We’ve spent a lot of time together. Sometimes I see you more than I see my family. We’ve worked a lot of shifts, run a lot of calls, helped a lot of people, overcome a lot of obstacles, and seen a lot of bad things together.
When I come to work in the morning at 0700 sharp, there you are, and with a smile and a warm handshake, we’re reconnected and ready to roll.
What a partnership means is both simple and complex. It means that, in a zombie apocalypse, I’d pick you and your family up on the way to the bunker. It means that I would loan you my truck without hesitation, babysit your kids, and make you soup when you’re sick. I would take a bullet for you, both metaphorically and actually. I will stand up for you when you don’t, and I will look out for your well-being when you can’t.
I am whatever you need me to be. A friend, a brother, a pallbearer, a best man, a cosigner, a godparent, or a wingman, I’m going to be there.
You’re my partner.
I know you. I know your habits, your idiosyncrasies, your quirks, your strengths, and your weaknesses. I know how you like your coffee, I know your bedtime, I know what music you like, and what movements irritate old injuries. I know when you’re tired, or when things are rough at home. I know when you need to talk and when you need to be left alone. You know me the same way.
On calls, I know what you’re thinking before you say it, and you know my next move before I make it. You trust me, and I trust you. We both know our roles.
I’ve read about knights in full plate armor, who discovered they did not have the visibility or the mobility to protect themselves in a 360-degree battle environment. So they started fighting in pairs, back to back. A well-trained, well-practiced partnership could hold back hundreds of foes. You are this to me.
I will hold you to the highest standards, the same ones you hold me to. I expect you to be your best self, and together, we will strain our potential until it cries for mercy. We don’t let each other slack, and we call it like we see it. If I didn’t do my job, you let me know, and you don’t sugar coat it to protect my feelings. You’re always helping me to better myself, to capitalize on my strengths and work on my rough edges.
You are the other side of my coin. We complement each other, good apart but better together. I never want to leave you hanging. When you alley, I will oop. You set it up, I’ll bring in the punch line.
I know and sincerely care about your family, and I know you care for mine. I love to hear how your children are growing, and what your spouse is doing. Your stories do not bore me, and when I ask you how your family is doing, I genuinely care. You are a part of my family.
Here’s the hard part. Here’s the part that’s no fun to talk about, because it’s uncomfortable.
Our job is dangerous. From burning buildings to busy interstates, we go some into some pretty sketchy situations together. And I need you to be smart. I need you to pay attention. I need you to have the knowledge, skills, abilities, and courage to make hard decisions in bad situations.
Sometimes, there are lives in the balance.
Sometimes, one of those lives could be mine.
It could be your fault, it could be my fault, it could be nobody’s fault. We don’t spend a lot of time talking about what we would do if one of us goes down. And if we do, there’s a lot of noble, heroic talk of brotherhood and “leave no man behind.”
But I have something I need you to know.
If I’m gone, let me go. If there is no chance of saving me, don’t get yourself killed for nothing. I know you’re smart enough to know the difference between a situation where you can win and one where you can’t, and I need you to have the courage to call it what it is.
Because it sounds very noble for you to die by my side, but I think that’s just something we use to comfort ourselves. I don’t want your kids to go fatherless or your wife to be a widow just so that my body isn’t the only one. I don’t want that for you.
Don’t get me wrong. If you can save me, you better do it, and you can bet I will do the same for you. I will expend every last ounce of effort and ingenuity I possess to get to you and get you to safety, just like you’d do for me.
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not suggesting that we let each other die. I’m not suggesting that we should take no risks to protect one another. I want to suggest that we allow for the possibility that some lives are beyond saving, and that, sometimes, throwing more lives on the altar doesn’t fix it. This is hard to do with a brother or sister.
I want us to stay out of these situations, of course. I would much prefer it if neither one of us is ever, ever faced with a decision like this. It would be better if we operated smart, if we applied our combined knowledge and experience to get the job done and survive. And now that we’ve had this talk, I think that’s what we should go do.