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Monday, April 16, 2007

Don't Call My Name

AUTHOR'S NOTE: I wrote this piece a few months after I "retired" from law enforcement. I was inspired upon the occasion of the untimely death of a local State Trooper, whom I did not personally know, to write this piece. I further edited the work upon the tragic death of another police officer, whose wife, a Deputy Chief at the time, had been one of my references. I consider this to be a work of fiction because the experiences within are not necessarily "mine", but those of police officers collectively, throughout the world. The beginning is mine, although I suspect that others would state something similar. Police Officers everywhere answer to a true call; it is not just a job, and even a short time in the field marks a soul for life. .
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I decided a long time ago to become a police officer. My family was shocked and most of them decided that I was insane. They spoke to me as if I were an irrational child, and everyone, EVERYONE, asked me "WHY!?" . I neither defended nor explained my choice. The simple reason was this: there was no rational or logical reason in the world for my desire to become a police officer. I knew the risks I'd be taking and I understood my family's concern.

So I prayed, "God, please don't call my name."

I went through the training where they made us run miles and hold the push-up position for what seemed like hours while we listened to our instructor give us his life story. They made us take our turns at leading calisthenics and if we didn't give it our all, they made us do extra. They stuck us in the "gas chamber" and gave us tear gas, CS gas, and pepper spray just to be sure we got our "money's worth" of education. They twisted our joints and shot at us, and throughout the training, they impressed upon us that no matter what happened, no matter how serious the injury, how intense the fear, or how close the panic, we were always to be in control of ourselves and the situation. They taught us the mentality necessary for survival on the streets. And they told us story after story of heroes fallen in the line of duty. They taught us to learn from their mistakes as well as our own and how to not make the same mistake twice. We may never get a second chance.

Throughout it all, I prayed, "God, please don't call my name."

When I was finally hired, I raised my right hand to give my oath to God, my Country, my State, City and Department, to uphold the Constitution of the United States, enforce the laws, to Serve and to Protect. In a room full of collegues, family, and superiors, I gave my oath and silently prayed, "God, please don't call my name."

I wore my brand-new uniform with pride, pinned on my badge, strapped on my vest, and holstered my loaded gun for the first time. As I did so, the full weight of my responsibility settled upon my soul. I experienced for the first time the taste of the knowledge that accompanies fear; sometimes "serving and protecting" means taking a life or risking my own...so I prayed, "God, please don't call my name."

I rode in a squad car, patrolled the strets, stopped offenders, served warrants, subpoenas, and took reports. I turned in documents upon which I had written, "status/inactive", knowing that someone's home, life, and rights were somehow violated, but I was unable to provide the solution they needed me to offer. I realized that although I was young and inexperienced, I was suddenly "Authority", and I supposedly had "the answer" the people I served were seeking. I comforted the grieving, warned the disorderly, and stopped the assault. I restored safety, referred people to other agencies for problems I couldn't fix, and I tracked down runaways and returned them to their parents, caring or otherwise. I held the hands of children trapped in twisted metal and I helped to save the life of someone's family member. Each and every day I saw both the best and the worst of human nature.

However, I always knew that I was not immune to the tragedies that strike unprovoked, so I prayed, "God, please don't call my name."

I learned early that because I wore a uniform and a badge, I was no longer my own person. My life was not mine; it belonged to the public and my reputation was relegated to the same. I became the target of hatred, unforgiving glares, and pointing fingers. Likewise I was seen as an expert in the law and the solution to life gone somehow awry. And I felt incredibly inept.

So I prayed, "God, please don't call my name."

I attended the funeral of a fellow officer who had fallen in the line of duty. I gave my condolences to his family and friends and I shared in their grief. As I paid my respects and said my goodbyes to the officer in the casket, I realized that his death was not personal. He was killed because he wore a uniform and a badge. He died for what he represented, not for who he really was. I knew that it could just as easily be any one of the thousands of officers who do the same job lying in that casket. I also knew that no matter who it was, the death would not be any easier to accept. And as the tears came to my eyes I understood the full impact of the identity I shared with this individual. And I prayed, "God, please don't call my name."

When I flipped on the lights, switched on the siren and screamed through crowded intersections en route to a call of a "man with a gun," and as I risked my life to reach an unknown situation, I knew that I couldn't spend my career, and thus my life, fearing that my name would be called. So I put my life into the hands of the Lord and I did the job that no one else would.

I stood by the closed door, drawing my weapon as, from the other side, came the unmistakable sound of a live round striking the empty chamber of an unidentified gun. I didn't need to see the frightened eyes of the victim to know that I was living someone else's desperate prayer. I knew why I was there.

"God, you already called my name.""

2 comments:

Terry Nelson said...

This is a deeply moving post. Thank you.

Ray from MN said...

Thank you, Adoro. I don't know what to say.