Saturday, September 08, 2007

Flowers for Firefighters

The funerals for the two Boston firefighters who died on the job provide perspective. We live when an injured cat is called a tragedy and someone who offers any help to a neighbor is called a hero. Instead, guys like Paul Cahill and Warren Payne deserve the hero label. They willing put their lives at risk whenever the bell rang to keep the rest of us safe.

Note: Click an image to see a slightly larger version.

As a Forest Hills Cemetery abutter, I am often there — it's my park. I visited the firefighters' plot and monument following the funerals. In the process of paying respects, I was surprised by some details I learned and the use of the flowers.

Perhaps most obvious was the artistic display at the base of the monument to firefighters. Someone had done an Andy Goldsworthy on the flowers. All around the base of the statue were arrangements sent with the casket, as one might expect. Then beyond each around surrounding the base was a starburst of white, long-stemmed flowers, carefully set out like so many rays from a stylized sun.

The metaphor seemed to be so many fallen firefighters as so many flowers on the ground. Yet, I couldn't find any citations for such symbolism for similar funerals.

However, a neighbor who works at the cemetery had a very plausible explanation. The FH director of operations, Mitch Zakrzewski, went to art school and is a prime mover in the modern sculpture in the cemetery. The staff knew that he has spent a lot of time in the morning before the ceremonies. It seems he was paying his own tribute to Cahill and Payne. If so, good on him.

Flowers were profuse at the monument and the freshly used plot. They covered the burial site and then after the ceremony surrounded it. One had a Boston Police sash. Many were ephemeral, like birds of paradise and quickly browning and shriveling in the 90-plus temperatures. Others such as the roses and orchids seemed to thrive.

Only Warren Payne's body rests at the firefighters' plot. The cemetery does not charge for firefighter burials there. Yet, the Cahill family had other concerns.

His body was cremated and the family will care for them by their own plans.

Hearing that a firefighter would choose cremation was quite a surprise to me. That seems to show equanimity in the constant presence of danger and possibility of sudden death that most of us cannot comprehend. Certainly a firefighter avoids burning to death, but after death there is no more reason not to create the body than there would be for any of us.

Perhaps too, it shows a refined sense of humor and acceptance of our shared fate.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I went and stood by the Forest Hills Gate for both funerals. Folks from Dicon, the T Yard, the Shattuck, the neighborhood and beyond. It was the least we could do.

I cut through the cemetery heading for home. After Cahill's service, I noticed all the cars at the Crematory. Once they are done harvesting whatever organs/tissues they would like, I want to be cremated. But somehow, the thought that a fireman would be cremated, really struck me.

The bagpipes at Payne's burial service were amazing. I heard them as I walked home through the woods, and I had to stop and listen. it seemed wrong to even walk at such a moment.