You call us the sports section. Our colleagues in the newsroom, those who grudgingly acknowledge our existence, call us the toys and games department.
We are removed from the real world. We worry about missed free throws and made putts, about whether the best quarterback in the NFL can outfox the best secondary in the game, about whether the Indians can pretty much stand pat and still make up some ground on the Tigers.
It is a make-believe world, sure, because the answers to those questions don’t really matter. Oh, maybe to the combatants — wins and losses certainly are relevant to those whose livelihood is measured by the standings — but the typical fan and reader, win or lose, gets up the next morning and goes back to selling widgets.
Toys and games. Fair enough.
But we serve a purpose.
Our valued colleagues bring you the news. We try to help you forget about it.
Sometimes, though, the real world intrudes, and not only can we not forget, we dare not.
Take war. We become numb to heartache. Soldiers and sailors and pilots are dispatched into harm’s way, defending an ideal and a way of life, sometimes only to give their own.
It goes on and on, and so does life. We see the fatality numbers, and after awhile we stop reacting. Sadly, we become numb to it. They are our heroes, but they are, if we are fortunate, anonymous.
Two Toledo firefighters died the other day. To all but a few of us, Stephen Machcinski and James Dickman were equally anonymous. We didn’t know them personally, and pulling over to the curb at the sound of sirens to help clear their path is probably the closest most of us came to them.
But when a fireman or policeman dies on duty, a piece of their community dies as well.
It becomes personal. So we dare not forget.
Hell, we can’t forget.
I’m told friends and family called them Steve and Jamie. We pray that they went quickly and quietly, without much fear or pain.
There will be a thorough investigation, and we will at some point get all the gory details. From a distance, it sounds as if the smoke thickened, blinding them, and part of the structure collapsed.
I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if one died trying to save the other. And I guarantee he would not have hesitated. It is how those folks are wired.
Here’s another way: The family of Hero Machcinski, who was single and had no children, has asked that any memorial tributes in his name go to the family of Hero Dickman, who leaves a wife and children ages 3 years and 1 month.
It is time to reach for the checkbook, friends. We take our heroes for granted until we simply cannot.
Family aside, their leaders and peers take something like this harder than anyone. Luis Santiago is not anonymous. I’ve known the fire chief for awhile. And he has been forever young. But I watched the video of his first news briefing; I stared at his picture in this paper. The man looked 100 years old.
The weight of grief can do that.
We have all aged a bit since Sunday.
They call it the last alarm.
Thanks to all of you, but particularly to Steve and Jamie, for your calling, your duty, your service, and your sacrifice.
We, all of us, will take it from here.
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.