Risking their lives so we can live ours

There is a scene in A Few Good Men where the character played by Jack Nicholson provoked by the Tom Cruise character, says that he represents those who stand guard on the wall while we sleep, while we have our parties, while we take liberty for granted, while we enjoy the freedoms that we have, because people like him are standing on that wall, day and night. Leaving aside the characteristics of that part he played, there resonates from his words the reality that exists in every community across the world.

At every hour of the day or night, there are people endangering themselves so that the rest of us don’t have to face danger. At night when we sit and watch TV, our gardai and fire service and ambulance crew are on standby lest anything should happen us.

Our hospitals await in readiness. Our rescue teams are but a call away.

On Tuesday morning, when I awoke at 6am, I was unaware that a drama had been unfolding out at sea while I slept. As we all slept. As it happens every night. While we rest, those who save lives and help others are there on duty.

Since I heard the news on Tuesday, I've been overwhelmed day it all. Dara Fitzpatrick and the crews who operate our rescue services are not the type of people you meet every day. They are skilled, trained, brave, caring. We cannot afford to lose any. To lose four is heartbreaking, bloody devastating.

Here in Mayo, we are most conscious of the dangers of the sea. It forms our western-most boundary. We have to live with it and on it. It is a constant danger lapping at us, but we do so with the knowledge that we have heroes who are willing to volunteer and put their lives at risk. 

The mission that led to this week's tragedy was not any less dangerous that than which is faced by all the other lifeboat and coastguard crews nightly around the country.

It is because of the presence of lifeboat services and mountain rescue teams that we feel more emboldened about enjoying the waters and the wild, about fishing, about mountain climbing or hiking the hills. 

These are the people we meet when we flee situations. They are the faces that were going upstairs in the Twin Towers while we made our way down. They are the people who ushered us from danger in Paris, Brussels, and Nice, while going the other way themselves, confronting the danger.

Heroes may not necessarily be braver than anyone else, but they’re braver for five minutes longer.

Think of the sacrifice that Dara Fitzpatrick and her crew made this week. Think of their families and colleagues.  Think of those who have to answer the call tonight and tomorrow morning and every morning. To get back into the Sikorsky and do the routine.

As I write this, a helicopter makes its way overhead into the hospital, as they do several times every day. Another life in their hands. Doing the extraordinary so we can be helped. Never forget them, honour them. Every community needs its heroes.


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