Recent headlines include the powder keg in Ferguson, Missouri, a Kansas woman found beaten, raped and set on fire, multiple line of duty deaths and so on. Some officers in the midst of burning themselves to a crisp think “what’s the use in chasing and catching someone, they’ll get away with it anyway”. The holiday rush is beginning and people seem to become even more frantic, distracted, and rude to the point of killing others over a parking space. In a word, it is insane out there!
So why in the world would there be anything to be thankful for? What is the value of the holiday, Thanksgiving?
Unfortunately, the current generation finds Thanksgiving, the holiday, to be a commercial frantic introduction to the Christmas shopping season; rather than a time to pause, reflect, and feel gratitude. Whatever capacity we serve in law enforcement, this season finds us busier with stressed people hurting each other and themselves, having lost perspective of the incredible blessings living in our nation bestows.
In my own life, I have experienced some of these blessings that are taken for granted. Last year, the Monday before Thanksgiving, out playing with my dog I literally shattered my ankle in a freak accident. The first blessing was a Good Samaritan who called for an ambulance since I couldn’t get a signal on my cell phone. There are areas in the world that don’t have cell phones, ambulances or competent personnel to provide emergency care to save lives and prevent crippling injuries. In some countries, areas are so war torn, or poverty stricken, an injury like that is a death sentence.
I discovered that a shattered ankle, rather than simply putting a cast on and going back to normal life, is a profound shock to the system requiring a lot of care and time to recover. In becoming pretty much helpless, I discovered gratitude for things like being able to scratch my own nose and taking myself to the bathroom. Often, when facing what seems to be a set-back, it may in fact be a blessing in disguise.
Through the struggles this past year, I have been utterly humbled and overwhelmed by the blessings of a good marriage and friendship. This is not by accident or happenstance; rather it is a carrying out of the verb, love, through profound testing. Unfortunately, the word love has become diluted from misuse and misunderstanding. Love is not a soft, fluffy or romantic feeling which can come and go with the vagaries of the human heart. Love really isn’t spoken in words; it is lived through commitment, sacrifice and perseverance. People in law enforcement, first responders and the military often live the verb “Love”.
That brings us to what there is to be thankful for within the context of law enforcement. Officers face hatred, ambushes, senseless violence, and inhumanity. The criminal justice system is becoming even more dysfunctional, everywhere we look we can find injustice. Yet, still officers leave mustering in to answer calls for service, serving communities in spite of the corrosive grind day after day. What indeed can we look to with gratitude?
Our profession allows us to see first- hand how fleeting life can be. We see first- hand the mistakes and often the consequences of those mistakes on the lives of those making them. Rather than allowing this to reinforce cynicism, this can be used as an opportunity to build stronger relationships with our families and friends and gratitude for the lessons learned.
What we see on duty are repeated reminders not to neglect our spouses, children, parents, and friends for the seduction of only the thin blue line counts. Most people do not get that reminder until it is too late. It is not necessary that our family and friends understand what it’s like to be a cop. It is enough that they care and are willing to walk with us in our journey, even if it isn’t in our shoes.
Given that we see the height of the brokenness when we go to the bad calls, the murders, rapes, suicides and so on, we see each tragedy at the bottom. We don’t get to see the new growth, the overcoming and strengthening that results five or ten years on. We read of officers killed, but don’t see the foundation in his or her name enabling a child to step out of the tragedy to build on the noble heritage left behind. We don’t get to see the rape victim overcoming, becoming stronger and healing others through her experience. Yet these things do happen.
So the value of the holiday, Thanksgiving, is the reminder to stop, reflect and remind ourselves of so many ubiquitous, mundane things without which our lives would be far less bearable. It is especially important when dealing with burn out and becoming more jaded to look for things to be grateful for. The ability to scratch one’s nose is such a seemingly little thing, until one sees a person suffering from ALS or a cervical fracture causing total paraplegia. It is this attitude of gratitude that develops the resilience to survive and even thrive through the corrosive atmosphere that is often underlying a career in law enforcement.
Perhaps even more profoundly, our careers can be a demonstration of the verb love as depicted in 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7…
“For love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boastful, is not conceited, does not act improperly, is not selfish, is not provoked and does not keep a record of wrongs. Love finds no joy in unrighteousness, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
And John 15:13
“No greater love has no man than this, than a man lay down his life for his friends.”
It is this attitude of gratitude that allows the fulfillment of the highest standards of our profession. Each obstacle and set back is seen for the opportunity it provides to become better officers and better human beings. Funny thing is, finding one thing to be grateful for leads to seeing even more to be grateful for!
Juli Adcock began her career in law enforcement with the Escambia County Florida Sheriff’s Office as a patrol deputy until she was injured in a riot situation. She transferred to Judicial Security and retired in 1998. Juli pursued career advancement training with an emphasis on officer survival, interviews and interrogation. She worked with a local Rape Crisis Center and in victim’s advocacy, complementing her college course work in psychology. She currently resides in New Mexico and is an instructor with The Appleseed Project (www.appleseedinfo.org). The Appleseed Project is a rifle marksmanship clinic teaching the fundamentals of firing an accurate round downrange every 3 to 4 seconds, out to 500 yards, as well as American history. She has trained military personnel at White Sands Missile Range who are certifying as Squad Designated Marksmen. Juli instructs basic handgun skills to new gun owners in preparation for responsible personal gun ownership. She can be reached at [email protected] or through Law Enforcement Today.