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26 November 2011 @ 01:46 pm
Not just the simple wonders of creation, like my new son at home nursing in my wife’s arms, or the majesties of nature, like the sun setting in the sky. I’m talking about real miracles, like turning water into wine or bringing the living back from the dead.
My name is Florio Ferrente. My father, a fireman, christened me after St. Florian, the patron saint of our profession. Like my pop, I worked my whole life for Engine Company 5 on Freeman Street in Revere, Massachusetts. I served as God’s humble servant, go-ing where the Lord dispatched me, saving the lives that He wanted rescued. You could say I was a man on a mission, and I’m proud of what I did every day.
Sometimes we arrived at a fire too late to make a difference. We threw water on the roof but the house still burned down. Other times we got the job done, protecting lives, whole neighborhoods, and plenty of pets. Those cats and dogs sure chewed me up, but I’m glad I hauled every single one down the ladder. 
Most folks have a picture of us loaded with gear rushing into flaming buildings. That’s right. This is serious business. But in the quieter moments we also have our share of laughs. We can send a pal flying up into the air with a blast from the pressure hose, and we make our wives crazy planting rusty old hydrants next to the geraniums in our backyards. We have more toy fire trucks than our kids and we get into shouting matches over the best color for emergency vehicles. For the record, I prefer old-fashioned red to that ugly neon yellow. 
Above all, we tell stories, the kind where we turn down the TV, kick back in the La-Z-Boy, and relax for a while.
What follows is my favorite. It’s about what happened thir-teen years ago on the General Edwards drawbridge not far from the redbrick station I call home. It wasn’t the first time we had raced there to pry people out of wrecks or scoop up folks who had been hit in the crosswalk. 
My first trip to the bridge was back in the Blizzard of ’78, when an old man missed the warning light that the ramp was going up. He crashed through the barrier, flew right off the edge, and was submerged in his Pontiac for twenty-nine minutes. We knew be-cause that was how long his Timex had stopped when the divers cut him out from under the ice. He was frozen blue with no pulse, and I went to work breathing life back into him. In a few ticks, his skin turned pink and his eyes blinked open. I was about twenty-four years old, and it was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen. 
The Revere Independent called it a miracle. I like to think it was God’s will. In this line of work, the truth is you try to forget most of your runs, especially the sad ones where people die. If you’re lucky they dissolve into a great big blur in your brain. But there are some cases you can never get out of your mind. They stay with you for your whole life. Counting the old man in the ice, I’ve had three. 
When I was just a rookie, I carried a lifeless five-year-old girl from a hellish three-alarm on Squire Road. Her name was Eugenia Louise Cushing, and she was covered in soot. Her pupils were pinpoint, she wasn’t breathing and her blood pressure was undetectable, but I kept trying to revive her. Even when the med-ical examiner pronounced her dead on the scene and began to fill out the paperwork, I kept going. Then all of a sudden, little Eugenia sat up on the stretcher, coughed, rubbed her eyes, and asked for a glass of milk. That was my first miracle.
I picked up Eugenia’s crumpled death certificate and put it away in my wallet. It’s all tattered now, but I keep it as reminder that anything is possible in this world. 
That brings me to the case of Charlie St. Cloud. Like I said, it starts with a calamity on the drawbridge over the Saugus River, but there’s a lot more to it than that. It’s about devotion and the unbreakable bond between brothers. It’s about finding your soul mate where you least expect. It’s about life cut short and love lost. Some folks would call it a tragedy, and I see their point. But I’ve always tried to find the good in the most desperate situations, and that’s why the story of these boys stays with me. 
You may think some of this seems far-fetched, even impossi-ble. Believe me, I know we all cling to life and its certainties. It’s not easy in these cynical times to cast off the hardness and edge that get us through our days. But try just a little. Open your eyes and you will see what I can see. And if you’ve ever wondered what happens when a person close to you is taken too soon—and it’s always too soon—you may find other truths here, truths that may break the grip of sadness in your life, that may set you free from guilt, that may even bring you back to this world from wherever you are hiding. And then you will never feel alone. 

10 December 2010 @ 02:30 am

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