We’re stuck inside today because of the fires. How a swamp- the Okeefeenokee Swamp, to be specific- can burn is beyond my understanding of swamps. We, like much of the United States, have wildfires burning to the north of us, the south of us, and to the west of us. When the wind stops blowing, or blows too hard, or blows from the west, we have a pall of smoke that hangs over us, making our clothes smell funny, the air burn our throats, and keeps us inside. Even on an island, we are impacted.
My mother in New Mexico is impacted by the huge Arizona fire- the one that is out of control, doubling in size, and sending a plume of smoke as far as Iowa. She, too, is spending the weekend inside, with the extra fear that the land around her will burst into flame in moment’s notice and she will have to run. She is 200 miles from the fire, but there is nothing but bone-dry land around her, and the threat is there.
However, irritating and anxiety-producing as it for us, we are not on the front lines. We are not fighting the winds, the lack of rain, the tinder-dry landscape. My heart goes out to the firefighters and their families. I was reading up on the AZ fire, and I found this picture of this man. His name is Jan Koch.
Take a moment and really look at Mr. Koch’s face. I was flipping through a slideshow and all of sudden, I saw it- his face. And it’s a face I recognize. Not him, personally, but his face.
He’s tired. The exhaustion shows in his eyes, his skin, the angle of his head.
His eyes are dark and weary- they have seen more than I can possible imagine. I feel that if I look hard enough, I will be able to see deep in his irises the images of the hellish scenes he has witnessed. He’s trying to smile, but the images in his eyes are more than the smile can touch.
He’s not bursting with bravado; there is no cocky attitude of “Oh, yea- we got this thing beat.” His eyes are steady, recognizing that he is fighting something that is big… bigger than we can really imagine. His eyes demonstrate respect for this fight.
The grime on his face shows evidence of hours of back-breaking work followed by intensity. It is his own sweat, his own tears and the remnants of the fight that leaves its mark on it.
The hat on his head shows that he has equipment and knowledge that will help him. But there is the understanding that tools and training and technology doesn’t win the day. His hard work and the hard work of his team is required- they depend on each other to battle this… thing.
And if you look beyond the bone-deep weariness that threatens to overwhelm him, you’ll see an incredibly stubborn spirit. This is hope without a timeline; he is going to go back to the fire after his picture is taken. He is not giving up, despite every good reason to do so. He plans, and re-plans and re-plans again. He works as a team. And he gets up after a restless sleep to try again, hoping that today will see some progress- any progress.
I do not know this man- but I know his face. His face that looks like so many faces of parents and teachers whom I know. The face of so many people out of work around here. The face of so many veterans who are facing illness and disability. The faces of all of these, within a community that doesn’t know what to do with them- a community that is afraid.
Because I work in the field I do, because I have the family I do, because I live where I live, I see so many people with this same face. I see the faces of families who are fighting the fight of autism, of appropriate services, of human respect. I see the faces of researchers who are trying very hard to get something to happen very fast, because they know that they are running out of time for a child that they know, a child they care about. I see the faces of teachers who are fighting a budget battle, a lack of support and a lack of knowledge.
In all of them, I see the face of tiredness, resoluteness, and grim determination with a flicker of hope. I pray that the hope remains.
The firefights are all around us. When I think of all of the tired faces and I feel the need for hope, a lump comes up in my throat and there is a blurriness in my vision.
Must be the smoke in my eyes.