Friday, September 11, 2009


Eleven years ago one Sunday morning, I was assisting with the children’s ministry at church. All the kids were gathered for a special event: a visit from a real firefighter. One of our pastors was a career man, and he came to talk to the kids about fire safety.

At the end of the visit, he discussed the scariest scenario: being trapped in a burning building. As he spoke, he began putting on all his protective gear, from pants and boots to coat, gloves, helmet, and finally, the mask. With each item, he continued to speak, especially to the younger children, and said, “Remember, under all this gear, it’s still me.” Of course, to a young child, each item made him look less like the gentle, smiling man that he is, and more like some unfamiliar and frightening creature. With the mask finally on, his face was nearly unrecognizable, as was his voice. He said once again, half shouting to be understood through the muffling, smoke-proof face protector, “You see, it’s still me in here. If you find yourself trapped in a fire, get down low, and look for me. When I come for you, I’ll look like this, so don’t be afraid. When I reach for you as you’re hiding behind a desk or under your bed, don’t pull away. Remember that it’s me. With all the noises and smoke around you, you may not be able to hear me clearly or see my face at all, but it’s still me. When you see this uniform, I’m coming to help you.”

8 years ago this morning, thousands of people were gathered as usual at their schools, airports and office buildings, two in New York in particular. In moments, everything changed beyond description. At the center of the action were the firefighters. The comments that I remember most from people who were there are these: “While we ran as fast as we could down the stairs to get out of that burning building, the firefighters ran as fast as they could up the stairs, into that burning building. In the midst of the noises and smoke around me, I remember seeing their uniforms, and I knew they were coming to help us.”

To those firefighters who ran into those burning buildings, our admiration and gratitude are beyond words. To those firefighters who didn’t come back out, our hearts will forever remember you with sadness and honor. To all firefighters everywhere, thank you for what you do. Thank you for always coming to help us.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

It Happened to Me

I’ve often marveled at the mystical relationship between women and their chocolate. Light or dark, world-class or cheap, the fruit of the cocoa bean seems to be an enchanted concoction that can transform the ladies from worn down and woebegone to effusive and exuberant in a single bite.

I’ve even been a bit arrogant from time to time, boasting about how we men are clearly above such nonsense.

But then . . .

The other day, I stopped by See’s Candy in the blackest of moods. I was so miserable I didn’t try to hide it when I walked in. I even refused to buy anything for myself. But the lady behind the counter offered me the obligatory sample, so I returned the obligatory thanks and ate the thing while giving her my order. She filled it, I paid for it, and then I left the store.

As I got into my car, I noticed that my black mood seemed to have vanished. I felt – yes – light and airy. The next thing I knew, I was singing some goofy pop song from decades ago, and bopping around behind the wheel. I was happy. Oh, so happy! I was smiling at nothing!

Then I remembered: I’d just eaten Chocolate. I was shocked, but still smiling. This had never happened to me before. I was so glad to be alone, convinced that I was betraying my fellow guys in the worst of ways. Also, because I couldn’t stop smiling, and I didn’t seem to want to.

So no more boasting from me about male supremacy over chocolate. I certainly don’t want to be a hypocrite. Besides, no one will believe me with this big cocoa-covered smile on my face.