You're born, you live, and you die. Pretty much sums up life doesn't it ("to dust you shall return"... and all that)? And yet it is the time between birth and death that we must fill "...the unforgiving minute... With sixty seconds' worth of distance run" - as Kipling so eloquently wrote in his poem If and fill well. We must integrate this lawman's journey into our greater life story, surviving and prospering while in it and hopefully emerging on the other side better off for the experience. But it is not an easy task.
Law enforcement career tragedies, divorce rates, alcoholism and suicide are sadly forgotten or not talked about until it happens close to you or on your agency. What good is this lawman's journey if you leave detritus and debris in your wake? Is there a way to proceed along and improve or build upon your life instead of tearing down and creating casualty?
Recently I've come across the writings and thoughts of Joseph Campbell who wrote a book called The Hero with a Thousand Faces dealing with his study and work on the hero's journey. Campbell's research into mythology and the hero as depicted throughout history has been used by authors and screenwriters for years. George Lucas writer of the move Star Wars and its sequels credits Campbell's book and research with helping him develop his story lines and the trials and tribulations that his character Luke Skywalker goes through.
Paraphrasing Campbell's research, the Hero's Journey follows this path:
- Normal Life
- Call to Adventure
Although based on mythology, this progress or journey mirrors the law enforcement officer's career as well.
Normal Life / Call to Adventure
There you were going about your average mundane life flipping burgers, mowing lawns or attending university when, for whatever reason, you heeded the call to the adventure of law enforcement. Whether it was out of a quest for excitement or to fulfill a life's ambition such as I always wanted to be a cop like my Dad, (as long as it wasn't with the thought of getting rich...) you signed up, took the test and got hired. Although the adventure turned out to be 90% boredom and 10% panic, even old Luke Skywalker had some downtime. The problem with law enforcement is you never know on what call you might encounter the evil dragons that need slaying.
Whether it's a little green Jedi Knight like Yoda ("Do or do not; there is no try...") mentors show the hero the secrets of the trade. Whether it's how to swing that sword or some Ninja death touch, the hero usually has to sweat and toil under the master's tutelage to learn the skills necessary to complete his task. Pay attention to this, there are good solid mentors in law enforcement for whatever area you are studying. Select your mentor carefully (too many frauds and nincompoops out there) and train like your life depends on it... because it does! Skills decline but some heroes only face adversity and fulfill their destiny later in their careers, the swordsman cannot let his skills or his edge grow dull.
Helpers and Partners
Luke had Han Solo and others; Captain Kirk had Spock. It seems like every hero in myth and the movies has a sidekick, helper or friend that helps fulfill the quest, provides comic relief and oftentimes pulls the hero's butt out of the fire. I've been lucky enough to have some of the greatest coppers around as partners, shift mates and fellow SWAT operators. They've been there for me during my journey thus far, have eased the burden and often saved me from myself. Cultivation of friends and partners during your law enforcement quest is as solid an idea as any myth or legend. Back-up is a life saver.
We're not talking about you going into some great cave of death like the protagonists do in Lord of the Rings but we are talking about coming into intimate contact with man's inhumanity to man (or woman), death in all its forms, extreme violence and the worst that society has to offer over an entire career. Oh, you might not get in a shooting or a really bad resisting but like I mentioned earlier, an evil fire-breathing dragon (in man's clothes) might be on the next call. You can't stop the action to train or review, it's test time - you versus them, your skills, abilities and attributes against theirs.
Many times the hero must overcome the negative actions of the king or corrupt duke or bishop who, based on blind ambition in their pursuit of power or the crown or under the guise of having the real interest of the kingdom in mind, sabotage or attack the hero and end up doing more damage than good and make the task and journey harder. Indeed much of the lawman's stress in this journey comes from your own police organization or city and those with their own agendas within it.
The problem with the lawman's quest is that the fall-out of the tests develops over a lifetime. We begin to treat the family like suspects, we lose our humanity and we suppress our feelings toward sadness and suffering to the point we become incapable of feeling anything including joy.
Whether he was a good guy who was called upon to stand between good and evil and had to do some violent things to save others or a bad guy that was pulled back from the brink because of the quest, the hero in myth is forgiven for his sins or actions. Forgiving yourself and letting go of the past allows you to live in the present and make a contribution to your family and society for the remaining days you have. If you don't let go and forgive yourself and others, you can get stuck reliving the battles and skirmishes over and over again. The dragon you once slew ends up winning.
The idea or notion is that the quest makes you stronger or better for the experience but that takes a healthy coping system and mechanism.
Once the hero's quest is completed he returns to society. He can be battle weary and scarred but his character has been strengthened and as Shakespeare wrote,
From this day to the ending of the world
But we in it shall be remembered,
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.
For he today that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition.
And gentlemen in England now abed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us...
There are a lot of similarities between the hero in myths and legends as Joseph Campbell's research and writings show and today's real deal heroes wearing our nation's uniform in the military or wearing police blue on the streets of America. Make your Lawman's quest a story to be proud of because you are in a noble profession and on a journey that few could travel.