I doubt that it would surprise anyone if I were to say that this Christmas season was not one of the best for me and that I am more than happy to see it over and done with. I don't know why but I just couldn't seem to get into the Christmas spirit at all this year but a simple act of kindness has given me resolve to do better next year (provided the good Lord allows me to still be around for next Christmas).
Shortly after I had gone into work on Wednesday morning, Christmas Eve Day, our receptionist called upstairs to tell me that there was a plate of Christmas cookies at her desk that had been dropped off for me on Monday and she suggested that perhaps I'd like to head downstairs and get them before there weren't any left. Either the temptation of having a plate of cookies next to her for two days was too much for her or Amy thought it might be a good idea to taste-test a few of them for she'd sampled a couple and let me know which ones were the best! There were plenty, though, and as I carried the plate back up to Dispatch with me and read the attached tag I was really touched by the gift of the cookies as they were from the family of one of the EMTs that I used to work with at American.
Joe Battista came to American Ambulance in 2005 and was one of the nicest kids I had ever met. He always had a smile for everyone and radiated a positive attitude about life and work that was actually quite infectious. I honestly don't remember ever seeing Joe without a huge smile on his face and he never complained about any calls that were given to him while he quite often volunteered to hold over or come in early to help out when we needed it. In other words, he was a dispatcher's dream and I adored him!
In May, Joe took some time off and flew down to Florida to visit a friend of his from Connecticut who had moved to the St. Petersburg area with her mom and stepfather. Apparently Joe had a spare plane ticket from an earlier airline mix-up and he decided to use it to visit Cory and enjoy some Florida sunshine. Shortly after he arrived in Florida, Joe and Cory took to the waters of the Boca Ciega Bay on a 2-person Sea-Doo personal watercraft which they launched from Cory's house and into the bay. Within moments the day that had held so much promise for fun and sun turned tragic when the Sea-Doo was struck by a 29-foot powerboat manned by an operator that was boating under the influence. Both Joe, 23, and Cory, 19, died in the accident.
I was working dispatch on Sunday, May 22nd, when we received word at American that Joe had been killed in a terrible watercraft accident and I can still remember not believing it as I had just spoken to him on the previous Friday. He was so excited about the trip and about coming back to become a paramedic as he had recently finished his schooling and needed to simply take the certification tests to get his license. I was sure that he'd make a great paramedic as it was easy to see that it was a career that he was excited about and that he really had a great desire to help other people. I later found out that he had listed his "likes" in his 2000 high school year book as "skiing, leaving school for fires, saving your life," as well as listing his emergency medical technician certificate as one of his most prized possessions.
Shortly after the news of Joe death was confirmed, I sat down and wrote a letter to his family telling them what a wonderful son they had and how he had made my own job that much easier by loving his own job as much as he did. I felt like it was the least I could do and that his parents would appreciate knowing what a fantastic son they had raised. His funeral was one of the saddest I have ever been to but even through the sadness it was easy to see how loved Joe was not only by his own family and friends but by the community that he lived in. In addition to working at American, Joe was a volunteer firefighter for the town of Clinton as well as volunteering with the Westbrook Ambulance Service. For someone so young, he had accomplished a lot and had touched many, many lives - mine included.
Even though it's been several years since Joe left us, he has not been forgotten and every year American holds a softball tournament to raise money for the Joseph M. Battista Memorial Scholarship Fund which is awarded each year to a graduating senior of The Morgan School (Clinton's high school) who plans to pursue a career as a paramedic or in the medical field and has community or voluntary service. The scholarship is a great way for Joe's memory to live on not only in his community but also with those of us at American who had the pleasure of knowing a phenomenal young man whose life was cut way too short.
Since that fateful day in May, Joe's parents, John and Sherry, have remembered us at American Ambulance every Christmas with platters of cookies and with treats at other times of the year, too, but this is the first year that I received a plate of cookies of my own. I'm not sure why I was given my very own plate this year but I was touched, I was honored, and I was humbled as I looked at that gift of delicious Christmas cookies and remembered the young man whose parents had given it to me. Maybe - somehow - this was Joe's way of reaching down from heaven and reminding me of what the Christmas season is all about as well as reminding me of all the good things in life that are so easily lost sight of. I held more than a plate of cookies in my hands - I held a plate of good cheer and thoughtfulness and proof that love lives on in spite of all.
Since receiving those cookies I've thought a lot about Joe and about how quickly life can change in the blink of an eye; I've thought about how easy it is to lose touch with the important things in life; and I've seen Joe's smile in my mind a thousand times over reminding me that life is what you make it - good or bad. Thank you, John and Sherry, and thank you, Joe - your simple act of kindness meant more than you will ever know; I really do feel that I have been touched by a very special angel.