Sunday, July 20, 2008

Ticking away the moments

Life is short.
Stop and smell the roses.
Live like you were dying.
Live like there's no tomorrow.

There are many of these little bits of advice, all about appreciating the moment, and not putting things off until it's too late.

Everyone knows that life has no guarantees, that any moment could be your last.

Most people happily ignore this for most of their lives, until something happens that forces them to pay attention to it. Some tragedy, usually. And most often, this tragic thing has already happened before people pay attention, and then it's too late to do anything about it.

Being a volunteer EMT/firefighter has given me new perspective.

The obvious thing is that EMTs are sometimes in a situation to appreciate how very quickly and easily life can end. That moment between living and dying is so very brief.

But fortunately, that happens relatively rarely.

What affects me far more is something that happens all the time.

It's this:

I wear a pager now.

At any moment- and I do mean ANY moment- that pager could go off, and I'll need to immediately stop whatever I'm doing, and take off. I could be sleeping. I could be eating. I could be in the shower. I could be grocery shopping. Filling the car with gas. Writing this blog. Anything.

Most of the time, it's not a big deal. Most things can be interrupted without much difficulty.

But some things are challenging.
Like if I've just put something in the oven.
Or I'm on the phone, and the other person is just answering.
In the register line at the store, with a cart full of frozen food.
Waiting for dinner to be served at a restaurant.
Having just sat down on the toilet (you knew it had to be on the list).

What this means is that I need to pay attention to what I'm doing, and have a plan for if I have to go on a call. For example, I might be sure someone else knows when to take food out of the oven. I warn students that a class might need to be suddenly canceled. I tell anyone I make an appointment with that I might have an emergency and not be able to make it, and let them know what I will do if that happens. I consider back-up rides for my kids. I have to anticipate whatever of these sorts of complications there might be.

Someone in our fire company told me that if he is in the grocery store when there is a call, he puts his cart in the beer cooler and comes back for it later. Interesting idea. I've yet to use it.

The other thing I've had to learn to do is not to procrastinate.
There's the long term "don't put things off" because you never know if you'll get hit by a bus tomorrow, but that's kind of abstract, and doesn't really affect what I do or don't do. Sure, it's POSSIBLE that I'll get hit by a bus or suffer some other calamity, but none of those scenarios are particularly LIKELY.

What DOES affect it is having a paper or exam due... if I put off studying or writing until the last minute... what if there's a call in that last minute? Oops. I can't let that happen. So I've learned to do assignments as soon as possible, because I really DON'T know if I'll have time to do them tomorrow. This goes for anything that is time-sensitive. It is relatively likely that we'll have a call between the time something is assigned, and when it is due. The question is mostly WHEN that call will happen. I don't want to end up not having a cake for my kid's birthday because I was "going to" make it, but ran out of time.

And you know what?  All of life is like that. I don't want to run out of time, period.

Learning to build flexibility into any plan is a very good thing.
Having a plan B, and a plan C, is a good thing.

Prioritizing everything is also a good skill to have.
It's good to be able to change focus quickly, and to stay in the moment and go with what needs to be done.

All of these skills are directly related to fencing, so this cross-training is beneficial all around.

But I swear, if I hear another page for one assistant chief to call another that sets off my pager and has me in my shoes and out the door before I realize it isn't an emergency...

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