A Play, in countless Acts

6 mins read

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I’ve known Joni only through Will – and hardly through Will. To be fair, I don’t even really ‘know’ Will. He works at one of our stations and is a largely public and visible figure in our community. I’ve bumped into him a few times, but I haven’t had the opportunity to serve with him.

Joni, Will’s wife, accompanied him on a call through his volunteer fire position in Brant, Ontario.

Shortly after, she wrote a note (poem) about her experience. I read it through and reached out immediately. I had to ask if I could post it here. Take a quiet moment to read her words here, reflect and advance.

This is not a hobby.

A Play, in countless Acts

The call came in, like it often does
Not a test this time.
(Cue radio)
It was the one that snaps you to attention.
The directors call through a megaphone on your hip
into your normal.

We were close, just a block away,
Doing life but pulled
Into a place where time stops.
Where a 4 minute Act feels like a lifetime.

(Cue rain)

The rain fell cold like fall rain does.
Cosmic tears on Church Street. (Irony)
Setting the scene for a soul departed (departing?)
Hanging between death and life

For the first time I was an actor in the slow motion drama.
I heard the cracking which you have heard so many times.
I breathed the breaths.
And counted with you.

I heard the gurgle.
I cant unhear the gurgle.

Time standing still.
Years later … or was it minutes(?)
the supporting characters float into the picture like a well choreographed dance.

The young Daddy to three little girls.
The apple Farmer and the pig Farmer and the dairy Farmer.
The retired County worker.
The Member of Provincial Parliament.
The Machinist.

Together, quickly, quietly performing their parts
All equal.
No leading ladies or men in this Act.
A focused chorus.
Singing from music that feels familiar but they haven’t sung this exact one before.

Playing a part in a script where they haven’t read the last page.
(Ad lib.)

I retreated and sat in the safety of the car.
An audience of one in a silent theatre.
Through wet windows, or was it wet eyes,
I watched you move, seeing the dignity and grace you brought
to the ultimate indignity.
I rub the dirt from my knees and wipe my mouth.
Over and over but it doesn’t feel clean.
(Blur focus)

Valiant effort to the last possible second
Pounding hard, willing life, willing a heart to beat again.
Right to the final page in your copy of the script.

(Insert Hopeful music here? Or mournful ?
change as needed )

Flashing lights red and blue,
Illuminating the scene with more players.

You stand in a huddle near the closed doors
Where others have taken the Lead

You can rest now.
I see you look at each other.
No words needed.

You know.
You know.

You saw the lifeless eyes staring wide and blue
At the grey sky.
Now you need to look for a moment in the eyes of those who saw them too.

Collect items scattered on the lawn,
Pack up defibrillators and adhesive backings,
Helmets and gloves.
Evidence of a grand struggle .
The set and costume and props for a drama you choose to participate in.

You are paid sometimes in joy, victory, a save.
(Cue applause)

And sometimes the Cheque made in your name is heartache,
And a copy of the horror movie you played a role in, that you cant unsee.
No matter how loud you turn up the music, or how fast you run, or how much you drink.
The high pitched gibberish sound of rewind and the slow, monsterous replay.
(Cue flashback )

Breathe out.
The curtain drops, your scene is over
Take off your gear, hang up the costumes for the next show
and go back to being as you were.
If you can.

Back to the errand… what was it I needed?
Back to work.
Back to life.

Teenagers laugh on the street as they walk home from school.
As they should.
Carefree for now.

But you just played a part in “Life and Death”
And it was recorded against your will,
It plays at the worst times, unbidden it comes,
Jarring. Like a cell phone ringing in church.
Awkward. Unwanted.

And the Directors call could come again any moment.
(Cue radio)

And you will go.
You will join the crew, step into costume and answer the call.
Again and again and again.
Because greater love has no one than this…

Joni Westerink Bouma, St. George, Ontario

Bill Dungey is a volunteer firefighter in Ontario, Canada. He is focused on fitness, mindset development and finding training opportunities to help the fire service make things better.

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