Wednesday, July 28, 2010

the real deal

You've heard me brood about not being a real artist, or a real cook, or even a real firefighter (until I rescued a real cat), but you have to wonder: how do you know when you're a "real" anything?

Take writing for example. Does typing a blog post every couple days make me a real writer? How about getting paid to write an article four times a year? Ah, the magic word . . . paid . . . money . . . now that certainly must be a determining criterion . . . or is it?

What about a chef from Atikokan who cooks but doesn't get paid. Is he therefore not a real chef? But he is a real chef because he has a real chef's license.

Hmmm, maybe that's what it takes. A license.

But what about a terrorist? There are plenty of unpaid terrorists who don't hold a license from the Al Qaeda School of Terror, but if they blow up even one plane or bus or building - or even unsuccessfully try like Bloomer Bomber - we all agree that they are real, honest-to-goodness terrorists, and lets lock them up and throw away the key and . . . don't get me started on that topic.

Maybe that's it. Maybe it's the Deeper, Inner Self that makes you a real something, aside from dollars and diplomas.

Except that when I was a bushwacker, a fisherman asked me as a "professional" (in other words, real) logger, what chainsaw brand I recommended. My Deeper, Inner Self cared as much about logging as a dolphin cares about Death Valley. I was just earning a wage until I could find something else to do. But the fisherman saw skidders and chainsaws and hard hats and piles of logs, and to him, I was the real deal.

Maybe that's what makes you real. Having the paraphernalia and doing the job.

But what about the rookie firefighter that has turnout gear, a pay cheque, an ax, and possibly even a diploma from a real fire school, but has never actually been to a fire?

Or a volunteer who doesn't have a diploma, doesn't get paid, and doesn't have any fancy equipment, but has put out lots and lots of fires?

Or a guy like me, who rescued a cat, and has done extrications and fires, but has never dangled from a helicopter, or dove into a raging river, or worn a hazmat suit, like the real, real firefighters?

This is getting more complicated by the minute.

I have friends in Toronto and Fort Frances and Thunder Bay that say I'm a real firefighter, but that's only their opinion. The Province of Ontario says I'm a real firefighter, but that's just a bureaucratic legality. How do I really know?

Years ago at a train derailment, a hazmat technician bluntly asked if my crew was qualified or just volunteer (my captain is still convinced he said real or volunteer). He only wanted to know if we could do the job. We had trucks and hose and tools. We had training, and legal standing. None of that mattered. Like John the Baptist said to Jesus, "Are you the real deal, or should we look for someone else?" [Sorry scholars, that's a paraphrase, not a real quote.]

In the end, that's what makes us real. There is no one else to look for in the 80% of Canada we protect. And if we quit, or fade into the scenery, or dwindle in numbers through attrition, we have a problem that is more real than the realest real writer or cook or firefighter that ever was.

(Real writers probably don't write sentences like that, but you get the point).

You can read my train derailment story (and see some of my non-real artwork) here, and read more on my identity crisis here.

After all that, I still don't have peace for my soul. I'm not even a real volunteer. I'm a paid chief of a volunteer department. I'm one of those hybrid guys that doesn't belong to a firefighter union or serve my community purely out of the goodness of my heart.

Volunteer vs career. That's a really scary topic, but someday I may just have to talk about it . . .

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