We lost 19 of them, each one doing what they love: Trying to stay ahead of a wildfire roaring up the mountains. It turned on them, swept over them.
We should all die doing what we love.
But no one should die huddled in a tinfoil tent, hearing the teeth of death grinding up the landscape, breathing smoke into their last-ditch shelter.
It’s hard to understand what drives a soul to fight fire with a spade and chainsaw, even taking in the after-fire gratitude.
The fire that swept over them roars on. The sun will come up tomorrow and beat relentlessly down on the houses with the empty beds and empty chairs and lonely plates and cups–
Those empty spaces will jerk back wives and children, mothers, fathers, siblings to a reality they did not ever want to have to think about or talk about or explain to children who cannot fathom the length of forever so keep asking. The patience of the bereaved weighs heavy as they repeat the horrible words until they themselves believe it: “never coming back.”
I do not believe the simple answer “God has a plan.” Unquestioned plans do not allow for anger, they demand subservience. Even Moses fought with a burning bush, demanding explanations. But bone-deep, I understand laying down your life, risking it all, because you wanted to save a mountain, save a house, save your own soul with a spade and chainsaw.
These firefighters and the others, live the life that matters.
Even now, you matter.
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—Quinn McDonald lost her studio in a fire in 2003, but firefighters saved the rest of the house and cats. They ran toward what others run away from. She will always be grateful.