Ever notice the difference between a rookie and a veteran? It’s not just their age; it’s their approach and their demeanor. Rookies are “green.” For them everything is new and fun. They’re full of energy, hope and anticipation, willing to suffer most any obstacle just for a chance to chase their dreams. Veterans are slower, more methodical and deliberate; they’ve been here before and while they can possess the same excitement as rookies, it’s controlled. Experience has taught them about suffering and about false hopes. In response, they’ve learned to “work smarter, not harder.”
It’s a sad fact but for most of us, as we move through adulthood we find, as veterans, that life has a way of exhausting us, of dampening our spirit toward even our most adored hobbies. We slow down a bit, taking our time to weigh effort against reward. In many cases it’s mental more than physical, but once it happens, we’ve reached a crossroads where our passions turn monotonous; they lose their appeal, draining us of our interest and enthusiasm maybe not from the act itself, but in the legwork it takes to get there.
I’d never thought much about such things until this past camping season which was to be my son’s first. That’s when, while in the midst of preparations for the upcoming season, I detected something fresh stirring within myself, a sort of awakening I couldn’t quite put my finger on, like rediscovering something that had gone missing. Then, the surprising answer dawned on me. The sensation was a sincere interest in the pre-season details and activities that, when younger, had generated so much excitement, but had over the years, without my noticing it, transformed into more burden than fun. Subconsciously, my youthful zest had slowly melted away with each season. The body was still willing, though barely, but the spirit was indeed weak.
That’s where kids come in. Children have a spark, an appetite for life that invigorates the soul. They rescue us, reviving our passions to keep us going. For veterans, this provides the perfect outlet to thrive through teaching. As veterans we have much to share; from developing instincts and honing skills to passing on traditions of camaraderie. Through the young eyes of a child, the journey can seem new again.
Thankfully, I have that in my son and my daughter. They have an inherent affinity for nature. In them, I see the same innocent eagerness and obsessive attitude that I had. Because of their love of the outdoors, a new inspiration has come over me, making everything seem new again. The effort seems less now. It’s not forced. Their fascination has become my inspiration. I feel privileged for the opportunity to introduce these new experiences to them, to teach them and to share stories and extend wisdom from my mistakes. True, learning about nature comes not by second-hand information but by absorbing it first-hand. The great outdoors are wild and mysterious, adventurous and unknown; it’s about survival and the natural order, about enjoying simple things about life and death. And it’s about memories, ones that we have, ones that we share and ones that we make.
When I consider the eventual end to our first season, I again notice something different within myself, an inner anxiety. It’s the dread of seeing the season go. For the first time in a long time I’m not tired and worn down. Instead I want more. That’s how I know I’m back, and I’ve got company.
General Robert E. Lee once said to “do your duty in all things. You cannot do more; you should never wish to do less.” On that note, I feel honored to have this responsibility of leading the way. It’s exciting and praise worthy. I look forward to the roads ahead. Life is both wondrous and fleeting, making each outdoor activity a blessing and cause for regret. And while none of us know the future or how many more outings we have left, we do have control over today.
When I was young and invincible, I never had such thoughts, but now that I’m older and know how precious the gift of each day is, I think about those things often, especially at the season’s beginning and end. I wonder if it’ll be my last and if I’m doing all that I can do to enjoy and share. I wonder about my step-children and the times lost as they get older.
If your hobbies (& jobs) have become burdens, let me encourage you to get back out there, back to nature, back to the beginning, back to what you love for the same reasons that captivated you in the beginning. If your desire has faded, try mentoring a youngster (new employee) and experience the wilderness (training) with new insight. Someone out there needs you. By exposing them to a new world you’ll also be giving them a lifetime’s journey of activities to focus their time and attention toward, helping to keep them out of trouble.
In the process of helping them, you’ll be surprised to find that you’ll also be helping yourself.
What does this have to do with the fire service? Plenty!!