Opinion: The gift of front-line city workers

Article content

I have a friend who is a City of Calgary lifeguard and former police officer. Last year, she told me a story about one of her toughest police-related calls — to a home where a toddler had drowned. The scene was devastating, the family was undone and there was nothing my friend could do to change the situation. A child had died.

It was clear that she was still hugely affected by that day. Like so many front-line workers (police, paramedics, firefighters and health-care providers), she carried a burden that most of us don’t have to bear. She willingly took a job that would bring her face to face with death.

Advertisement 2

Article content

Article content

It makes me wonder what kind of people choose this kind of work — to run toward trouble, enter the chaos, wade through the mess and try to save those caught in terrible and tragic circumstances. And then go back to work the next day. It all seems so selfless and heroic.

That selfless resolve could be heard in the quiet tone of my friend’s voice as she shared her story. I could see it in the ‘I’ve seen things’ look in her eyes. All I could feel was compassion and gratitude for the gift of a human being who was willing to serve our city in this way.

Several months after she shared that story, another emergency arose, this time at the pool. I was sitting in a large hot tub with a handful of people, not paying attention to much of anything, when suddenly my lifeguard friend rushed, fully clothed, into the water to pull a submersed toddler back to the surface.

No one had noticed; the child’s caregivers were distracted, I was looking the other way, and this little boy was underwater and flailing. Thank God a lifeguard was walking by, noticed, and jumped into action. After a few panicked moments, everything turned out fine for this child and his family.

Article content

Advertisement 3

Article content

Things could have been different. If anyone knew this, my friend did.

For weeks, I processed what happened that day; the urgent heart to save that God has built into some people, their desire to protect others, their commitment to be trained as first responders and their willingness to risk themselves physically and/or psychologically. 

Our city is filled with people who keep us safe, lift us up and do all they can to meet us in our brokenness. I’m not sure I’m always thankful enough for their efforts.

But this Christmas I am, and I’m thankful for the gift of a city that puts all these front-line workers in place.

Last week, I had a followup conversation with my lifeguard friend. Recalling that day in the hot tub, I wondered aloud if the experience was redemptive for her. Where she could do nothing to save a child who had drowned, she did everything to save a child who then lived.

She deserved that saving moment.

As a faith leader, this gets me thinking about God and the saving nature of Christmas. While this is certainly a season of joy and gift-giving, it’s also one of hope and redemption. The birth of Christ is all about God’s urgent heart to save, to bring light to the darkness, to show mercy and to bring life. 

Advertisement 4

Article content

I’m pretty sure we could all use a little saving this Christmas — from our anxieties and fears, our pain and losses, and our constant struggle to make sense of it all. And for those of us who are underwater right now, perhaps Christmas can be a reminder that help is near; for unto us a child is born.

Our city is filled with committed first responders who will do anything to help, and their passion is a reflection of the heart of God.   

John Van Sloten is a community theologian working to engage God everywhere — through science, art, work, sport, education, politics and everything else. www.johnvansloten.com

Article content