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“This is what it’s like” says your instructor, watching you carefully for mistakes

        Training you on bandages, splints, and the cruel rhythm of chest compressions

Teaching you what kills right away, and what takes a while longer.

Telling you that sometimes all you can do is hold a hand and say something kind.

And you listen, wide-eyed.

“This is what it’s like” says your crew chief, pulling you up into the ambulance.

        Showing you streets, the bad stretches of interstates, the homes of frequent fliers. 

Reminding you to check pockets for knives and arms for track marks.

Relaying experience’s thousand little lessons, unteachable in the classroom.

And you listen, working hard to show your worth.

“This is what it’s like” say your patients, pointing to where it hurts.

        Screaming with pain, clutching an extremity turned the wrong way. 

Groaning and sweating, grabbing at their chest saying it’s just like the last one.

Lying still and silent, unknowingly trusting a stranger with everything.

And you listen, replying with soothing words.

“This is what it’s like” says your gear, speaking in clicks, beeps and error messages.

        The defibrillator whines its way up to 300 joules, saying it’ll try but no promises. 

The ambulance growls, bouncing and rattling over potholes as you try to start an IV

The BVM whooshes, fighting to push breath into a ruined airway.

And you listen, hoping that together it’ll make a difference.

“This is what it’s like” says the notch in your shears, bearing witness.

        Reminding you of that one, the one no one could have saved. 

Pulling you back into the dirt and blood of the scene, unbidden.

Making you feel old, far older than you should be by now.

And you listen, wishing you didn’t have to.

“This is what it’s like” says the calendar, slowly passing time

        Marking out your shifts, 12-hour gambles on what’ll come your way. 

Quietly telling you it’s almost time to renew your license again.

Studded with anniversaries you’d prefer not to remember, but can’t quite forget.

And you listen, stunned that it’s been this long.

“This is what it’s like” you say to the newbies, watching them carefully for mistakes

        Training them on bandages, splints, and the cruel rhythm of chest compressions

Teaching them what kills right away, and what takes a while longer.

Telling them that sometimes all you can do is hold a hand and say something kind.

And they listen, wide-eyed.
by: _thoracic

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“This is what it’s like” says your instructor, watching you carefully for mistakes

        Training you on bandages, splints, and the cruel rhythm of chest compressions

Teaching you what kills right away, and what takes a while longer.

Telling you that sometimes all you can do is hold a hand and say something kind.

And you listen, wide-eyed.

“This is what it’s like” says your crew chief, pulling you up into the ambulance.

        Showing you streets, the bad stretches of interstates, the homes of frequent fliers. 

Reminding you to check pockets for knives and arms for track marks.

Relaying experience’s thousand little lessons, unteachable in the classroom.

And you listen, working hard to show your worth.

“This is what it’s like” say your patients, pointing to where it hurts.

        Screaming with pain, clutching an extremity turned the wrong way. 

Groaning and sweating, grabbing at their chest saying it’s just like the last one.

Lying still and silent, unknowingly trusting a stranger with everything.

And you listen, replying with soothing words.

“This is what it’s like” says your gear, speaking in clicks, beeps and error messages.

        The defibrillator whines its way up to 300 joules, saying it’ll try but no promises. 

The ambulance growls, bouncing and rattling over potholes as you try to start an IV

The BVM whooshes, fighting to push breath into a ruined airway.

And you listen, hoping that together it’ll make a difference.

“This is what it’s like” says the notch in your shears, bearing witness.

        Reminding you of that one, the one no one could have saved. 

Pulling you back into the dirt and blood of the scene, unbidden.

Making you feel old, far older than you should be by now.

And you listen, wishing you didn’t have to.

“This is what it’s like” says the calendar, slowly passing time

        Marking out your shifts, 12-hour gambles on what’ll come your way. 

Quietly telling you it’s almost time to renew your license again.

Studded with anniversaries you’d prefer not to remember, but can’t quite forget.

And you listen, stunned that it’s been this long.

“This is what it’s like” you say to the newbies, watching them carefully for mistakes

        Training them on bandages, splints, and the cruel rhythm of chest compressions

Teaching them what kills right away, and what takes a while longer.

Telling them that sometimes all you can do is hold a hand and say something kind.

And they listen, wide-eyed.

I was wrestling with this question a few years ago after tangling with depression for a couple months and nearly attempting suicide. When I came out the other side, I was struck by how thin the barrier between my existing and not existing became for a while there. It occurred to me that all the pain I felt, all my suffering, wouldn't have been a blip on the universe's radar.

I realized that my individual life was very small, and that there were many others like it. I felt this sickening surge of meaninglessness. Individual glory and self-aggrandizing seemed pathetic before an overpowering wave of anonymity. What was the point of trying to achieve, why should I struggle and strive, if eventually all I am and was would be subsumed and worn away by a dull gray sea of fellow humanity?

Well, that kind of thinking would just get me back to suicide again. Eventually I decided that effort, pain and struggle was worth it if it was directed at lifting the whole rest of the sea up with me. I decided that resisting my commonality with my fellow humans was a lie, and that true meaning lay in embracing it.

To get to the point: If you want a direction to grow in, look to other people. If you want transcendency, go care for a stranger. If you want meaningful connections, then give a shit without a thought for yourself. If you want pride, or greatness, find it in well-earned gratitude. If you want to feel alive, to be daring, to not be boring, take all of the above and go do it where the need is greatest and the challenges are largest.

Pardon the dramatics, this truly is what lends meaning to my life and I'm more than a little passionate about it. If it sounds like it might fit you, then go give it a try. Not sure what kind of engineer you are, but I've heard that Engineers Without Borders does good work.