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Man on Fire
Photo: MorgueFile
The summer after my freshmen year in college, I had a singular focus that I think may be particular to nervous young men who have been in the situation that I was in. After meeting a dream of a woman winter quarter, I quickly came to the realization that I would never be able to breathe quite right if she was not part of my life.

We had strolled through mall where there were jewelry stores and while she casually commented on how amazing this ring or that ring was, my heart would systematically skip rope, high jump and go through a ju jitsu routine in my chest. I would file away each and every one of her comments about which rings she liked in particular, because I knew that before long I would become what every jewelry counter attendant dreamed about: Easy prey.

But before I could buy a ring, I had to be able to afford a ring. I had overheard a friend in the dorm talking about how every summer he made enough cash to buy a small island, and I knew I had to get in on that action. The action that I wanted to get in on was wildland fire fighting. You know, every summer when it seems that half of the western United States seems to going up in a blaze on every cable news station? That was kind of action I was going to get in on. And get in I did.

Singular Focus

What my friend had forgotten to mention while regaling me with tales of coin filled swimming pools was that not only was this work dangerous and exciting, which I was stoked about, but that it would be the hardest job ever imagined multiplied to the fourth power. He did not mention fire crew chiefs that woke you up at four in the morning by kicking whatever looked like a human lump inside your tent. He did not tell me that I would work for sixty hours straight on a strike team trying to outrun a fire headed towards farm houses. He did not tell me that I would smell like smoke for two months after fire season was over. And he certainly did not tell me that we would not get paid until the government wrote the checks months and months after I had fought the last fire of the season. But did I mention that I had a singular focus.

That fall I made a hawkish saleswoman very happy when I walked into a jewelry store right after cashing my share of forest fire loot. I worked harder for that engagement ring than any piece of metal deserves, but also as hard as such a powerful idea demands. If we pursued the ideals of peace, justice and hope in the same manner that I pursued that engagement ring, this war torn earth would be transformed a million times over. I pray that I will pursue peace, justice and hope today as if being chased by a forest fire.

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By Garrett Gladden. Copyright © 2007 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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