"Only through distance can we gain perspective."



William C. Judge



Stories from "The Wonder of it All"

The Kissing Trees

No Need to Cry

Her room held many of the little girl trinkets and treasures a teenager holds onto as she transitions into becoming a young woman. The bed, with its white headboard and matching dresser, was covered by a violet quilt. Unicorns, rainbows, and pop stars were carefully placed around the well-kept space. From myriad picture frames smiling faces of a girl and her friends watched over us.

It was midmorning when my engine company received a dispatch for an unresponsive person. In the town where I worked, all the firefighters were required to be EMTs, and an engine company was always sent when the call came in as life-threatening. We arrived at the upper middle-class home in a well-manicured subdivision. A middle-aged mom met us at the door; she was pale and seemed somewhat emotionless. She pointed to the stairs up to her daughters’ room. Something was odd. A couple of other adults in the living room silently watched us with expressionless faces. No one was with the patient. I entered first with my engineer and firefighter behind me. The fire department always seemed to arrive before the paramedics. I knew the girl was gone at first glance. Motionless, she lay across her bed, still dressed from the night before. Her eyes were closed; life’s color had drained from her youthful face, turning it to something else. Hopefully, I checked her pulse, breathing, and other indicators, searching for any sign of life. There was none. We had seen quite a few teen suicides over the past year, and I wondered if this might be another. I scanned the room for medicine bottles or some other clue and saw nothing. I radioed Central communications to request the police and get an ETA for the paramedics. Both were unusually slow.

Knowing the conversation to come and the news I would have to deliver, I stalled. From downstairs I could hear the mom’s cry of despair: “Why are they taking so long?” As the Captain, I had no choice. It was up to me to speak with her. I left my crew with instructions to not disturb anything and reluctantly left the room. I could see the woman standing at the bottom of the stairs, arms folded, shoulders tense, already knowing what I was going to tell her, yet clinging to some hope that it wasn’t so. As an EMT, by law I could not pronounce her daughter dead. All I could say was, “I’m sorry, there is nothing we can do.” As the confirmation of what she had already known set in, her shoulders sunk in sorrow and tears filled her eyes. She turned to her neighbors for comfort. For what seemed an eternity, I stayed with her and the others waiting for the additional responding units.

As a firefighter, I had been trained to do something, to act and put things back in order. But this family’s normal had been changed forever, and there was nothing I could do to help them.

The paramedics and the police finally arrived, and I turned the scene over to them. My crew and I got on the engine and returned to the station. We didn’t talk about what we had just witnessed. The crew went about their daily routine of checking the trucks and cleaning the fire station, as I sat alone in the watch room and wrote my report.

More than twenty years later, the pretty young girl and her mom are still with me. They will always be with me, as will all the others I responded to over the years, the violent deaths and the peaceful. I have felt a last pulse and seen eyes go dark all too many times.


We met at his home and drove straight to the tribal grounds a few miles away. The grounds were meticulously kept. The lone structure is both a meeting place and museum. It is filled artifacts and art some newly created by tribal members and many that had been handed down through the generations. Sitting among these beautifully crafted items the Chief told me his story and that of his people. An engaging and willing storyteller, he seems to have many lifetimes of tales to tell. He is a deeply spiritual man, and the stories of his tribe and his involvement are inspiring.

I had heard that his wife had recently passed away. She had been living in a nursing home for quite some time, and the Chief would visit and sit with her every day. Their home contained many photos of the Chief’s wife, and he had shown me several newspaper clippings of their work with their people and the community. I was struck by her poise and graceful confidence. From every account, all who met her loved and admired her. The Chief’s love for her was clear as he spoke of their years together, their dedication to each other, and their dedication to the tribe.

I expressed my condolences for his loss. He looked at me, from beneath his black Western-style hat, with an almost joyful glow in his dark, penetrating eyes. He paused for a few moments and smiled before gently saying in his deep raspy voice, “Its ok, I didn’t cry. You see, I don’t believe in death, so there is no need to cry. She has taken another form, but she is with me and I with her. We spoke the day before she passed and were very happy. We had a good life together, sharing in many things, and we both knew that this is only a transition for us.” His voice was unwavering; these words came from his heart. Their meaning was a powerful lesson for me. His steady gaze saw through to my soul and testified to the truth of his words. The love they shared has not been interrupted in the slightest bit, and it will continue.

I have come to realize that, just as life is not permanent, neither is death. Before we manifested into this physical life, we existed as a soul, spirit, being of light… however you choose label it does not matter. We existed within the cosmic consciousness that we often refer to as God or the Divine. We are an awareness or mind-stream, made up of our karmic adventures through many lifetimes. As the causes and conditions of our karma come together and ripen, we once again manifest on this earthly plain. Death is not an end to our existence; it is a continuation of a cycle and a transition that brings us closer to knowing the Divine. We need not fear death, nor mourn (as the Chief showed me), when we understand death as a beautiful transition bringing us closer to our true nature, a pure nature realized and undefiled by negative thoughts and deeds. Just as the caterpillar creates the karmic conditions through its work of creating its cocoon to then manifest as a butterfly, the works and deeds of our life create the karmic conditions to bring us once again into the cosmic consciousness of God.