When the fire captain at the podium announced there was an award for the top recruit voted on by the cadets, I could not have been less surprised to hear Cean’s name at the end of his speech listing his virtues. And famed savory oatmeal.
I’d listened to his stories for the first three months of academy, which further illustrated from the beginning when he first started dating my sister — now his wife which made him my brother-in-law — that he was cut from the cloth of a stronger generation, of that tradition of perseverance and doing good work and helping others.
It seemed pretty clear to me there wasn’t another in the academy who truly acted on the principles of why people needed leadership and clear direction, needed help, needed objectives, needed to be told with a lack of doubt even if you didn’t fully believe a course of action but it was the best or only one available in the moment, needed the courage to respond with empathy to the shitty circumstances that are defined as emergencies:
“serious, unexpected, and often dangerous situations requiring immediate action”
Then I was away for the final month and missed the last chapter of evidence. But in returning, what felt unexpected was how emotionally overwhelming the experience would be to sit in his audience, my dangerous situation of pending tears seeming to call forth a constant reaction of inhibition and a bit of self-critical embarrassment. What did I exactly have to cry about, really?
Perhaps it was the wakeful deprivation from sleeping on the LAX terminal carpet for two hours in order to get back to Santa Cruz on time. And that I found a joy in the experience and adventure rather than a suffering. Some universal evidence of how much it meant to me. Like the morning I was luckily already awake at six am and he called to ask for the paperwork he left behind to be driven over on the first day of academy, and I realized in the rain on that morning courier how incredible it would be that if I have children he’d be their uncle and how I’d be surprised to ever discover a limit on the actions I’d take on his behalf.
Perhaps it was because I made his lunch sandwiches for the three weeks before I left, because my sister was overwhelmed at that point, too. They were delicious sandwiches of her recipe and I would make myself one, too. Helping seemed to do that, especially lately; somehow there was always a greater reflexive benefit if you paid attention to a task of volunteerism. Teach an academy and you learn more about yourself, the captain seemed to be saying, pausing to catch his own emotional entanglements.
Perhaps it was just because I was proud and loved him and this is how that goes; you just get overwhelmed with an urge toward tears and that’s okay.
Even if you aren’t in the academy, you might be caught under its penumbral shadow.
Toward a better understanding of what crucible he had just passed through.
Maybe everything required immediate action.
Maybe the tears were to extinguish hidden fires.
Maybe the graduation was for us, too.