• Acorns & Aperture Photography

So others may live: a reflection.

Formation of birds fly into the sunset at Sperr Park in Big Flatts, New York. | Image by Olivia McKelvey

When I started this journey - again - it was because of my master number, a new year, and the words of a seer from a reading behind a purple door. Now, however, I realized the only sight I ever needed was my own.

8 days.

8 days ago I was excitedly preparing for a road trip home, throwing caution and adult responsibility to the wind for a mere twenty-four hours while I allowed myself a breath to catch up with a friend and just "be." I forwent deadlines, remembering my new pact with myself. I mean, mercury was already in retrograde and I was already rededicating my priorities after death had stolen so much from those so close and had offered fresh ashes of perspective in exchange.

7 days.

7 days, 9 hours, and 17 minutes ago I pulled in the driveway and hopped up the steps, hearing the familiar sounds of radio chatter as I entered the house. I remember the moment our eyes met as she turned her ear to her pager and increased the volume, relaying the details - fully involved house fire, kids trapped - "do you mind..." - and without hesitation, we left. For a moment it was if time stood still and as if we had traveled back to earlier days. I remember the heaviness in the cab of the truck, both of us waiting for the moment of extrication, listening intently and watching the tufts of smoke rising into the cold, deep blue sky from miles away.

And little by little, we all remember the rest, too. But more importantly, I remember the steady hands, the intent focus, the strength, and the selflessness. I remember the reassurance, the fearlessness, and the determination. I remember the moment I stepped back, looking around me at the faces of providers I had known for years, now seeing them in a new light because even in the midst of this unbelievable, unspeakable tragedy, they held the line, and I had never been more honored to walk amongst some of the finest first responders in the world. Why the world? Because, until you watch the reflection of CPR in progress in your sister's eyes as she's knelt down, consoling a small soul so that he is distracted from the chaos around him, or the inferno in the reflection of a brother's helmet during a daring extrication, knowing that they'd do it all over again, no questions asked - it's then you realize the true meaning of sacrifice.

6 days.

6 days ago we gathered again, refocused. In those moments we tried to remember how we got here, to this place. Trying to make sense of something that was so much bigger - trying to compress something so large into a cabinet so small as the rest of the files from years of service come flying out of the seams. In those moments, however, there was also solidarity.

In the days that followed, old friendships were rekindled and new ones were formed out of the chasms of tragedy. Even once close friends were now soul sisters and brothers because there was now an unspoken understanding that had surfaced in the kindling of "me, too." We talked, cried, laughed, screamed, held the silence, held our breath; but most importantly, we held up each other, we held the line.


Just like that a week had passed and yet somehow it seemed as if time not only stood still but had also rapidly progressed and decades had gone. In less than 168 hours I felt as if I were a completely different person, changed. That caution I was so readily willing to throw to the wind was now rededicated, in a different light, but now stronger than ever. Suddenly I found myself processing life in light years, realizing that




is the most precious.

Awakening I took a look at my camera bag longingly, wondering if it would find a place in this new life, and posted for a model call, my "therapy." Within moments, a response and a plan. I should have known, however, Someone's plans are always bigger than my own, and I was redirected again. Instead of a tree farm, I found myself at Sperr Memorial Park, a gorgeous hidden gem in the Southern Tier dedicated to the courageous New York State Trooper Andrew Sperr who perished in the line of duty. Yes, Lord, I hear you. I didn't need a distraction. I needed a moment.

So I took a breath.

After my session I went back to the sanctity of the water and the spirit of my fellow responders. As the sun set and I peered out along the water, I closed my eyes and inhaled, allowing my lungs to fill, deeply, for the first time in seven days. Exhale. Stop. Repeat. Looking up, I watched a small formation of birds fly overhead, one flying slightly behind the rest and then they slowed, together, holding the line.

I grabbed my camera, and snapped the frame, smiling. I guess there would be a place after all.

Dedicated to all First Responders - past, present, and future - Dispatch, Fire, EMS, and Police - who wake up every day, prepared, focused, and ready to run toward someone else's worst day knowing that it could very well create your own. We've got your six; you're not alone.

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