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The Gift

The month of December is one of the more difficult times of the year for many people. It is rife with trepidation about the holidays. Parents wonder if they will be able to fulfill their children’s wishes for gifts to place underneath the Christmas tree, while the children themselves secretly hope that Santa will grant their requests for the latest toys they’ve seen advertised since summer.

Those of us in law enforcement face our own special challenges during this unique time of year. Many of us will be working Christmas Eve and/or Christmas. We accept it as part of the job, but that does not diminish the stress that being away from our loved ones always creates. We miss many family moments, ones we can never get back or recreate. Moreover, during the course of our tour on the holiday, we are exposed to unfortunates who suffer tragedy and sorrow on the very day that should fill them with joy and feelings of good will. Having endured holiday work schedules many times, I can offer some advice concerning the perfect gift to give your family.

Over the years I’ve witnessed my colleagues fret over what presents to get their loved ones. They’ve stressed over jewelry for their spouse; each year a different piece is in vogue, tennis bracelets one year, diamond earrings the next. The children have their status piece to acquire as well; that special toy or tech gadget that every child must have. I recall in the past some of the must-have novelties included oddball items such as Cabbage Patch dolls and Tickle Me Elmo. A year later, many of the formerly treasured toys took center stage at garage sales.

Often, my co-workers were obsessed with getting popular items any way possible, to the point of calling department stores, reading every sale paper, and even answering personal ads placed by unscrupulous people who sell hard to find treasures at ridiculously inflated prices. No matter, my colleagues were prepared to pay any price. They had to have them.

Over the years, I’ve seen lines of people crisscrossing department store parking lots at one o’clock in the morning, in snow, rain, and freezing temperatures, waiting for the opportunity to buy that one special gift. It makes sense that there is a limit to how many items a store can carry in its inventory, whether it’s flat screen televisions, laptop computers, talking dolls, or Play Stations. Someone is going to be disappointed and go home empty handed.

Invariably, whenever anxious people crowd together, disagreements develop, pushing and shoving ensues, and frustration with not getting the reward for their time and effort manifests itself in the form of slugfests and threats. Eventually, the police are called, and what began innocently as a quest to please a loved one, turns into a nightmare resulting in a parent going to jail. Sad. What’s even sadder is that we are the ones tasked with maintaining order and arresting those offenders who cross the line, all the while knowing that their original intent was a genuine love for their children and an attempt to please them. Stress.

Another situation always encountered during the Christmas holidays is the call from a family who arrives home and finds all of their presents stolen. Burglaries during the holidays are heart-breaking. I can’t decide which is worse: the abject depression of the parents who toiled long and hard to buy the gifts or the look of despair on the children’s faces who know that this year the toy cupboard will be bare.

These incidents cause more stress for LEOs, born out of a feeling of helplessness and anger. It’s difficult to maintain one’s sanity and compassion in the face of so much evil. The easy answer is to turn to something that eases the pain. That soft place to land often times comes in the form of alcohol, drugs, or someone who seems to care and wants to listen.

Holidays are a magical time for many, but for others they can be times when we let our guard down and succumb to temptation. That invitation to stop for a drink after work, or the party you’re called to break up which results in a good looking party-goer inviting you to have a drink with them after your shift, has the potential to lead to disaster. It takes a strong person to say no to such enticing situations, and unless you are an individual with a strong moral code you will likely succumb.

This is where the the gift comes in; one that your family will treasure for a lifetime. I’m not referring to a tangible gift, one of jewelry or electronics, toys or clothing. Rather, I’m referring to something intangible, something that you may not regularly give. That something, that gift, is YOU.

Think about this for a moment. What’s the one thing your spouse and/or children always ask? If you’re like most of us, the answer is: When are you coming home? Your family, more than anything else, wants you to be with them, they want time with the one person they cherish more than any bracelet or doll - they want their mom and dad, their husband or wife. Giving the gift of yourself is priceless. And if you’ve ever been injured on duty - shot, stabbed, beaten, involved in a serious car accident - you may have been nudged already by your Creator to do just that.

Those of you who haven’t been given the wake up call, nevertheless, need to hear the message. It’s very simple. Don’t leave your home without hugging your loved ones and telling them you love them - say the words. Don’t leave with a problem or argument unresolved. Remember to tell your family members that you value them above all else. Get your priorities in order: Faith, Family, Job; everything else is secondary. Always remember this: To the world you are but one person, but to one person you are the world. Don’t disappoint the very people who want nothing more than the gift of YOU.

Merry Christmas, brothers and sisters!