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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Belonging

I've been watching a lot of cop/fire shows lately. For years I simply couldn't do it; Hollywood always gets it wrong and those things they get wrong used to drive me so crazy it would make me angry. I couldn't enjoy that kind of "entertainment" that made the rookie mistakes I made...and paid for a thousand times over.

There was more to it than the technical malfunctions of the screen writers, though; the "camaraderie" of the actors on the set was just that:  acting. 

I remember sitting at certain restaurants with my fellow officers, picking at my food while they talked "fantasy football."  We rarely hung with the other female officers, most of whom were on other shifts. Usually it was just the FTO's (Field Training Officers) or ex-FTO's...and me. The guys in my department were just as cliquey as a bunch of 7th grade girls and quite honestly...even more nasty.

I was the third wheel, a fish out of water, the kid sister no one wanted around. In other words...the untried rookie. I could deal with that, for I expected that to be the case, but what I hadn't expected was all the subtle psychological sabotage.

Every so often they'd joke with me but I had that little nagging sixth sense that they reason things weren't better was because we both knew I wouldn't be sticking around. I just didn't yet know the reason, nor had I had a chance to live up to any reason to stay or to leave.

That distinct lack of belonging was something I couldn't put to words. As I told one of my friends from Skills training, "I don't feel like a cop."

My friend was in line to be hired by a big city but hadn't started yet and was interested in my rookie experiences. Logically, he was perplexed that I could put on a Kevlar vest, a badge, a gun, go to morning briefing, don a radio and drive a squad car and still not "feel like a cop."  I was perplexed, too.

I don't in any way mean to say the department was all bad. In fact, that October the other six or seven  women in the department, represented by two of them, waylaid me one afternoon to invite me "Up North" with them on a weekend fishing trip.

"We already checked your schedule",  Officer T. said to me. "We know you're off! Do you want to come?"

Ha!  If I'd wanted to say no, at that point I would have had to have a great excuse! It was clear they WANTED me to go with them, and in fact, they were all very helpful to me. Perhaps things would have been different if I'd realized early enough which help to request and when. I had allies in ALL the other women in that department, for they'd been where I was, at least in a sense, and knew the struggles I was facing.

Meanwhile, back at the Station...

...one particular officer, not an FTO, seemed to want to make things especially difficult for me. My training officers and a couple other cops warned me about him in vague but menacing terms. It wasn't that he was a "hound", but it was more intimated that he hated women, was a jerk, not a good cop...whatever. That very much put me on my guard and made me suspicious even though he'd always been at least polite to me, if aloof and cynical.

Well, one day I came in and put my radio on the charger before roll call.  It was pretty much ready to go as I'd used my home charger, but I figured it could use a few minutes while we were in briefing.

This particular anti-woman Officer in question was called out of the briefing room to go to dispatch, and as he passed me in his hurry, he stopped me and requested that I put his radio on the charger for him. I saw that every docking station was taken, and, knowing that mine was OK, I removed my own radio, replacing it with his. I passed him a couple minutes later and confirmed I'd placed his radio in a docking station as he'd asked, and he thanked me kindly. Fine. Done. I thought nothing of it.

I was quite surprised and offended, therefore, that after briefing, this very angry, very large hulk of a man confronted me very loudly with, "You LIED to me!"

Taken aback, I asked him what he was talking about. He pointed dramatically to his radio in the charger, orange light glowing, and demanded to know why I didn't just TELL him that there wasn't a spot available.  He claimed that I just set it aside and lied to him about it.

"No, I didn't!"

"YES you did! Why didn't you just tell me the truth?"

At this point he was bending down to meet my eyes, cornering me, his very angry, shouting face only inches from mine.

I didn't take very kindly to being cornered and accused like that, so I struck back with all of my 5 feet, 4 inches of Pure Attitude. 

I denied lying, stated clearly (and loudly to overcome his own protests), that I DID put his radio in the charger at the expense of my own. I told him next time to be more responsible and charge it overnight like I did, and don't blame me when his equipment isn't ready. I further told him that if someone else took it out of the charger that wasn't my problem, and went on to inform him, quite loudly and in language that might have made a sailor blush, where, exactly in his anatomy he could place his radio from that point onward.

This little scene gathered quite a crowd of badges as you might imagine, (although none intervened given this was a verbal skirmish) and this angry officer backed off quite considerably in the face of my charged verbal onslaught.

I went down to the women's locker room in a huff to gather a couple things, then headed out with my training officer who naturally told me I needed to watch my language and cautioned me that my outburst probably did some serious damage to the reputation I didn't even have yet.  I was ashamed. He told me he was glad I wouldn't let anyone walk all over me but that I really needed to be more guarded and...professional.

He was right and I knew it. Thankfully he kept it off his observation reports for that day.

But something funny happened as a result of that scene; the officer I'd been so warned about suddenly became my best friend. He would go out of his way to assist me on calls, or,  if I was working on paperwork he'd offer advice on little tricks my FTO hadn't told me about. One day when we walked in to the station he loudly proclaimed that I was his "favorite rookie."

And the scary thing is, to this day I think he actually meant it. In fact, I think that the whole radio thing was a setup by my own FTO, who was hoping I'd make an enemy instead of a friend. And I think that my new friend realized it while I was going off on him, which is why he become my buddy after that. (Yeah, I know something about psychology and depravity, too.)

For some odd reason, I make the best friends through massive confrontations on first meetings.

Still, I knew I didn't belong there. The whole time I wore a badge and carried a gun, I felt like I was playing dress-up. Cops and robbers. It was a pretense, even when I actually did manage to do something right.

That's why I never went back to law enforcement; I wanted to grow up and become who I was, not make myself into what I could only pretend to be. 

The Fire department was much the same, albeit without the big explosive confrontation with a co-worker. That particular year was more interior conflict than exterior, and the camaraderie was there but there came a point that I knew, once again, I was in the wrong place entirely.

The sense of relief on the day I was laid off can't even be expressed in words. It's like I'd faced a dragon and learned it was a fixed match with someone's trained pet, ending in a draw where both of us walked away with medals of honor.

Religious life was different, though.

With all my trepidation and gun-shyness from so many bad work experiences, bad discernment, etc., the communities I visited made me feel like family from the very beginning. That's not to say I was "home" but rather, it was like the sense one gets when visiting beloved relatives. When I left, I couldn't imagine not being there again, I couldn't imagine my life not knowing these Sisters.

And you know..it wasn't about the superficial ideal of "camaraderie" or a lack therof; it was simply a shared love for God. No matter how hard it was at times on those visits, I never felt like I had something to "prove" to anyone. I had only to "be."

That is why I press on. That is why I continue to pray, in spite of my obvious obstacles. There is no Easter Sunday without a Good Friday, and for now, whether I'm called to religious life or not, I have a huge burden to bear and carry up Calvary.

I've written often about being in the shadow of the Cross, and I see that as the sun sets, that shadow becomes longer and longer, and I know that it's leading into a long, dark night. Still, I walk because I know that what I choose, what I believe I am called to do, isn't going to be easy. It is not an escape from life, but rather, makes life more real, more intense...more...true.

I chuckle now at the conflicts of the past. They are nothing in comparison to what I currently confront. I see, clearly now, that all those jobs, all those conflicts, were only preparation for what is happening in this very moment.


From the Liturgy of the Hours, Series III (Midafternoon)

If the Lord does not build the house,
in vain do its builders labor; 
if the Lord does not watch over the city
in vain does the watchman keep vigil.

In vain is your earlier rising,
your going later to rest,
you who toil for the bread you eat:
when he pours gifts on his beloved while they slumber.

~ from Psalm 127
Apart from God our labors are worthless 

10 comments:

Jose said...

I do hope you plow on, and continue to try to follow your vocation. Many Saints were turned away by various communities before they finally found their place. Don't let anyone stop you!

Adoro said...

Jose ~ A Vocation isn't like a career you go for, but is all about God's will. So..it's not a matter of any person or community slamming the door. Quite to the contrary! Every community I visited told me I was welcome back, and one in particular sent me a note last fall inviting me to enter on September 8. Obviously I didn't go.

What stops me is my hefty financial obligation - the house with over $50k negative equity and a lot of other debt resulting from both education and things like car repairs I just don't make enough money to cover.

Therefore, when I say "plow on" I'm talking about the process of discernment. I know where I want to go, and where I believe God wants me to go, but since I am not free, I have to continue to pray and trust in Him..which means ongoing discernment.

Or I could give up and just choose not to discern any more - which would be slamming the door on God.

Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt said...

Adoro, what an incredible story! You are so brave and so wisely introspective. Standing up to someone, acknowledging you are not where are you are supposed to be, starting fresh...wow. You are a true inspiration.

I've gone through many jobs where I felt I didn't fit in. I've also mistaken some places where I THOUGHT I fit in, but I didn't. (My "duh" factor can be pretty high sometimes.) I think my current work (writing and teaching ESOL in a jail) has brought me where I need to be. I love my work and believe I can make a positive difference. You are so right when you say that these things are not jobs. They are vocations, and we are led to them by a higher power.

Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt said...

PS: LOVE the sign!!!

Adoro said...

Katherine ~ Well...yes, they were just jobs. But you're talking about a different definition of the word "vocation" than I am.

In Catholic terminology, a "Vocation" (capital "V") belongs to ones state of being, a true gift from God flowing from the life He gave us. That would be Marriage, Religious Life, Priesthood, or Consecrated Single life.

So when it comes to jobs, yes, there are some that are more of a calling than a mere job, but that is still secondary to one's state of being. A Vocation is vowed life...whereas a secular calling like law enforcement, teaching...that can change and probably will change throughout one's life. Vows do not.

Hope I explained that in a way that maybe better clarifies my use of the word "Vocation". :-)

On the sign...lol, took that at a little British Pub we went to for my brother's birthday. I just HAD to get a pic and the owner or manager..whoever she was, went over and lifted a cord out of the way so I could get a good shot! LOL!

Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt said...

Ah, so I should call being in the right job a "calling."

Muy bien!

Adoro said...

Well..that's what I do since on the blog I'm speaking of Vocational (big "V") discernment, so as not to confuse that with a job.

But there is such a thing as a calling as "vocation" (small v). If I used both terms like that, though, it would appear inconsistent or at best, confusing.


So it can be proper to call a job a vocation or avocation, but I won't do it here just because I'm trying to properly define terms according to Catholic theology/practice and remain consistent!

Adoro said...

Katherine ~ Just an addendum, totally OT, hope you see this: I really wish you'd allow comments on your blog as the one you did on your dog really made me want to comment!

I know you did away with comments for a good reason, but I'm hoping maybe the people who made your life miserable are gone now so the rest of us can give you the good experience bloggers like me receive! (Seriously...my reg. commenters are awesome human beings, even when they disagree with my own commentary on things!)

Lemme know if you ever change that setting!

Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt said...

Okay, Adoro. I did it. Comments are moderated, so I will have to approve them, but you won't have to worry about that! : )

Adoro said...

LOL! OK...I'm off to flame you...I mean comment now! ;-)