“Dr. Joe, you’re going to think I’m nuts,” Ann blurted, “But, what do you think if we get our girl scouts to bring food to the firefighters on the fire line at Agua Dulce Canyon”? Ann Christensen was a lady on a mission and was overflowing with that captivating essentiality called enthusiasm.
Every memorable act in the history of the world is a triumph of enthusiasm. Nothing great was ever achieved without it because it gives any challenge a new meaning.
I’ve never been one who has to be convinced to act, especially in the face of enthusiasm. So in less than a New York minute I said, “Let’s do this. Let’s commit the troop. Ann, give me a plan.”
Great things are done by a series of smaller things brought together; that’s the essence of grass roots initiatives. Committing the troop was just such an initiative. What began as a simple gesture of appreciation and goodwill burgeoned into a community effort. The girl scouts came to the rescue trying to stem the tide and do what they could to knock that fire down. I have always believed that no gesture is ever too small and I think that the greatest mistake is to do nothing because one can only do a little. We committed the troop to make a difference.
Life’s great enthusiasms are akin to a grand stage that provides the doer of deeds an opportunity to show one’s true colors, one’s true spirit and gives us an opportunity to define just who we are. The girl scouts rose to the challenge.
Because the nature of fire is unpredictable, the plan to stem the tide necessitated certain fluidity. We had two days to prepare for our onslaught and throughout, our plan adapted accordingly to the situation at the fire line. Troop 889, with help from troops 362 and 1424, would spearhead delivery of collected supplies to Los Angeles County Fire Dept. stations 19, 82, 12, the county sheriff’s department and the Forest Service in Angeles National Forest.
The day prior to the mission supplies were delivered to Ann’s house. There they were categorized and broken down into equal increments and prepped for delivery. I had the toughest job — I sat in the shade staring at the boxes of chocolate chip cookies.
The following day, the scouts began their deliveries. At each station we were greeted and welcomed with open arms by the firefighters. Amid a sincere display of friendliness, openness and hospitality there was a sense of preparation and readiness, as well as a keen awareness of the potential danger that could erupt at any moment.
As I watched the firefighters interact with the scouts, I thought the girls were receiving far more than they were giving. Such is often the case and maybe there is truth to that old axiom that it’s better to give than receive.
We need heroes. They show us the way. They show us what we could be. Firefighters are heroes and put it all on the line when the bell rings. They are often the most gentle, because they have witnessed firsthand the power of violence. They don’t preach the brotherhood of man, they live it. And, sometimes in their job, goodbye is really goodbye. If you have the time, stop by a firehouse and say hello, take them some cookies or a freshly-baked cake.
M. Vassalo wrote, “Bravest hearts who could run into such danger, when life’s sweet and love is true? Who could die to save a stranger? Who live as heroes do?”
That evening as the girls rode back down Angeles Crest Highway, exhilaration prevailed. They experienced a closer connection to cause and effect, but that was incidental to committing the troop. Life’s bigger lesson was perhaps interwoven in the words of Lao Tzu, “What the caterpillar calls the end, the rest of the world calls a butterfly.”
JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor specializing in helping students transition to college. He is a professor of education at Glendale Community College and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or write him in care of the Valley Sun, P.O. Box 38, La Cañada, CA 91012.