The Thin Blue Line Adds a New Generation

Today my nephew joins the ranks of those who stand between civil society and anarchy, the thin blue line. He has become a member of this sacred brotherhood and noble calling. And while I am filled with thoughts and emotions that I want to share with him, I know he cannot hear me, for he is filled with only excitement for his new adventure. And that is how it should be. For I too have worn a badge in my youth, and I too could not have truly understood all that I now yearn to tell him; all that those who have worn the badge have yearned to share with those who have followed. Perhaps in the years ahead when he is an old and grizzled officer, when he is less innocent to the sadness and despair, but also wise to the overwhelming joys that life can bring, the words that I now share will resonate. But for today, he starts a journey that belongs only to him.

My heart swells with dance in the streets, shout it from the roof tops, elation and pride. And yet my heart aches with worry. My eyes shed tears for the misery and horrors he will see. My soul fills with joy for the camaraderie and friendships he will find.

He has dreamed of joining the Thin Blue Line since he was a boy and he set out on a path of single minded determination to wear the badge. My heart sings with elation that he has achieved his dream and I raise my glass in a toast of celebration.

He has pledged his life to uphold the law and serve a public who will often not appreciate his service and yet he will wear his uniform with pride. He will give up time with his family and push aside his wants, putting others’ needs above his own. Will he become hesitant in social situations when asked what he does for a living? For society either loves or hates police officers with very little room for gray and people will not hesitate to share their negative thoughts with him. Or will he with boldness and pride declare that he is a law enforcement officer? For he will have earned the right to be proud through his sacrifice and love for all members of society, including those whom society considers lost. It takes a special kind of person, one who is a cut above others, to embody that sense of love for his fellow man, and I beam with pride that he is such a man.

The little boy who long ago accompanied me on dinosaur hunts under his grandparent’s porch is now a man facing a new grown up danger. And it is this very danger that haunts my heart with worry. Will he encounter someone who cares little about the man behind the badge? Will he have to make good on his pledge to give his life in the service of others? It is a worry that will be with me for the entirety of his career. This worry will have no rest, for there is no such thing as “off duty” for a law enforcement officer. Without a moment’s hesitation, he will answer the call for help no matter the day, or hour for whomever needs him.

The thin blue line and the pride that goes with it is in his blood. He follows in the footsteps of his father and his uncle. He grew up with the uniform hanging in his father’s closet. He heard stories of the job but mostly just the good stories, the ones that made him laugh. A few stories that his uncle shared about detectives solving cases, the kind of stories that made the job appear intriguing. But I know the stories he did not hear, stories rarely spoken out loud. I know the horrors he will see, and I pray that his soul will survive unscathed. Perhaps he will see a baby’s mangled body at the side of the road; the pacifier still wedged in the baby’s now cold lips. A group of teens all past their last breath lost in a night of celebration and a short drive home. The silent tears and vacant stare of a young girl who now knows far more about rape than any little girl should know. The lifeless body of a twelve year old boy and a blood splattered shotgun lying a short distance away; another life lost to suicide. Hesitation for what he must do, as the tantalizing aromas of dinner fill the foyer of a simple home; his heart breaking as he looks into the eyes of a woman and he destroys her world with the news that her husband will never be coming home. Images that will forever flash through my nephew’s mind, often when he least expects it.

Will his experiences that become his shared and unshared stories change who he is? Perhaps at first, his heart will question how the man he is delivering to the jail fell down the rabbit hole of drugs and crime. The man is only a year or two younger than he is and yet their lives could not be more different. Will he pause as he drops him off at the jail, knowing the fate that awaits this young man? Will he become jaded as the delivering of prisoners becomes routine? Will he look at the world with ever growing suspicion? Will he become cynical? Will his soul grow weary? Will he shudder when he encounters the true evil that lies in some men’s hearts and struggle to make sense of such evil? Will he find his answers in God? Or will he turn from God with a growing disbelief of His existence in the face of such evil? Will the weight of the badge steal a little bit more of his soul every year? Will he hold tight to all the suffering that he sees? Will it be too much for his soul to contain?

Will his strength to protect his soul come from the lives he impacts for the better? Giving a father a conviction for the murderer of his child, pulling a mother and her children to safety from her burning home, or performing life-saving CPR on a father as his family looks on with pleading in their eyes? Will the countless lives he saves make up for the lost? And which of these lives will he choose to remember? Will he remember the smiles and not the scowls that he leaves in his wake? Will he know that his service has changed countless people’s lives for the better?

Will his strength come from the many deep and life-long friendships he will make within his thin blue line family? For he will form powerful bonds and friendships unknown to civilians. Friendships forged over his grueling and challenging time in the Academy and the many years after. Years filled with shared late night coffees, too many adrenaline filled and heart stopping moments, and stories that will induce ever more laughter with each new telling over the years. Moments that will only be understood by the men and women with whom he serves. And have no doubt, they are his brothers and sisters. And like all families, they will fight amongst themselves, but they will come together with fidelity when called. My nephew now has family in all fifty states and the world over. Family who will welcome him, offer him their friendship and will stand strong the line with him.

Will his strengths be enough to soothe his soul? I pray that like his father and uncle before him, he finds a supportive partner to share his life. A woman whose heart will rejoice with him over the triumphs of his day and who will be strong enough to love him, listen to him, and console him as he lays down the burdens of his day. A woman who’s heart will never abandon him.

Out of all the many emotions and thoughts fighting within me today, I choose to feel pride. Pride for the man he has become and the man he is yet to be. And when in the distant future he takes off his badge, a civilian once again, may his father and uncle shake his hand for a job well done.

Carolyn Whiting was a police officer and EMT from 1986 to 1991.  She is the co-author of the book The Crazy Lives of Police Wives.  She is currently working on a non-fiction book about a family’s experience in Nazi Germany and their lives to present date. Her husband Robert is a police sergeant with over thirty-eight years on the job and they have been married for twenty-nine years.

(Photo courtesy Boynton Beach Police Department)