My wife and I both are part of our local volunteer ambulance service. It’s all the island has, and I feel a very small cog in among a group that anyone (with any brains at all) would realize are a precious resource. Of all the emergency services we are the most frequently called (that doesn’t mean we don’t want and need the rest. It’s like a helmet. You don’t want it until you get hit on the head.) But it’s interesting because you get to see people at their worst – and paradoxically, sometimes their best. You also get to see who moves towards the sound of the guns (metaphorically at least), because there is the reality that you’re possibly going to be in danger, and certainly have to take hard decisions, quickly and decisively. Sometimes those decisions are for yourself (which is for me, anyway, easier) and sometimes those decisions have the life or future well-being of the patient in one’s not very expert hands.
We train a lot, and I try to never miss a session. I am frankly aware of the responsibility I carry and I want as much knowledge and skill as I can get – because I am scared (that doesn’t stop me moving toward the sound of the guns). But it ain’t the same, because when you get it wrong, no one is dead, and you know that. In the real thing, you’re responsible not only for yourself, but you take on responsibility for other people and their friends and families. Here, likely as not, you know them and friends and families. It’s not the big-city impersonal. Anyway, today my wife had to make one of those decisions. She could have left it to someone else, but instead she took the right steps. Not complicated or vast steps, just quick and decisive. She save the patient’s life, by doing that, and I am incredibly proud of her… and yet, I know her. That’s what I expect. That is what she is.
Sometimes we forget, when dealing with the assholes, the petty bureaucrats, the sort of people who demand government helps or fixes their problems but never raise a hand to help themselves or anyone else (and we provide free services to these too – and usually get pretty little by way of thanks, despite the fact that we give everyone the best we can), that actually humans have some wonderful people among them. The little old lady who just won’t call until morning – even though she’s in agony and you’ve told her, repeatedly and personally, just to call, anytime. The guy with a badly dislocated ankle who must have been in such pain he had no idea who came to his rescue – but made our job as easy as possible – and then bothered to find out who it had been, and send us thanks…
It’s interesting (as a writer) that until they get into extremis, you just can’t easily tell. Well… mostly you can’t tell. The braggart who tells everyone how tough he or she is… usually isn’t. It doesn’t seem predicated on sex or skin-color or orientation (funny how utterly wrong modern literature is on this. These superficial markers are actually kind of irrelevant). From the consideration and appreciation point of view money seems more of a predictor. The richer (especially second or third generation), the more inclined many (certainly not all) are to take you for granted. I think, like the bottom edge of people who never work but rely on government welfare – they assume we’re paid for what we do, by the state. The people most likely to show most consideration and appreciation tend to be what I would call the battlers – often the hard-working poor (or who have worked up from that), the self-employed, the farmers, the elderly (many of whom are from that subset, anyway).
In a curious mirror of that, those who move toward the sound of the guns… are disproportionately from that group. They are my heroes and my role models. The people I want to be like, the people I want to support. They’re the characters I use for heroes in my books…. Because, well, I know them, they’re real. And it makes a change to showcase what humans can be, can do. Yes, it’s fiction. But really, when well written, we all know those people, and when all the media bull is pushed aside, we all know this is what they will do. From the soldier on guard in some hellhole, so pampered urbanites can have the freedom to abuse them, to the firefighter who risks his life (and his family risks him too) in a burning building some ‘mostly peaceful protestor’ set afire, to the Ambulance Officer crawling into a smashed car to stop the patient bleeding out, to the cop answering the call that might get them shot, to the farmer barely making a go of it, up at four to milk and working into the dark – at the mercy of the weather and the supermarkets, and worst, the government… yep. Those are your real heroes.
As we head into dark days (economics don’t look good, let alone anything else), maybe it is a good idea to remember they’re there, as much part of humanity as breathing. The moron who thinks tearing down a statue, or burning someone’s livelihood is heroism… we have those too. But we are also a species who builds, preserves, rescues, and gives of themselves. You’ve got to take the rough with the smooth, and in tough times eventually the diamonds survive the grinding and destroy the wheel.