By Jane Tawel
September 10, 2020
Tomorrow will be the anniversary of the tragedy that befell America on September 11, 2001; forever more known as 9/11. Today, I look out on my little Southern California hamlet, after another night of worry about the fires on the hilltops so close I can see the flames from my upstairs window. Last night one “small” jet and a huge airplane — my neighbor knows the names of them but I don’t — swept back and forth, back and forth across the hills and across my town of 38,000 people, most of whom were out on the streets watching. It felt like the allies had arrived. The planes sprayed stuff to keep the fires from my home. These planes also carried the people who were among the first responders to the fires, and they joined the ranks of firefighters across the West Coast, bravely trying to save life, limb (both human and tree-based), and property.
We read a lot about how these fires are due to the disaster we have wreaked worldwide on our planet. Let’s call it what it is — call it climate catastrophe and human greediness run amok. Last week, one short hour from where I live, the temps topped the all-time record charts at 121 degrees, while I merely had to put up with 112 degrees. The skies in Northern California were orange yesterday and the ash on our cars and sidewalks down here was nothing compared to the blanket of ash covering San Francisco and other northern climes. How we wish someone would fix all this, but it’s down to us, isn’t? It’s down to me to get serious about fixing my patterns and habits and attitude and get on board to try to help make right what we have all helped to make wrong?
I cheered when the planes swooped up my hill — to save my life and my photo albums. Tomorrow most of us will give a small nod in remembrance of the horrible day that the Twin Towers caught fire, and so many lost their lives and we all lost a good chunk of our innocence. We will also briefly give tribute to the many people who lost their lives or health or ability to sleep at night, as first responders to that destruction they rushed into as heroes on 9/11. But today, as I keep praying against the imminent danger to me and mine, I realize how easily I forget the constant dangers, dangers exacerbated by our foolish ability to forget and move on.
I am thinking about the world’s brave men and women across this country — not just firefighters, but medical personnel and police and paramedics and EMTs; and I think, we all need to become more like those brave souls. I am thinking about first responders and the heroes who come when planes hit towers, or bombs fall, or pandemics flood hospitals with patients, or fires rage across the country, or bombs fall, or whatever the immediate calamity is, and I think, oh, thank God there are people who are willing to do that. And then I think, well, what about the dangers and looming calamities that don’t feel so imminent but are encroaching, encroaching like flames down a hill or may suddenly be fanned into flames by the embers we carelessly or foolishly ignore? If we want to solve the world’s problems, then we need to stop passing the buck and start doing whatever we can, one little “me” rising to the challenge of the day. And we need to do a better job of remembering those who have risked their lives as first responders, and stop taking them for granted. And most of all, we all need to start responding, and not keep thinking we can sit it out, while the professionals take care of it. We can’t all be fire fighters and we mustn’t try to do surgery on patients if we are not doctors, but we can all respond with everything we have got, to turn-around the fires of environmental destruction, human misery, and out-of-control rage, hate, and greed and to heal the land and each other. We need to all do much more — small or large acts of sacrifice and purposeful actions on behalf of making the world safer and saner for all. And it will help if we can retain focused remembrance of the times that brave heroes and even the lesser beings like ourselves have, in the past, risen to a challenge because we all responded to the need of the hour. That hour is now. Will we respond?
We need to dig deep and find the heroes inside of all of us, and become like the heroes of any current catastrophe that seemingly afflict us now on a regular, every-day basis. I need to see myself as someone who is willing to sign up daily to be a “first responder”; that is if I want to save this planet and save humanity from the catastrophes we so easily think are someone else’s problems to solve. They aren’t — they are mine to solve — one hopeful, kind, humble, brave, and personally necessary response at a time. Because if we are all trying to solve the problems and save the planet and help and protect and care for each other, why then, we can do anything. We know that, because we have done it again and again and again. So let’s respond — again.
I wrote a sort of pledge that I thought might help me commit to this idea. It’s a pledge easily broken and I am sure I will break it almost daily. But pledges are meant to be made, knowing that it is not failure to keep them we should fear, but we should fear never trying to keep them in the first place.
My Pledge to Respond
By Jane Tawel
I pledge to be a first responder,
To that which this day calls me to be aware of,
And to care for,
To take charge of,
And to help out with all that I can,
And to humbly address as my problem,
that which is before me
Because I choose it to be.
I pledge to serve my community
Which is everyone in the world;
And to react heroically to
The moment in Time in which I am called to live.
I pledge to bravely and sacrificially respond
to whatever imperils the planet;
to stand and be counted among those
willing to sacrifice to save the goodness of Creation,
and to delay more of my own gratification
in sight of the urgency and depth of other people’s needs.
I pledge to charge ahead
whether or not anyone is following behind me.
I promise to courageously accept my own responsibility
In taking on the job of being a good human being
and a good caretaker of all created things.
I promise I will keep training
to be a more fit and better person,
And to respond willingly, intelligently,
And charitably to the problems and people before me.
I pledge that I will look on everyone as my responsibility,
Stranger, friend, family, neighbor and even foe;
And I will treat their lives and their property as equally important
As if they were my own.
I will speak boldly to others about what the dangers are
out there and up ahead,
And I will tell the truth,
In order to encourage my fellow human beings,
to turn around, away, or against
That which endangers the very lives of us and our world.
I promise to think of my life’s work
As a vital part of the place in which I live — Earth,
And of the people with whom I live — Mankind;
I will not sit back and expect anyone else
to fix it or solve it or save it,
but I will be glad of anyone’s and everyone’s help.
I will stand shoulder to shoulder with hope
And go forth each day knowing that together,
We can turn ashes to beauty.
But no matter what anyone else does or does not do,
I pledge to be –
A First Responder.
© Jane Tawel