The Ones Who Run To The Fire

This was originally published about a year ago. In light of the events in Boston yesterday, I thought it was worth sharing again.  JS

The black Lexus screeched to a stop, but not before it hit me.

I was crossing the street in the Montclair district of Oakland, a tidy collection of shops and restaurants in the hills of the city.

I was in the cross walk. I looked to my left. Here came the Lexus. The driver hit the brakes, and the car skidded on the damp pavement.

Instead of trying to run away from the car, I jumped up, apparently hoping the car would slide past me, below me. Since I don’t have the vertical leaping skills of an NBA player, it didn’t work so well. The nose of the Lexus hit my feet, and took them out from underneath me.

I landed on the hood of the car, my head on the windshield.

I’m looking at the driver through the glass, and I mouth to him, “What the fuck are you doing?”

Driver gets out; he’s horrified.

“Are you all right?”

I slide off the hood.

“Yeah, I’m okay.”

“You cut your head, it’s bleeding.”

” I think I bumped the windshield wiper. It’s fine.”

“I am so sorry. I was talking on my phone…”

“Maybe that’s not a great idea. Be careful, man.”

I noticed that of the dozens of people walking on the sidewalk, not one offered to help me.  I remember being quite upset by that, more so than by the bump on my dome I received from that car.

What the hell is wrong with people, I asked myself.  Already not a big fan of the self-absorbed Boomers who inhabit this enclave, I chalked it up to selfishness and mobile phone voyeurism. It’s a new instinct we humans have developed; when we see drama or action on the street, we pull our mobiles out like a cowboy pulls out a revolver, ready to “shoot”.

Then I did a little research.

When we are in a crowd, and an extraordinary event unfolds before us, our first reaction (before we  whip out our iPhones) is to back up a step.

We do this without thinking. It’s our way of protecting ourselves, first. We take a step backwards, away from the danger. When we are able to assess that we are going to survive the event, we then consider our next options – from recording video to post to Facebook to being a Good Samaritan.

Now we know why firefighters, cops and our servicemen and women are so often called heroes.

When danger occurs, their first instinct is to run toward the event.  The switch comes on; they spring to action. They have brains   wired slightly differently than most of us.  They willingly head in the direction of the menace, while the crowd takes that step…back.

These imperfect humans (like us) hurtle themselves in the direction of trouble and threat every day as part of their job, and I admire them for that. They are willing to do what most of us can’t, or won’t.

Reinvention can be scary. Adapting to a sudden change in life can be debilitating for some. Life throws all manner of stuff at us; it’s difficult to be prepared for every ad lib we’re forced to make.

Trying something new is very much like running toward a knife fight.

I wonder if we can learn anything from the women and men who place our safety before theirs.

I’m going to be in San Francisco today.  Curious fellow that I am, I think I’ll walk by SFFD Station #1 on Howard Street and ask one of the guys about their instinct to run to the fire.

I’ll probably get a puzzled look, and perhaps even  a look of subtle indignation. They’ll probably say something like, ‘It’s what we do. It’s what we’re trained to do.”

Yes, it is. Thank you so much.

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