Monday, June 20, 2022

A Firefighter Summarizes the Problem

Many years ago I read "Report from Engine Company 82," the fascinating memoir by a New York City firefighter named Dennis Smith. It was a marvelous book that looked at the funny, sad, infuriating, and fascinating adventures of 20 years spent as a first responder. One of the things that I found interesting was his description of how often his crew would arrive at a fire, only to have their equipment stolen, or be pelted with rocks and bottles by some of the onlookers while they tried to fight the fire and save lives. He described the lesson he took away from these events in this quote that has stayed with me over the years:

“I used to believe that people who threw rocks at firemen were motivated by conditions - the lower depths of American society. I used to believe that the fundamental problems were housing and education, and that people would stop throwing rocks if they had a decent place to live and were given equal educational opportunities. But I don’t believe that anymore. That, to me, is prescribing for symptoms. The disease is more seriously latent, more pernicious than uncaring landlords, or bureaucratic, apathetic school officials. The malignancy lies in the guts of humankind at all levels. We have unlearned the value of a human life.”

We have unlearned the value of a human life.

That line summarizes where we remain today, 50 years after Dennis Smith published his memoir. A human life has less value than the guns and ammunition that are a holy sacrament to many of our fellow citizens. We have built up dense layers of emotional scar tissue from years of violent movies, television shows, and video games. We excuse the mass murder of children as "the price of freedom." "Christians" have deliberately abandoned the love and empathy of the New Testament for the self-righteous and angry thundering of the Old.

In the terms of the "pro-life" movement, the value of a human life can be compared to that of the shiny new car that loses value the moment you drive it off the dealer's lot.

We have unlearned the value of a human life.

And as far as I can see, we won't be re-learning it any time soon.

Have a good day. Value the right things.

More thoughts coming. 



Mike said...


allenwoodhaven said...

Wow,. That is one hell of a sentence.