That Darkness

A child was killed in a tragic accident not far from our home last week.

I heard sirens that night.

The boy wasn’t yet a teenager. 

A life ended.

Parents shattered.

When I was about the same age, forty years ago now, something similar happened.  Close friends of my mother and father lost a child, struck, and killed by a car, as he delivered papers in Hamilton, Ontario.  I knew that boy.  He was older than me.  My last memory of him is a brief conversation as he fixed his bicycle in the driveway.  I remember hearing about his death on the car radio as we drove to their home the day after he died.  I remember entering that home – palpable grief.  Silence and sobs.  I played with his young sister.  She spoke very matter-of-factly about her brother being dead, seemingly too young to truly understand.

My current job, much of my career, involves investigating death.  What caused it?  Who did it?  Those investigations span months.  Years. 

Months and years where families suffer.  The source of their intense grief is my 9 to 5 job.  It’s a sobering thought.  A jarring discrepancy. 

I was in a dollar store yesterday.  Having fun.  Buying birthday balloons, batteries for my daughter’s glowing princess shoes, and 5 pairs of reading glasses for my ageing eyes.  I’ve been to that store dozens of times.  The lady behind the counter is kind, friendly and we always chat and laugh, although I don’t know her name and she doesn’t know mine.  Yesterday she asked me what I did for a living.  I told her where I worked.  She responded, “I’d never have guessed you were a cop.”  I never asked why.  The conversation moved on.

This morning I wonder why she never would have guessed.  Is it how I look?  I’m very thin.  I lift weights but never seem to add muscle.  Should a cop be bigger – tougher looking?

I laugh in that store.  Always.  I chase my daughter around.  Everything catches her eye.  Stickers, sparkles, cards, toys, costumes.  She loves everything in that store.  Wants everything.  I’d like to buy it all for her.  Of course, I don’t.  But I can’t resist getting her something every time we visit.  Should a cop be firmer, stricter, less indulgent?  Less joyful?  Gruffer.  Meaner.  Angrier.  Bitter.

There are days I feel gruff.  Mean.  Angry.  Bitter.  Sad.

Everyone does.  Cops do.  You do.

I bet that every cop I work with could walk into that dollar store – and the kind woman who works there would never guess they are cops.  They are moms, and dads.  Husbands and wives.  Athletic and not.  Calm, and intense.  Funny and serious.  Not stereotypes.  People.

People whose careers expose them to darkness that most people don’t often see.

People who cope with that darkness in different ways.

People who are regularly exposed to death.  Sometimes it breaks them.  Sometimes it gives them a heightened appreciation for life.  Usually, it’s somewhere in between. 

I try not to think about what happened close to our home last week.  It’s too heartbreaking.  And because of that I do think about what happened.  Mostly I think about the parents.  And the young boy.  But I think about everyone who was there.  Neighbours, paramedics, firefighters, and the cops.

I think about what happened in Hamilton 40 years ago. 

And I think about a comment in a dollar store.

About how television and movie cops have shaped society’s perception of what a police officer should be.

A police officer is a person.  It’s you.  It’s your neighbour.  It’s the person next to you in a grocery store you’d never guess is a cop, because they don’t look the part.

I like cop movies.  I love detective fiction.  The best of it captures slices of reality.  But it’s fiction.  Stories.

Stories aren’t life.  And life is complicated.  So are people.  So are cops.  Just like you.  Just like me.

… If you interested, here’s a link to a podcast, where cops talk about their careers and their lives.  I work with these people.  Real people.  I’m proud to consider them colleagues and friends.  True Blue Podcast (buzzsprout.com)

Like my colleagues and friends, I pray for the victims and their families.  For peace and healing.