant would be forever attached to this memory.
When Philip looked too weak to carry on, Jim stood awkwardly. “Gotta get back to work, buddy.” He bent down and carefully hugged Philip around the tubes and wires. As he moved to leave, Philip, the would-be-fireman, managed to raise his arm in a farewell salute.
Back at the station, with paperwork untouched on the desk before him, Jim prayed for strength and courage for Bill & Molly. He thought of the fires he would fight, the life he would continue to live and asked God for a “special suit” of grace and peace, just like Philip’s.
Six hours later, he got the call from Molly.
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