Every week it seems we’ll be standing at a scene — fire, crash or a medical call — and a firefighter will shrug and say, “Life sucks and then you die.”
It’s part just firefighter stoicism and little bit of “seen it all.” But it remains my favorite summation of firefighter existential wisdom. It plays to our natural perspective of going dark first. And yet, firefighters are not by nature dark people. The aren’t wandering the streets, moaning about problems or the futility of life, or that life has no meaning…
Rather, they just accept life for what it is. Which is why when someone says yet again, “life sucks and then you die,” the rest of us usually smile and nod. Because we know what it really means:
“Life is being born and loved by your parents, first crush, having a sister die, grieving, falling in love, having your heart broken, breaking someone’s heart, doing work that you like, being fired, being overlooked, getting married, getting divorced, being depressed for a year, getting married again, watching your kids come into the world, falling madly in love with your kids, being told you’re not good enough, being told you’re the one, being with your kids as they grow, being away when they need you, having your heart drop holding a sick child when a doctor shakes her head and says it’s Leukemia, being in the mountains, being by the sea, leaving a job you hate, losing all your confidence, losing all your money, getting angry, getting drunk, being ecstatically happy for no reason. Finding work you love. A friend dies of cancer, grieving, the burning feeling in your legs after a long run, having happy kids, having a depressed child, comforting your kids, watching them have a first crush, laughing with friends, holding a child who was dumped, or fired, or kicked out of school, comforting your parents, losing your way. Laughing with your dad. Watching him die, watching your mom slip into dementia. Going to weddings, dancing at a wedding. Getting drunk at you dad’s wake. Seeing grandkids, being in love. Forgetting the name of the woman you’ve lived with for forty years. Standing in the middle of a grocery store wondering where you are. And then you die.”
This, my friends, is what is truly meant by “life sucks and then you die.” It’s not all dark, it is all shades of color and light. But it is a ride down the rapids and over the falls. All at the speed of life, which is slightly slower than the speed of light.
We have a choice. We can go dark, lose our courage, lose our way and think, “please just get me safely through all this to my death!”
Or, we can see this as a miracle (however you take the word miracle to mean). We are alive and we are here. For a blink in time, living, thinking, loving: We are here!