Every time I hear of another police officer shooting, I ache. Deeply. I grieve for all those affected by these tragedies. There are no words sufficient to solace the devastated family members, no way to replace the missing husband, father, son, brother, uncle -- or wife, mother, daughter, sister, aunt -- all the personal roles filled by those who risk their lives every single day to keep law and order in our increasingly challenged society. That is not to minimize the suffering endured by friends and co-workers, which is also intense.
Maybe I grieve more easily than others due to losses sustained in my own life, but it’s hard to imagine what those close to law enforcement and first responders go through every day of their lives knowing the bad news could come. For those who perpetrate these events on purpose, there are no suitable words at all.
We used to respect law enforcement. They were our friends. For many that recollection is still strong. We cherished and appreciated the protection and unending services rendered. Cops were heroes, like firemen and all other rescuers. Children looked up to them, aspired to the professions. Many of the small services rendered were never officially known or recognized, but at least there was gratitude expressed. We certainly did not fear the police, and hatred was unheard of.
Too often these days gratitude is supplanted by grief. Why? Perhaps the breakdown of family in general, and the absence of fathers in far too many homes, encourages a transfer of blame and resentment to authority figures. Nothing sane warrants that. Staying on the right side of the law of course, helps frame our approach to law enforcement.
In my life as a parent, there came a day when I had to teach my occasionally belligerent son a vigorous lesson about respecting officers of the law. This is the story I share today, because what children learn early, and mostly from their parents, will form their values and views for the rest of their lives. Everything we do as parents matters. We can have a huge impact, but we need to be present in their lives and cannot delegate the responsibility.
On a day like all others, I and my two children left the post office where I’d just conducted some minor business. As we walked the few yards to our parked car, a Deputy exited the Sheriff’s Department half a block away. The officer was walking towards us.
Out of the blue, my angry little man said: “I’m going to go over there and kick that police officer!”
“Oh???” Hm! My five-year-old was about to learn something about his mother.
“I have a different idea,” I said. “That officer, like most officers, spends his entire day helping people, sometimes with really bad problems, and instead of kicking him you need to go over there and APOLOGIZE for having such a terrible thought about him!”
My son cringed in fear and his face contorted in protest. Since he wasn’t cooperative, I took his arm to help him walk a little faster.
When we reached the officer, I explained the minor problem I needed help with. The officer grinned and got down closer to the sidewalk so as to not intimidate this increasingly terrified kid. Later my son would tell me he thought he was going to go to jail! Maybe that was a good thing!
My boy never did get any words out, so after a few minutes the officer smiled, stated he’d see far worse problems that day, and we parted ways. I forgot to ask his name.
Well, for those who do not believe there is a God who desires to participate in our parenting, the rest of this story may seem entirely coincidental; for others it will be far more encouraging.
I was deeply regretful at my son’s behavior and prayed silently for him to be helped with his thinking.
Driving home, less than ten minutes later, the two-lane highway was slowed due to a bad roll-over accident, off our side of the southbound lane. I was about to get my first answer to the prayer for my son. In the moment I could take to study his face in the back carseat, I saw him craning his neck in disbelief as he noticed the officer on location and urgently assisting the accident victims was the very one he had just slighted back in town.
When we got home, I said nothing, letting my son think. To my surprise a short while later, he came to me sadly, saying, “Mom, I made a mistake. I should have apologized to that police officer.” I was a bit stunned. However we had a problem, how to fix the mistake? How to recover the situation? I did not know the officer’s name.
My suggestion was that we pray together for a chance to once again encounter the officer. We had no idea how or if it would happen, but my son prayed with me, visibly burdened with his mistake.
One more week passed, and it happened. At a small Independence Day outdoor concert where we had seated ourselves, the officer appeared, walking around the crowd to reach his own family. I wondered if my boy would have the courage to follow up on his intentions, but he amazed me.
It still makes me proud, when I think about it, watching my son shake hands in the distance with the officer, who he boldly approached on his own. When he came back he was beaming.
Mission accomplished, the breach healed, I was satisfied, but the story was just beginning. For the next two years, it seems we never stopped encountering the Deputy. I sensed the awe my son felt for the bond being renewed every time he met the man; he did not have a good role model in our home so each contact sunk deep. The officer would not have known that.
The last event was unforgettable, given as I heard later the Deputy was soon afterwards transferred to another part of the State.
We had been traveling back to our Rocky Mountain town from the desert southwest, making our way along the barren two-lane highway of the Southern Rockies, past the sand dunes and not much else.
That was when the car broke down. And it wasn’t going anywhere.
With no way to call for our towing service, and many miles from the nearest town on the map, the situation was worrisome. No cars passed for what seemed like a long time. And it was very, very hot.
But then came the surprise. Glancing in the rear view mirror, I saw a black and white Chevy Blazer approaching. It pulled up behind us and stopped. Was this help or trouble?
Out stepped our friend, the Deputy. Unreal. Absolutely unreal. Ninety miles from home. My son’s eyes lit up in total astonishment. Of course the Officer wanted to help, but since he was transporting prisoners he could not offer us a lift. Instead he used his authority to call a road crew we didn’t know was anywhere around, and instructed one of the vehicles to tow us to the next town. From there we could call our towing service.
We were saved. Saved by a friend who made helping his full-time job, his mission in life. It was dangerous then but nothing like now, when even the close communities they serve harbor dangers never encountered in the past.
We can all help. We can influence and teach. We can change opinions. I don’t need to pose the question, whether my kids ever had a wrongful thought about police officers after the Post Office incident and its sequel. I’m just happy I seized the moment when it arose. I showed my son how easy it was to turn a stranger into a friend, by becoming one himself.
[Photo credit: Dreamstime stock photo, Kelly Boreson Charland]