Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More

Prayers For Firefighters

Cowboy Cottage, East Napa, California, USA

August 15, 2015

"There won't be a wildfire because I say  there won't be an wildfire. And if I change my mind, you'll know because you'll hear the roar."  ... Laurence Platt borrowing from   
This essay, Prayers For Firefighters, is the companion piece to

Napa Valley, California, USA - 2:36pm Saturday September 7, 2002
Wragg Fire smoke threatening a vulnerable Cowboy Cottage

Because there are so few acres of virgin brush, most of it having been replaced by many square miles of meticulously manicured landscaped vineyards in the Napa Valley, the wine country  in California I call home, the chances of experiencing a catastrophic wildfire here are low but not zero. So far in the twenty five years I've lived here, we've dodged the bullet on this one many times, although the communities surrounding us haven't been quite so fortunate. Apparently nobody's told airborne embers and smoke we prefer it if they stay near the fire which produced them. So whenever there's a wildfire close by, I can tell even before I see it on the morning news: my eyes burn and my throat goes dry and starts itching. The mist at dawn seems a lot thicker than usual until I notice it's actually blended with smoke. After the mist evaporates, the smoke remains in the sky, blanketing everything: dark, dirty, ominous. It's summer in California, which means it's wildfire season again.

What goeswith  (as Alan Watts may have said) that burning, dry itchy sensation in my eyes and throat, is the awful realization that someone (no, not just "someone" - many families  actually) nearby are standing around, watching hopelessly and helplessly as their homes, possessions, and property are incinerated. They're wondering how to prioritize what they should save (that is, if it's even possible to save anything at all). They're grieving pets and livestock (and possibly relatives too) who were killed by the blaze. They can't even begin  to itemize the wildlife, deer, jackrabbits, lizards, squirrels, field mice, baby birds, and slow moving tortoises etc who stood no chance  of outrunning the flames and were burned alive. They're wondering where they'll sleep that night. Wherever it is, it won't be in their own bed, that's for sure - not unless they're planning on sleeping in a pile of water soaked ashes. Can you even begin to imagine what that must be like? Your entire house and almost everything that's precious and dear and meaningful to you  in the whole world, is a charred, twisted, melted, devastated, sodden mess. What's that  like?

Every so often I find myself complaining about something. What it is I actually complain about isn't my point here (that's a subject for another conversation on another occasion). But I do complain about things from time to time. And the things I do complain about? I'm of the opinion they're worth  complaining about. Yet when you see the aftermath of a wildfire on the morning news, replete with empty swaths of what once were family homesteads with nothing but charred brick chimneys left standing (in some cases but not always, you may vaguely distinguish what's left of a driveway), now that's  something really worth complaining about. In comparison with the aftermath of a wildfire, on scale of one to ten the baddest  issue I've ever  complained about surely ranks only about a minus eight or lower.

With all that said, the truth of the matter is however catastrophic and even as apocalyptic  as this scenario may be, it would assuredly be much, much  worse if it weren't for the women and men who voluntarily, in full possession of all their lucid and sane faculties, actually take on fighting these devastating, hellish infernos ie whose job  it is to fight wildfires. I wonder who they are. I wonder how  they are ie what kind of people are they who take this on? I wonder where they come from. Theirs isn't comfortable  easy work in an air-conditioned office. It's not even warm  work from which they can take time off to jump in the swimming pool to cool off, or take a cold shower during a break. For starters, one of the factors which contributes to the plethora of California summer wildfires is the baking hot oven-like dry heat which often approaches 105° Fahrenheit and more - day after day, week after week, summer after summer after summer.

Now get this: a wildfire burning in only three feet of brush can easily generate temperatures of 1,472° Fahrenheit. Add that to the 105° Fahrenheit day temperature. Then add to that  the protective firefighting gear they wear which would cause a huge increase in body temperature even on a cold day. Then add to that  the weight of the firefighting equipment they carry which, if bench pressed in a gymnasium, is sure to raise a sweat all of its own. Oh, and of course hopefully the flames don't actually come in contact  with them. We all know there's a good chance they may. We all know the consequences if they do. So listen: when you and I complain about the summer weather, saying "Gee, it's really hot today!" (or when we complain about anything at all, for that matter) ... no no no, it doesn't even come close  to this.

OK, lets get this straight: firefighters take all this on voluntarily?  They choose  this job? Putting their own lives on the line? To protect others?  Risking losing it all so others  and their property can be safe? And they do this with little or no sleep in terribly hostile terrain and dangerous conditions for days and days and days and weeks on end, forgoing all contact with their own families until the job's done? Then they pack up all their gear and move on to fight another possibly even more dangerous wildfire somewhere else in this parched state? (by the way, they don't exactly get paid millions of dollars to do it either). How do you spell "h-e-r-o-e-s"? No, what I really mean is how do you spell "s-a-i-n-t-s"?

If you're touched, moved, and inspired to contribute to these heroic saints, click here to donate to the California Fire Foundation. And if you opt not to, then I request you simply hold them and their families in your hearts and in your prayers with gratitude, knowing that if you ever need them (and hopefully you never will), they'll be there for you, selflessly putting their lives on the line for you, because that's who they are.


This essay doesn't address transformation per se  directly. In fact it doesn't mention the word "transformation" once. Rather it addresses my community in which it distinguishes a key element of transformation in action: service.

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