Many years ago, my wife and I arrived for church services on a Sunday about this time of year. In the months prior our congregation had a new pastor. He was a great Irish guy named, Kelly. (All Irish guys are great... right?) I had come to recognize that when he crafted his message each week, he was thinking only of me. Each week, it felt like he was talking to no one else. He would routinely ping me right in the middle of my forehead, discerning exactly what I needed to hear. I still haven't figured out how he did that.
This particular Sunday message (right near Thanksgiving) posed this question:
Are you planning to DO Christmas this year, or simply OBSERVE it?
Christmas is a time of year when mankind often chooses to be at its best. It really doesn't require one to be Christian. There are many reasons for celebrations in life. My Jewish friends celebrate Hanukah. There are certainly other holidays, as well. In every case, it is the ambience of the season - with carolers, decorations, cards and reminders everywhere - which allows us to unabashedly shine.
The pastor's question really was this: do I intend to take an active part in this global celebration of mankind? Am I going to proactively show that I am thankful and that I truly care for the other people who share this planet with me? Observing would leave me sitting on the sideline. I would spend the season saying things like, woulda, coulda, and shoulda. Which course would I choose?
My wife and I talked about it. We agreed to pick up the pastor's challenge. We would attempt to share the love of our God and our faith with others this season. Though our efforts were simple, the rewards we received were greater than any we could have ever imagined.
So, What Does This Have To Do With Coppery?
Well, allow me to speak to others of my genre. I suspect that you have heard the mature cops in our ranks lament about the younger generation. Often, complaints come about the loss of the brotherhood. We talk about the old days when we hung out and did everything together. To some, it may have seemed like we were living in a commune of cops. We surrounded ourselves and immersed ourselves in the world of being a cop.
I cherish those times, even now. Going to Police Week in D.C. each year immediately comes to mind as a current equivalent, but yes, it is different today. There are many theories about why; that is a different story for a different time.
Police Week is a BIG event. It's easy to do all of the brotherly things there. It's like going to a cop's funeral. With all its pain, a funeral is another place where we do not fear to be a cop, right to the core. However, daily life is not laden with BIG events. Instead, there are bunches of little, seemingly unimportant, events that do not seem to matter.
This is where we have an opportunity to make a difference. We have a chance to teach the young by example. At this time of year, it might be described as choosing to DO Christmas. If you reflect on it, DOING Christmas is an opportunity. This season is a time when you can decide to love your brothers and sisters and to act openly upon it.
We adults no longer go to see Santa, sit on his lap and tell him what we want under the tree Christmas morning. Yet our wants haven't gone away, although the objects of our desire have likely changed. I certainly still want my toys - much to the consternation of my wife.
As I've gotten older, things are much less important than they were in years gone by. Our kids are raised and on their own. Our home is smaller now. Today, I find intrinsic joy in the love of my wife and my brothers in blue. Knowing that I am loved satisfies one of the most fundamental of my wants and needs.
This is the time, the chance, and the place to make the love you feel for your brothers and sisters come alive. I look at it this way: I am passing along the love I have received to other people in my life. It's done in little ways. The hard part is staying tuned in.
You've Already Learned To Do This
As demanded for survival, we have learned to be hyper-vigilant to threats on the street. We are always thinking about someone's angle when dealing with folks in our jobs. We know how to do that. I want to encourage you to apply that skill in a new way. Look around at the people you work with. Whether in the locker room, at roll call, over coffee, it doesn't matter. Essentially, tune in to the folks around you. Look for clues that may reveal they have a need which you can meet. Maybe it's a ride to the airport, fixing a piece of gear, a few bucks to tide them over, or just knowing that someone cares. This season provides the freedom to act on the brotherly love that we might otherwise be embarrassed to show.
Over the years, I've found places to look for clues.
- Is there anyone on the crew who does not have any family members in the local area? Will they be spending Christmas alone? Might they be skipping a traditional celebration that is so much better in the company of others?
- Look at overtime or detail sign-up sheets. Is there anyone whose name is on or near the top of all of the extra jobs through the holiday season?
- Think about the banter before roll call starts. Is there anyone who becomes uncharacteristically quiet when the subject turns to holiday-related activities?
- Is there anyone on your crew whose overall demeanor has changed as the holiday season gets underway?
- Think about pre-roll call banter again. Is there anyone who didn't have a place or people to share Thanksgiving with?
In police work, we call these clues. We're accustomed to seeking them out when hunting down the bad guys. We simply need to apply a known skill to a new set of circumstances. Cops are not immune to emotional pain and like every human being, there will be external signs.
It Is The Little Stuff
So, now you have decided to DO Christmas. You have recognized at least one person (maybe more) that could use a boost. Now, you want to know what to do. Here are a few very simple ideas.
- Invite a brother to share one some of life's simple pleasures: ask them to dinner at your house, tell them they would be welcome to join you for your kid's Christmas concert at school or if you have a church event (potluck, etc.) gently offer an invitation for them to join you.
- Go to your local academy (call first; don't just show up). Maybe take one of your coworkers. Make a holiday event of it. Take some patches or other cop stuff and welcome the recruits to the family.
- Take some home-made treats to roll call with holiday greetings from your entire family.
Years ago, my wife's family had a Christmas Eve tradition to gather the entire clan. A fantastic array of Polish food was put before the group. Gifts were exchanged. It was the family highlight of the year. One year, I recall that there were at least 40 people attending in one member's relatively small home. In 38 years of marriage, the group size has dwindled for a bunch of reasons. With my wife's blessing, I extended an invitation to those members of my work crew that otherwise would be alone for the holiday, asking them to join us. As I recall, about six of them showed up. We had a blast!
A few of them had tears in their eyes as they left that Christmas Eve night offering their heartfelt thanks to my wife. It was an event that was talked about for months. In the years that followed, the group of brothers and sisters grew. My wife was thrilled. It wasn't anything big but it was a way to communicate a sincere concern and expression of love at this most joyful time of year.
Don't Let A Brother Stand Outside Looking In
The holiday season can be a very tough time of year for many. We all know that this is the time of year when people and families come unglued. We've been sent on those calls. Death, destruction, abuse and all kinds of negative stuff happens with much greater frequency. It's tough to peacefully watch your neighbor eating cake when you're starving.
You are probably sharing life at work with some people who need extra attention. This is their first holiday season following a divorce, separation or death of a spouse. Maybe they've had a tough year at work (whether or their own making, or not). Their family may be struggling with kids whose behavior is driving them nuts.
Some cops are working every extra job, every detail, every hour of overtime and trying to earn every dollar they can. They are often tired and grumpy. They may have lost sight of the really important things in life while trying to keep their heads above financial water.
Of course, there is the wife or girlfriend who wants all of the trappings of the good life but constantly nags at her man because he is always working. It's a no-win situation. There are lots of no-win situations in life. Left alone to fester, a person can come to believe that suicide is the only escape route for no-win situations. We need to show our brothers and sisters that we are capable of providing the relief that they so desperately seek.
The greatest gift that you can give cannot be wrapped. It is the gift of your love and concern for your brothers and sisters in arms. This is the time of year when it is most needed and most easily given. Don't hold back.
In the final analysis, it's all about saving (and improving during the holiday season) just one life.