Husband Mike with Fire Engineering’s Bobby Halton and Underwriters Laboratories’ Steve Kerber. (Photo by David Rhodes.)
By Anne Gagliano
Is it just me, or does it seem that life is becoming more bleak these days? I can hardly turn on the news without hearing disturbing and distressing reports that add to the malaise. Multiple, disastrous reports—both here at home and worldwide. Terror attacks, police killings, murders, civil unrest. Fires, floods, hurricanes. No one seems happy, contented, grateful. Unemployment, national debt, wars and rumors of wars. The list goes on and on. Perhaps it’s not such a good thing that we have extensive, instant media capabilities; perhaps ignorance was bliss.
For the firefighter couple, who copes with tragedy for a living, the compounding sorrows can just about be crippling. We must try even harder than others to find hope in the darkness, joy in despair, or we won’t survive for long. My husband deals with the crises of the streets up close and personal; he attempts to clean up society’s messes while society turns away. Suicides are on the rise; he goes to them all the time now. The pitiable souls who decide to just “check out” break his heart. And this he brings home to me; it breaks my heart to see him so impacted.
Add to the list our own problems. They never end. The life we’ve chosen has not led to riches. It has not led to ease. And it has not led to tranquility. But this it has led to: experience, wisdom, and practicality of a sort that has enabled us to withstand incredible duress, and it is this I wish to share with you. In our efforts to stay positive, we have found that there are two ways to look at everything. If you focus on the “losses,” you will begin to lose the battle for your happiness. But if you choose to “celebrate the wins,” life will become a series of victories, of joyous triumphs, of celebration amid darkness. So here are a few concrete examples of how one old firefighter couple actually does this; perhaps you can relate.
Life often throws us into awkward situations–ones in which we risk being embarrassed, humiliated even. This was the case for my husband Mike at an Underwriters Laboratories (UL) board meeting in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The “team building” event scheduled for the day was golf. Mike can’t golf. He’s a former ball player, but he never golfed. He was to be among peers he admires (i.e., Editor in Chief of Fire Engineering Bobby Halton), whom he wished to impress. He dreaded going, but go he must. Did he despair at his ineptitude? Was he humiliated in front of his peers? On the contrary. By chance, by sheer luck, and with a little mentoring from said Bobby Halton—he nearly hit a hole in one! This is something most golfers never do. He even won a prize for that shot. He still stunk at golfing, but he got lucky and managed to do something astonishing. You just never know, so keep trying. Celebrate the wins.
Sometimes we get frustrated when we hear people speaking of their second homes. Their vacation homes. How they struggle to “keep up with them,” fix, maintain, repair, etc. We have just one home; we struggle to keep up with that. If we focus on the comparison of our situation to others, we will always lose, as there will always be someone who has done better. In so many arenas of life we simply can’t compete. So how do we choose to look at our house? We paid the mortgage this month; we still have a home, a roof over our heads. For that, we’re grateful. Celebrate the wins.
We’re troubled as our one house (that we do cherish) is already threatening to flood this year. It is way early to be doing this, but it has rained nonstop in the Seattle area for more than two months now. Heavy rain, not drizzle, which is more our style. If the basement is going to flood, it typically does not do so till spring and only after rain on top of heavy snow melt. But the threat began this year in November, an absolute first after nearly 20 years. And it’s only downhill from here. We’ll be battling water for months—till May probably. It’s going to be a long winter for us. What is the win here, you may say? We are celebrating—celebrating that we have at long last figured out a system to prevent water from coming into the house; we have a system, a backup system, and a backup backup system. And it’s all working like a charm; we couldn’t be more delighted. Despair over weather? No, master it when you can. Have a plan to prevent disaster. Celebrate the wins.
For the first time in a long time we don’t have a dog. I miss having a pet, but I don’t miss sweeping up dog hair all the time. But I’ve noticed of late that I’m still finding big clumps of hair amid the dust bunnies in the corners. How can this be? To my utter horror, I’ve realized that it’s mine and Mike’s! We’re shedding like dogs. This is the surest proof that we are indeed getting old—hair loss. What’s good about that? Well, I’ll tell you: With age comes an amazing blessing—grandchildren. We have a beautiful little granddaughter now, and she is the apple of our eye. Our youth can peacefully fade, as we now have someone who will long outlive us—her. Don’t despair over aging; delight in grandchildren. Celebrate the wins.
We find our hearts discouraged as we hear of yet another firefighter divorce. Another broken marriage, another broken home. We sometimes wish to quit trying to help, as it seems pointless. But then we’ll go to a speaking engagement on firefighter marriage and we’ll find that our message is resonating. People, our favorite kind of people—firefighter couples—tell us that we helped them, and we’re encouraged. We’re intent on trying. Give up on firefighter marriages because so many are failing? No, delight in those many couples who are not failing. Celebrate the wins.
And the biggest discouragement of all? The most painful to face as a firefighter couple? Firefighter suicide. We had a recent suicide in Seattle Fire. And it feels almost daily that we’re hearing of others, nationwide. It’s becoming epidemic. Talk about despair. Cancer and suicide—is that what firefighting leads to these days? Yet, amid the darkness, we find hope in this; Mike is currently at the best firehouse he’s ever been at. He’s serving with one of the finest crew he’s ever had the privilege of working with, and he’s having the time of his life. His firefighting days just keep getting better. He loves his job. He enjoys being at the firehouse with the best of the best. They’re making a difference in the streets of Seattle, and they’re having a blast with each other while doing so. Politics and tragedies aside—the station is a rewarding place to be. Despair at the tough stuff of firefighting? Quit because of the things he can’t control? Never. Instead, he’s choosing to focus on the piece of the puzzle he can impact—his very own firehouse. Make it awesome. And celebrate the wins.
Anne Gagliano has been married to Captain Mike Gagliano of the Seattle (WA) Fire Department for 31 years. She and her husband lecture together on building and maintaining a strong marriage.