Last Saturday I got to reunite with my colleague and friend Rev. Kathy Burton. Since she retired last May, the only time I have seen her was when she left her beach home in North Florida to drive to Atlanta for Bill’s memorial service. It was great to be together for a happier day. The other treat of the day was to spend time with Rev. Burton’s partner, Cathy.
I’ve never gotten to spend much time with Cathy, who retired last year as a firefighter. She was a captain in Cobb County, north of Atlanta. They both now volunteer for causes they love, and Rev. Burton is preaching for a small United Church of Christ congregation nearby.
As I talked to Cathy and heard her talk about the lifesaving skills she had learned and used for years, I thought about the difference in how Americans regard firefighters and members of the military. I have written at other times about how airlines allow members of the military to board first and, if space is available, to sit in first class. People buy them drinks, shake their hands, and make a great show of thanking them for their service. Fine.
I really don’t want to focus on how we regard soldiers who are trained to serve our country by using weapons to kill. What I’d like to call our attention to, though, is the fact that I don’t think I’ve ever heard politicians praise firefighters in the same way or seen anyone give up their first-class seat for them. Firefighters like Cathy, however, work long hours and risk their lives to save life, anyone and everyone’s life. Their training is not to kill, but to save.
My point is not to say that firefighters who risk their lives to save people in the line of duty are good and soldiers who risk their lives to kill people in the line of duty are bad. That is simply not true. Both are answering a higher call than simply making money. What I am asking us to consider, though, is how we have become a country who values one courageous vocation so much more than another. What does that say about US?
Rev. Michael Piazza