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Cherishing the gift of front-line workers

How a lifeguard (and her story) illumined the story of Christmas for me (an OPED I wrote for The Calgary Herald today) Jyoti Gondek City of Calgary – Your Local Government #EMS #lifeguards #policeofficer #firefighter 

The Gift of Frontline City Workers

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

When she told me the story it was clear that she was still hugely impacted by that day. You can’t unsee a scene like that. Like so many frontline workers (police, paramedics, firefighters, and healthcare 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.

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

That selfless resolve could be heard in the quieted 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. And taking the moment in, 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 under water and flailing. Thank God a lifeguard was walking by, noticed, and jumped into action! And thank God that—after a few panicked moments—everything turned out fine for this child and his family.

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 who 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 frontline workers in place.

Last week I had a follow-up 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 (when she was a police officer), she did everything to save a child who then lived.

Turns out she was making the same connection.

It’s strange how life works—sometimes, at just the right moment, when most of us aren’t really paying attention, someone shows up and saves you.

And for this lifeguard, that hot tub moment was a gift—a chance for her to be lifted up and catch her breath again. 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 bring life.

I’m pretty sure we could all use a little saving this Christmas—from our anxieties and fears, our pain and losses, and from our constant struggle to make sense of it all.

And for those of us who are under water right now, perhaps Christmas can be a reminder that help is near—for unto us a child is born.

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