Thinking back a very, very long time, I recall Mom instructing me to write a letter to Santa to let the Big Guy know about the toys and other goodies my young heart desired for Christmas. I don’t think I had mastered handwriting at that tender age, so Crayola crayons had to suffice.
I remember wondering if my letter would actually make it to the corner mailbox. “How will Santa know it’s me and keep track of my list with all of the other children writing letters, too?” Mom told me not to worry; it would all work out. And, it did.
A warm glow envelops me when I think back: go to see Santa, sit on his lap, tell him my deepest desires and then my efforts to be a ‘good’ boy because, “Santa is coming to town,” as the song goes. Being ‘good’ was no small chore for this tear-it-up kid.
On Christmas Eve, Mom and Dad would insist I go to bed on time and get right to sleep, else Santa might not show. I was certain to leave a thank-you note and accompanying milk / cookies for the highly anticipated visitor.
Christmas mornings of those years now blend together in a somewhat blurry mural of smiles, laughter, glee and the feelings of being loved and thrilled. I recall the new bicycle, the new record player, the American Flyer train set. Over time the glow would come from watching the surprise and joy in the eyes of my parents as they opened a special gift I’d worked hard to obtain and then deliver on Christmas morning.
The common thread that is now woven tightly into every memory of every Christmas: I felt loved and totally cared for. The real gift was being hugged, loved, and completely encased by my parents, Grandparents, Aunts/Uncles and others who gave unselfishly of themselves to raise me up.
They are all gone from this earth now. I still recall a statement made to me by my Dad when I was still fairly young, “The time will come when you will bury your parents. You will be strong and carry-on in our memory.” Hearing those words shook me, then. They still bring tears, even now. But, Dad was right.
Though they are gone, I still draw on their strength. The love they showered upon me still powers my batteries. They showed me how to carry on and how to pass the gifts they’d given me to my children and grandchildren.
THAT, my brothers & sisters remains the REAL GIFT of Christmas. I just didn’t realize it at the time.
INNOCENCE IS IMPORTANT
Being innocent allowed me to have enough faith to write those letters to Santa. Innocence allowed me the anticipation and joy of Christmas morning delivered by a big man in a Red Suit. I came to understand the notion of unfaltering, unconditional love which I would later transfer to the love of my life: Paula.
There would be more life-changing awakenings. Some of them are pleasant others, no so much.
Following that fateful day when I raised my right hand and swore to defend the Constitution, I came to learn (first-hand) what a phenomenal and unusual gift I had been given in life: born American, two loving parents that treated me as their greatest gift, solid upbringing knowing right from wrong and the best woman/wife God ever put on this earth.
I must admit that the recognition of my good fortune came at the expense of seeing so many others who lacked the basic essentials of a “good life.” Holiday periods – especially Christmas – have a way of emphasizing and shining a light on the multiple stressors in the lives of those we serve.
Marriages are often rocked to the breaking point when other families are celebrating. Children might be abused or living with so little that they go to bed hungry and Christmas is just another day which reminds them of their dire circumstances. We have seen the pain and anguish in the eyes of those tiny people whom we encounter.
Every one of us has been on “those” calls at Christmas. They haunt us. We want badly to ‘un-see’ those visions that make us shudder inside long after the fact. When young children are involved, we don’t want to even remember the event much less talk, write or otherwise mentally recap it ever again.
It is a rotten ache that can spill over into other areas of our life. I was explaining the ugliness to a civilian friend one night using this analogy: have you ever burned a sauce-pan of food? I recall my wife warming a small pan of Spaghetti-O’s on the stove top. The heat was too high and the food was receiving too little of her attention.
READ MORE: A DAY WITHOUT MOURNING
Suddenly, we could both smell our meal in another room of the house – and it wasn’t a good smell, at all. The entire bottom layer of spaghetti was charred. She tried to save the meal by spooning the good stuff from the top and serving it. You know what happened: the rotten smell and taste of burned food had permeated every morsel in the pan. It wasn’t fit to serve to the dog.
So it is with the ugly family experiences at a holiday time. The negative, “burned” family can taint our outlook and before you can count to three, your family gets to experience living with a negative, miserable person: you.
PHYSICIAN, HEAL THYSELF Luke 4:23
It is the responsibility of each of us to gird ourselves. Donning our body-armor has become routine; no biggie there. We must also don and wear our emotional armor and stand ready to deflect these negative attitudes BEFORE they infest our souls. How?
You know the bad-stuff is coming and you must prepare for it, in advance – just like wearing body armor. It would do little good to put on your vest after you’ve taken a round, eh?
I’m drawn to thoughts of a couple of youngsters at my gym. A few months back, they proudly announced they would shortly start the academy. They’ve now graduated and are in Phase I on the street. I spent a little time with each of them as they neared their academy graduation.
They were about to begin experiencing some of a cop’s life ‘firsts.’ Memories of these events will linger for decades into the future – the same way we each remember our “first” experience at sex. There will be your first: homicide, your first beaten child/children, the first time a person dies in your arms and maybe most memorable of all – your first cop funeral.
I will always remember my first: Detective Christopher Wouters, Warren Police, October 11, 2000. I remember learning of his death, of going to the funeral home, of attending the funeral mass with thousands of others and I remember walking the casket from the church sanctuary to the adjacent cemetery. It is as vivid as if it happened yesterday. Every year, at the Wall, I bend and gently run my fingers over Chris’s name. It’s sort of like touching him, again.
READ MORE: DON’T BLAME US, HE WAS A FOOL
I had finished my academy just a few months before we lost Chris. I was a rook and I definitely wasn’t ready. I did not know how profoundly different the funeral of a brother would be from that of anyone else.
So far this year, there have been 117 officer deaths in the line-of-duty. Every one counts. After each loss, sympathy is lavished upon the cop’s surviving family, i.e. wife, children, parents, etc. This is as it should be.
In addition – almost worse, in some ways – 212 officers have taken their own lives. That is almost double of the line-of-duty deaths. It is a crisis. It is time to recognize those losses and the grieving blood & blue families left behind.
What I learned during those dark October days in 2000 is this: there is a family of men and women in blue that accompanies each death. They stand guard at the casket. They fire twenty-one gun salutes. They stand rigidly at attention moving nary a muscle as the casket containing their fallen brother passes on its way to the final resting place.
There are stiff upper lips in abundance. What folks rarely notice though is the flood of tears streaming silently down the cheeks of those called to honor their comrade on his final journey.
The ‘experts’ report study results: when an agency loses an officer in the line-of-duty or suicide, it will go through a grieving process much the same as each of us does individually. On average, it TAKES TEN YEARS for any agency and its officers to fully recover from the death of one of their own.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
It means that after the TV reporters are gone, the newspaper folks have forgotten and the higher-ups have departed, but the cops who buried their brother are still hurting – and hurting badly. Most of us know that fact – sort of. The trouble is that we don’t know what to do or how to act upon the information.
READ MORE: WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO NOW?
Think of going to visit a friend who is very, very sick – say Pancreatic Cancer. Part of you wants to go and to ‘fix’ the problem. After all, that’s what we do: we fix stuff. But, these situations are beyond being ‘fixed.’ We don’t know what to do or say. The silence of such an encounter can be deafening. So, rather than face an uncomfortable situation, we just avoid it. We pretend it isn’t there.
SHAKE THE COBWEBS LOOSE … For Christians, it is important to remember that Christmas is when God sent us a savior – to help us.
This is a tough world. God doesn’t expect us to go it alone. Yes:
- We’re men
- We’re tough
- We’re macho
- We’re strong like an ox
Many of us are hurting inside and fear letting anyone else know. In the Good Book, it says that we Peace Keepers are doing God’s work on earth.
It is critical, vital and terribly important that we remember that caring for one another is no less crucial than taking care of others. PLEASE, don’t wait to be asked. You know guys who would cut off an arm before they would ask for help. If you look around yourself, likely you will spot a brother whom you know could use a boost. What are you waiting for?
CHEW ON THIS
As mentioned earlier, we have lost 329 brothers and sisters so far in 2019.
In many instances, a twenty-one gun salute has been done. Taps has been played and the media is off searching for a different circus.
Now, it’s shift-after-shift, day-after-day for our remaining Brothers and Sisters who are simply carrying on. Hiding their pain. Trying to keep a stiff upper lip.
YOU KNOW what they are going through.
They are too proud (or afraid) to ask for help.
Do you know a cop who lost a brother who was close to him this year?
Please, don’t let them suffer alone. Don’t delay. Pick up the phone. Send a text. Scratch out an email. Meet them at 7-11. It may seem (to you) that it’s nothing when – to them – it’s everything.
Today is the day.
ASK YOURSELF: If not me, then who? If not now, then when?
May the Peace of Christ be with you this Christmas season.
At the bottom line, it’s all about saving just ONE life.
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