CHRISTMAS for Very First Responders: the Gift of Resilience

So how do you really feel about Christmas this year? Some folks just can’t get enough of the Christmas music; they marvel at the decorations adorning downtown areas and neighbhorhoods aglow. They are able to connect with child-like delight as the whole multi-sensory extravaganza once again unfolds before their eyes. Some years I can join in with these perpetual kids. I hope that everybody can.

But there are also plenty who are  just exhausted by the time December 25 rolls around, or anxious about what “Auld Langs Cry” will sound like this year when the family gets together again. They count down the days and hold their breath until all the hubbub has passed. Others, because of religious differences or unhealed crises of faith may travel through this season like folks on their annual trek into a neighboring country with passport in hand–not gleeful, not particularly bothered by the religious message, just feeling a return of that yearly sense that they simply don’t belong.

To keep grounded amidst the stress and expectations every December brings, I remind myself  that the season will not magically perfect our families, exempt us from mayhem, or protect us from tragedy. For me it is ultimately a time to sift through the good and tangled of life here South of Heaven, to breathe in a message that indeed originates from Christianity but can also be affirmed by those of different faith orientations: The Creator, who is Light, and in whose image we are all made, still loves us and  is Here for us in the midst of it all. I’m not trying to impose this belief on others. It’s just what I believe.

Yet my grasp on this comforting truth is admittedly quite slippery at times because as you each know, those of us who do crisis work  don’t spend most of our time “Under the Spout where the Glory comes out” as the hokey ole 50’s hymn goes. We choose to stand strategically under the Other Spout. You know, the one where the, um, Humanity comes out! Oh, and there’s this: we aren’t exempt from our own personal crises, right? That combo can create what many members of our 911 Family can both relate to: a crisis of faith. Often sitting elbow to elbow with members of our incredible 911 Family, telecommunicators’ will sound the “amen”: this work does challenge our faith. They will say, in so many words:

“If only the general public knew what really happens out there in one day–they have no idea!” These telecommunicators are referring to that bizarre mix that comes pouring in through their headsets during the Holidays when supposedly “all is calm, all is bright…”. Dispatchers, like trauma therapists, are containers that get stuffed– not full of toys like Santa’s Big Bag– but with all the unfortunate, tragic, and unnecessary-ugly stuff that goes on in the lives of callers. 

So, maybe you’re thinking, Okay, thanks Marshall, for the nice depressing message, you Grinch. Merry Stinking Christmas to you too. Are you always such a downer?

Hold on already! I’m not finished yet.

Here’s the point: Crises of Faith, cynicism, and skepticism are common among emergency responders. And while we may not get all jazzed up by the loud, frenzy and glitter of commercial Christmas, we don’t have to cheat ourselves of the Comfort of the real Christmas message. The unexpected pathway to peace amidst stress and unanswered questions may be this: to accept our doubts AND allow that, maybe, just maybe the Season’s glitter and all the frenzy is a Gift of Strength and a sign of human RESILIENCE–folks refusing to give up despite hardship.

Truth be told, I’ve seen some dispatchers wearing tinsel and elf hats at their consoles.

I hope this Christmas you’ll have or make a little time to breathe in the true Message of Christmas–that you are Significant, you are Loved…and to find and express gratitude for the imperfect beauty around you.

Peace to you!

Jim Marshall,

911 Wellness Foundation

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