I have been reading Choosing Gratitude: Learning to Love the Life You Have, a wonderful new book by a favorite author, James Autry. He penned an essay entitled “To Serve & Protect” in which he speaks of the difficulties of the honorable profession of being a police officer. In my work related to suicide prevention I have come to learn, as a group, they face one of the highest suicide rates of any profession…the reasons are numerous and complex. In 2007 and 2008, the City of Batavia lost two officers to suicide. Below are words I discovered to honor them.
It’s too late to thank Mike Rappley and Carl Ensign, members of the Batavia Police Department, who, for reasons we will never fully understand, found their lives so unbearable that they chose to end them.
In the wake of their deaths, I have been thinking about ways I silently mistreat the men and women whose lives revolve around the simple pledge to “serve and protect.” In fulfilling this sacred oath, they often find themselves in the position of interrupting the normal flow of life—stopping me for a violation or redirecting a trip home to deliver me safely past an accident or construction project. And when that interruption impacts my life, they are too often the recipients of my frustration and anger.
Years ago, I spent time with an officer in his patrol car. In those hours, there wasn’t an opportunity for anyone to affirm him for his work. In fact, since his time was spent inserting himself between the lawful and unlawful sides of our society—facing only the unlawful side—I couldn’t imagine when a kind word or a simple thank you would be part of his job. These servants typically face only danger, sadness and criticism. They halt dangerous practices in the community, end domestic disputes and wake us in the middle of the night when a loved one is lost to one of life’s many tragedies. We have even come to rely on them to resolve neighborhood disagreements we have become too timid to face personally.
The word respect is based on a root that means to look. Re-spect means to “look again.” We respect another when we take off our blinders—reflect on our biases and limited interpretations of life—and look with fresh eyes at who they really are. Since Carl’s death, I have been trying to show my respect for the men and women of the Batavia Police Department by looking again at the many things they do to make this community a safe and magnificent place to live.
So, to every member of the Department, even if you cannot see it next time I pass you on the street, know that I will be saluting you for all you do. Thank you.
Post Script…to this day, four years later, I still salute every police officer I encounter.