Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Question

One of my writing group friends had an interesting comment the other night after reading a chapter from the first draft of my book.

“Tell me about the emotions you are feeling when dealing with such a critical situation,” he said.

I gave him a terrible answer that didn’t really encompass how it really is. This is what I should have told him.

You don’t really “feel” during the incident. You have to perform. Any feelings are buried deep inside. If you let your emotions come out at that time, the job wouldn’t get done.

Even afterward, we don’t handle things the way one might expect. Firefighters are witness to many ugly tragic events. The longer you do it, the more of them you see. Everyone deals with these things differently.

I compartmentalize these incidents. You can’t think about them constantly or even regularly or you’d go crazy. I stick these them in a corner of my mind behind a door in an attic room that only gets visited on occasion. You have to go there every so often to maintain your humanity, but not so often as to destroy your ability to do the job.

Everyone who does this job for an extended period of time is a very different person than they would have been had they done something else. You can’t see and experience the things we do and not have it change who you are.

For myself, I think it has made me more immune to people’s suffering, harder, and more distant. Not because I don’t care, but as a protective mechanism.

At the same time, it has made me more sensitive. I avoid sad movies; simple things like the boy’s dog getting shot that have little or no effect on “normal” people who find such stories entertaining. These bother me.

The way I look at it, I go out and expose myself to real world tragedies. I don’t want to watch a movie or television program about fictional one’s for entertainment purposes.

Probably not the answer he would expect, but its how it is; for me at least.

1 comment:

Jeanne said...

I hear you, Gary. Working with people in crisis, there is no time or room for immediate emotional reaction. You work through it, one step at a time. Later you can look back and shake or cry or put your feelings in the attic. I avoid emotional, dramatic movies because they exhaust me. I deal with emotion and drama all day and I deal with it effectively and professionally. To choose to deal with it again in the form of entertainment is ludicrous.
Give me a good Bugs Bunny/Elmer Fudd episode any day.