Shortly after our move to the Mexican jungle in 2012, Frank began his own blog, “Retired Firefighter in Mexico”— a well-written, raw, candid, but short-lived compilation of 14 posts reflecting over his career as a first responder and some of the mechanics of getting our family and belongings moved and imported to Mexico.
I keep encouraging him to pick it back up, so perhaps after a few more appearances here on Los O’Gradys in Mexico, he will feel motivated and encouraged to do so. Based on the response to his initial guest post, I have no doubt that he would have a loyal following of interested readers!
With Frank’s permission, I will be sharing a few more of his musings. They certainly provide another and different perspective from mine, and speak to a part of why he and our family have actively made the choices that we have and are living the lives that we are.
Some of the language and content is strong and not for the faint-hearted or easily offended … but it is real, and where he was at a year and a half ago, 9 months after retirement and leaving the States.
When I selected the following piece for my blog, it of course encouraged Frank to go back and re-read it. He was somewhat taken aback—now that he’s had time and distance from it—at how different he feels today and at how alive and intense those feelings and reflections were at the time.
In his own words, “I realized how horrible some of the shit I did for a living was … how I had to detach, for lack of a better word, from many emotions to just do the job professionally and that, even though I could still function professionally this minute, how different in ways I am from the man who wrote that. I will always be that man but I don’t have to keep my guard up as much.”
And this folks, as the wife of a firefighter, is music to my ears, peace to my soul, happiness to my heart. It is nothing short of a miracle—a beautiful and powerful one—to witness this metamorphosis take place in my husband.
The following piece was his very first, published on August 30th of 2013, on his 51st Birthday, 9 months after retiring, titled “Let’s Just Start in the Middle”.
The timing of me sharing it is very interesting … Today is Frank’s 25th anniversary since his first day as a professional firefighter.
Dreams do come true, lives can be changed, you don’t have to stay doing what doesn’t work anymore, what is no longer a fit for you. As long as you have breath, you have another chance.
Frank, me, our children, Los O’Gradys in Mexico … we are living proof of that.
Life is for the living.
If not now, when?
Let’s Just Start in the Middle (August 30, 2013)
Some truth, quasi-truth and a few outright lies from a retired firefighter living with his family in in Nayarit, Mexico.
There really is no place or “beginning” to this story.
This will be a journey from front to back with some bouncing around in the middle with overlaps everywhere. They will all be connected in a sense that they are my story but they are their own pieces.
One of the many things that brought me here was death. This impending and unavoidable death that is the one and only thing guaranteed in our lives to never waver in its promise to us.
And life! A full and rich life. All the life that I want to live and experience before that impending death that is waiting for me at some point.
I want the “sabor”, that life that is full … full of flavor, experience, color, sound, texture and the feelings. A life you realize that when all of those textures are combined, that you are living outside the boundaries of the predictable.
So, when that death finally does come to me I am satisfied and I am ready and grateful to venture on to whatever awaits on the other side of this life on earth.
It is my duty and responsibility … I have worked hard for and been given the opportunity to have this rich life and it is a responsibility I take seriously.
I will not live or age gracefully … I am just going to keep expanding and growing and pushing until life pushes back and says “you are done”.
I will tell you this … I have seen shitloads of death.
It does not wait for you to be ready for it. It comes and you have to go … You don’t get to say, “Hey, can you give me an extra 5 minutes?”
You are here and then you are not.
I have been elbows deep in the blood, shit, fear and vomit of death. I have seen the despair and the unfounded hope in people’s eyes when they are in the process of dying. I have been witness to their agony. I have told them to be quiet so I can cut them out of their mangled cars without them screaming in my ears. I have seen them writhing in pain, putting their arms around each other as they burn to death in their cars because we didn’t get there in time to facilitate a rescue.
There are a thousand ways to die and most of them aren’t nice.
These people just wanted their pain stopped and they all just wanted to go home…
For many years in my career as a firefighter I felt I owed it to people to look them in the eyes as they were dying … I know it’s a strange thing but it is what I did. I guess that was part of my tribute to them for being involved in one of the most important and final parts of their lives.
And, then, one day I was just done with it. I had felt it and lived it and met my self-imposed responsibility to dying people and then my cup was full. One day it wasn’t full and then next day it was spilling over.
And those haunted eyes staring up at me with hope, despair, fear and just plain old confusion. Windows to the soul, right? It is not a cliché. I can see many of them to this day and I will see them until mine are closed forever.
Well, all those eyes had commonality in their experience. They were the eyes of babies, kids, old people, people who had the cold reality of realizing their suicide attempts were going to be successful. These people who once were friends, family, lovers and outcasts to those around them and who are now gone forever.
They were people we all see and know in our lives.
Those eyes that just wanted someone to hold that eye contact until there was nothing to hold anymore.
It is those eyes that brought me here … those looks at me that said they would give anything for more life.
I feel that responsibility and privilege to be fully alive. To live, see and experience the world and people outside the confines of a proscribed societal norm. I take that responsibility very seriously and I know that life is a privilege and a gift to not be taken lightly.
I don’t give a shit what people think … they can live their lives constrained by whatever value system they choose and when they look down on or criticize me for my life choices, my behavior, my choice of words or responses because it doesn’t fit their life choices, well, that is on them.
And, trust me, they have criticized and offered unsolicited and unwanted opinions and they all felt as if they had not just the right but the responsibility to tell you that you are crazy to want to go experience and live the unknown.
I live flawed, without subtlety and with tangible mistakes but I have also have had many experiences that others never will. Experiences that I treasure that I never would have had if I had allowed other’s fear of flaws and mistakes to keep to the safer path.
I live my life in color and noise and solitude or brotherhood how I choose.
I choose the color, the noise, the family, the inconvenience, the sabor of Mexico and it’s fatalism where death is always up front and expected … in Mexico, where it is expected that you be alive because death is coming for you.
No, the way life transpires is often not at all my choosing, but my response to life is. Some days you survive and other’s you vibrate with the richness of it all.
To live a life where you recover from what feels unbearable to be able to experience the intangible and magnificent is the reward if you are willing to see that boundaries imposed by others are there to be ignored.
Life is hard, brutal and unforgiving when it serves you up a shit sandwich. But, it is also full of beauty and feeling and experiences that are the base-matter of being truly alive … and I will seek that until I can’t.
Follow your heart and your dreams …. they will lead you to the life you deserve.
The next post I share from Frank will be a very light-hearted, fun one dealing with an epic day of surfing off the coast of Nayarit!