Monday, June 12, 2006

The Journey: Breakthrough and Community

Working off the description from the last entry, each journey ends not only with a change in the self, but with admission to a new community of peers.

The blue collar kid in the example becomes a college graduate. He enters a new community and will relate with other members of his new community. He may go home, but it will never feel right. Old friends will treat him differently because he has changed, even if he believes his core is the same. He sees different problems and different solutions in their day to day world. Some will resent him (I've been in many places where 'college boy' is as much an insult as any racial epithet), some will try to latch on to his success (another cliche- how many songs and stories have been based on the plea of a young woman to "take me away from this place"?) But it never fits.

It doesn't end, either. Journies never end. With each passage the hero moves into a new community of people who have shared the path and with each passage the group becomes smaller and tighter and deeper... and more distant from the mainstream.

Emergency Medical Technicians. They go through a complete journey in training, building up to the big test, the "Practical Exam". It's not that hard but it is stressful and many students choke and many have to repeat it, but once you have, you are an EMT. You have joined this elite group and you share things with them that an outsider doesn't really get.

And then you get your first call. No matter how well you did in training, the first real call is always different. And you find there is another community, because the professional EMTs don't see the world the way the rookies do, or the wannabes (the ones who got the certification 'just in case' but never went into the field).

Then there is the first big call- blood and guts and brains and highspeed decisions. A level of responsibility that is almost unbelievable. A sense of accomplishment or failure that is soul shaking... and you graduate to a more elite cadre.

(There is growth all this time, of course, and skills increase and routine decisions are made with easy authority... unless you burn out, a sneaky way of giving up and leaving the path while staying in the community.)

Then there is THE CALL. The one that haunts your dreams and brings up things you never thought to deal with: The decapitated infant. The butchered family. The rape victim. There's a story going around that you aren't a real cop until you taste your own tears. That goes for a lot of Emergency Services personnel. This brings on the dark night of the soul worse than ever before. It gets into your dreams, colors the way you look at every detail of life. You will either burn out, quit, kill yourself, or keep going. If you keep going it might be with understanding or joy or determination... but if you decide to keep going, you will find, on the other side, a helping hand and a very small community of very quiet men. It is a small brotherhood who have come to see things few others have; and they share. Not in a sense that is easy to understand- it's not like Tony or Mauricio or Sean see the world I do or drew the same conclusions from similar events. It's simply sharing that someone else has been through it and survived. That the feelings are okay. That you are stronger and better for the experience.

And at this end, there are clusters of small communities: the officers who have survived shootings are rare and find it easier to talk to each other. The officers who have been hostages are another group. The ones who have recovered from alcoholism. The ones who responded to 9-11. Membership in one group does not give you membership in another.

There is an old saying that 'there are many paths up the mountain', but really there are many mountains. The mountain is a symbol for a heightened perspective. The perspective a fireman gets will show him, perhaps, the preciousness of life in a way that someone who has never risked their own life and saved another can really feel... but it will be subtly different than the perspective of someone who risked his life to save another in a hostage situation and very different from someone who went alone into the wilderness for a long time. All will have heightened perspectives, but they will be different. Different mountains. Different communities of 'heroes'.


The Moody Minstrel said...

The hero's way
Is the way of isolation...

Sorry, that's my song. I think Kami has a recording of it somewhere.

Anonymous said...

And then there are the flip side communities - meth freaks, heroin addicts, armed robbers, sex predators. Do they go through (for them) similar rites of passage, gaining skill through experience and the misery of others? Interestingly, the 'positive' communities of which you speak also deal with the misery of others, but after the fact - we are the 'cleaners and fixers'; the 'negative' communities create the misery. Hmmm - are we, then, co-dependent? enablers? a symbiotic relationship? A relationship that is, in effect, normal for the physics of this universe, for a living population? We all tend to look down on those not in our small group, to dehumanize, to compartmentalize - 'meth freaks' - but maybe criminal is as much a job, a career, a lifestyle as is cop, fireman, EMT. How many of us choose our path, but, instead, find ourselves, if we are lucky enough, walking upon it. And, if we are even luckier (better karma?) find that path to be 'positive'?