I am thankful when I can finally hit the red end button on my phone. I toss it carelessly into my briefcase as it rests opened on the passenger seat next to me. As I turn my head again I catch my own reflection in the rear view mirror, bathed in the red light of my cars interior, my eyes look as lifeless as my soul feels. I reach up and quickly slide off the switch, I don’t want to see myself and surely don’t want others too. Thankfully it is twilight and I am in an empty parking lot, families have long gone from the playground that is next to my car. Home enjoying themselves, celebrating their children’s first few days at school, the wonderful things that they are learning, that their eyes are being opened up to the wonders and endless possibilities that surround them in their world.
I hope that they will always see those possibilities and will never be forced to face their fears, that they are never pushed to the point where they feel as if they are drowning and wondering what they must do to find a way to fill their lungs with the fresh air that comes with hope. Or wondering if they should let loose their last taste of air and slowly descend into the abyss, knowing that the world above no longer holds any joy for them.
I pull open the door and try to escape the confines of my car. As I close the door, I look back at the shield on its door. I remember so very well the pride that came when I first opened that door. The way I felt as I began my career as a Guardian. Its tarnished now, as so many others believe. Now I look at it with a different sense. Now I look at it as a picture of all of the things that it has taken from me.
Working in schools was a joy. Helping kids and trying to do what I could to show them that we are all so very much more than a badge and a gun. That handcuffs are a tool for safety and protection, that they do not represent hatred and oppression. I loved taking the time to try to break down the barriers and to truly help them. Not to help them past their singular view of who I was and what we represented, but to actually help them and their families try achieve some level of success and find their way out of our community and into the brightness of a newly discovered future.
I loved waiting for them at the end of the stage and shaking hands with those who at one time had seen me as one of the oppressors and now looked at me differently. Some I had taken to the places where I grew up, showed them that there was a way out. Showed them that the corner that I lived on still had a drug dealer on it, not the same one that I knew but yet another in a long line. But that hadn’t stopped me. The block hadn’t changed and I hadn’t changed the block. It was me who had been changed. Some saw that and learned. Some began to trust that I cared.
There have been so very many hurts, so many times standing above the body of a boy that I once coached or mentored. Going to the cold walls of prison to visit those who had fallen prey to the lure of the streets and gangs. That I couldn’t help and whose destiny I have held onto as my own personal failure, my own purgatory.
Now many look at me with a simple hatred that is not disguised by civility or fear. They don’t give me the opportunity to even try to break down the walls. What they have seen with their own eyes of the way that my fellow Guardians have acted in some cases has solidified their distrust and their disrespect. It’s not possible that I am at all different. I was trained by those before me so I must be like all the rest. They were trained by the street warriors before them, so they must think like all the rest. This war is played out every day on the streets and television screens.
I became a warrior to protect others, not to fight a war against people who feel as if they have no choice but to battle. They were born in a war zone and I am a willing fighter for the enemy. No matter what compassion I show, no matter how many times they see me cry or bleed from the very same losses that they see. Now their face is still hardened with hatred and fear. They loathe me and every single thing that I represent. The shield means nothing to them, it is something that just makes them want to harm me all the more.
I look up at the stars and wonder. That call was to discuss what’s next in my life. Her voice was reassuring. They could use someone with my experience and training to help create policy, she said. She laughed when she said that “no one will shoot at you here” as if it were a small bit of humor meant to entice me even more. She had no idea. She graduated from college a few years ago and probably has never set foot on the streets where I have been the target of their guns and their despair and their hate. She was right but she had no idea how right.
Was I taking the cowards way? Surely real warriors fight until the last drop of blood from the last wound from the last battle and the last war is finally shed in anger. Am I bringing dishonor upon myself and all the things that I have always believed about who I am? I tell these kids every day to stick with it and to strive to do your best whatever cards you are dealt. Now as I look up I wonder if I am failing to heed my own words?
I get back into the car and shake the cobwebs clear. There is still work to be done tonight and I will have to wake up after the sunrise and keep thinking about what I will say when I call her back. When she asks me the question, how will I answer? After the sun rises I will have to decide if the shield simply is too heavy of a burden for me to live with any longer.
My view tonight isn’t with optimism or hope. It is with anguish that those things which have made me what I am today, have also killed so many different parts of me. My view is that rear view mirror and the hope that there will be something left to see when at last I have enough courage to turn the light back on and to look at myself.