Alone in the darkness with only the glow of the dash lights and the red, green, and amber lights of various electronics surrounding the drivers’ seat, thousands of police officers cruise, crawl, or careen through the streets and back roads of America every night of the world.
And yet they are not alone.
Some surround themselves with icons of the fullness of their life. A picture of their child or a statue of St. Michael, or a card printed with inspiring or motivating words. Memories accompany them, too. Words of an academy instructor. Advice from an old hand.
Lessons Learned... Confessions Heard
The longer the years, the more stories they carry. It seems that every block or mile post reminds them of an incident. Even that old patrol car, the odometer marking each mile, can hold a lot of stories.
The other — and universal — companion of every officer is the constant presence of death. We can ignore it, reject it, fight it, accept it, or challenge it. death doesn’t care much what we think of it. However we ride with death it rides with us still. Will it meet us at the next call? Will he visit us before we get home again?
I am no stranger to death. As a lawman, I have had death in my nostrils. As a chaplain, I have officiated over its handiwork. As a coroner, I have declared it. As a messenger, I have announced its arrival. As an investigator I have probed it. As a human, I have touched its twilight with prayers for deliverance from it. As a son, I have watched the science of its arrival, measuring the absence of the breath and pulse of life in the clean, white room of my father’s last moments.
We can taste it in the wasted lives and vacant looks of the addicts. We see its shadows in the hopeless child. We see its wicked finger beckoning to the woman on the bridge whose life has lost its appeal. We see it reflected in the engravings on a thousand noble memorials to fallen warriors.
When we stand at those graves or under the half-lowered flags this police memorial week, has death won?
I say no. I claim with the Apostle, “O Death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?”
I shake my fist at death and do not fear it.
If we have lived well and planted good works and wisdom, death does not win. If we serve daily in honor of those who served to the end, death does not win. If those who survive us can say we were good and faithful servants, death does not win.
If we look past our last breath and see a future that bears the mark of some good we have done, death does not win. If we cheat death’s purpose of robbing us of precious moments by burying them in silence and instead say today to those whom we love how much they mean to us, death does not win.
This week we will grieve.
Death has visited our brothers and sisters. It has taken warriors from us.
It has battered and bruised and challenged us.
But it has not won.