Baumhower: Three bells tolled and an infinity of tearsWritten by Jeremy Baumhower | | email@example.com
After attending tonight’s Last Alarm ceremony I’ve discovered you can tell how great a man was in life by the number of times a bell is tolled. It appears the magic number is three.
The television coverage could not translate the feeling inside the SeaGate Convention Centre tonight. Witnessing thousands of men wearing their dress blues who traveled across the entire country to help bury a kid from my neighborhood was an unbelievable sight.
The eery feeling that was at the pit of my stomach was of how each and every one of our bravest knew this ceremony and their collective part. I thank God this was my first and I pray it will be my last.
Before the live coverage started and the memorial officially began, there was an amazing moment that completely floored me. Out of nowhere and almost in perfect unison, every firefighter in the building stood up and the room went completely silent. Within seconds I realized what was going on: Both Pvt. Steve Machcinski’s and Pvt. Jamie Dickman’s families were being escorted to their seats directly in front of the flag-covered caskets.
The thing you can never ready yourself for is the image of the small children being carried and escorted in. The sight of Steve’s niece and nephew and Jamie’s two small children reminded me that my tears ducts still worked and well. I am not sure who’s child she was, but there was the most beautiful blond-haired girl wearing the brightest red dress ever sewed. She was maybe 3 years old and her innocence stole the night, while breaking my heart.
Three of my four children were tow-headed and not blessed with a ton of hair at birth. The thoughts that must run through these babies’ minds, how confused they must be. Wondering why those who surround them, the people they love the most, were having trouble stopping the flow of water from their eyes. It’s sad they couldn’t understand the full meaning of the lives lost and how important their family’s sacrifice truly is. I was destroyed by the thought of how little time Jamie got to spend with his two children in the course of their lifetimes and how blessed have I been for the amount of time I have spent with mine. How underestimated and privileged time is. I have been a luckier man.
The next thing I learned was that I had no idea how much the sound of bagpipes emptied one’s soul. How a bag with pipes sticking out of it could fill a room the size of SeaGate. I now understand the beauty in pomp and circumstance.
Speaker after speaker, the room engulfed every word spoken. You knew which speaker was affected and who had done this before, sadly too many times before.
These ceremonies are designed to remember the deceased, but often serve as a vehicle for self-reflection. I caught myself wondering how would I be remembered? How many bells have I earned to be tolled?
I use my column as my therapist: where I work out my problems, my guilt, my pain and who I want to be as a person. I have discovered from typing enough letters into a keyboard my complete love affair with this city, with these people and what’s in my DNA. I have lived in different cities and it never felt right, never felt like home and I thought I was crazy. It turns out I am simply a Toledoan and that’s all. As soon as I came to accept this fact, this sense of pride started to grow within.
I discovered something tonight that I never even thought about before. Would I give my life for this city I love? I don’t have that answer. I am humbled by those who filled the room tonight who without hesitation all have answered, “Yes.”
One of my favorite days of the year is St. Patrick’s Day, because it is a West Side tradition. I love going to OB’s, having a pint or three and enjoying the company of the local firefighters who play the bagpipes and drums. I would see Steve’s face every year wearing a Tigers cap, enjoying a green cold beverage, just being a kid from the 43623. Tonight I learned that Steve was born on March 17 and somehow it just made more sense. Steve Machcinski was born to be a firefighter. Steve died being who he was and his reward for his sacrifice was having a bell rung three times in his honor. He wouldn’t have wanted anything else.
If not for counting the bells tolled, I think you can judge a man’s life by counting the tears that fall in the room that holds his casket. I learned tonight that two great heroic men have left this world too soon. I know because of the river of tears that flowed under our seats. Toledo lost two great sons last Sunday. I hope that two more will rise in their place; they would want that and we need that.
To the leadership in IAFF Local 92: Can we take an extra collection this and every St. Patrick’s Day? Since the firefighters do such an amazing job at filling their boots with donations on this day, why not add a second collection? Let’s fill their hats. I was hoping you would create a Stephen A. Machcinski Scholarship Fund for future firefighters. The only criteria I ask amongst future recipients is that they are Toledo-born. This is the way we should celebrate Steve’s birthday, by finding and financing future brothers from the very city he chose to protect. A matching Jamie A. Dickman scholarship fund could also be started with the only criteria being applicants must be born outside our city limits.
To the Toledo Fire & Rescue Department and their families: Please know that you are loved for what you do and are never thanked enough. From my family to yours: Thank you and God bless.
Find Jeremy Baumhower on Facebook or Twitter @jeremytheproduc.
Tags: 43623, James Dickman, Jamie Dickman, Jeremy Baumhower, Last Alarm, Last Call, Media Watch, SeaGate Convention Centre, St. Patrick's Day, Stephen Machcinski, Steve Machcinski, Toledo, Toledo Fire & Rescue, Toledo Fire Department, Toledo firefighters, West Side