When the halls of history speak, but no one listens.

My view today overlooks the open lawn of the capital green. There is snow on the ground, making it pure and white and unblemished in the least. No tracks if any so it is a pristine piece of nature sitting in the square surrounded by the windows to our world. Behind them, the pure and pristine may well be lost as the battle of ego, ethics and conscious unfold within ornate halls with great massive portraits of those who have governed. Portraits only admired by those visitors who are governed over, those who work here, who walk with purpose within these halls do not look at them, I think they avoid the judgmental gaze of those who governed before us. Lest the guilt would overcome the ego and justice and righteousness would again be words of aspiration and hope within them. So we all walk by and avert our eyes.

The snow makes me wonder, each small crystalline surface of each flake is different from the rest, all coming together to create this breathtaking landscape. Each has a part to play, none more important than the rest, all part of the same fabric. I think that is what the great founding fathers believed when first they sat within Carpenters Hall in Philadelphia. That each man has the right to self-rule. Gone were the kings and caste systems of their ancestry. At that time, in that effort to pry ourselves away from those who would hold us in contempt from across the ocean, each man had a say in the struggle. Rich and poor stood side by side on those battlefields. Their efforts all aimed with the grace of God toward the betterment of our life and the lives of those who would follow.

the green

I laid down my shield after a career as a guardian to take up the mantle of doing something, of not sitting by and complaining about the failures of government and how its efforts often led to the suffering of our common man. My first days in the capital were a history lesson in what had occurred when first the state was founded. The history was amazing, and I felt honored to become a part of our combined history. The chance to leave a legacy beyond what I have done for those that I protected and to make life better for those who cannot advocate for themselves. Give voice to the voiceless.

An older statesmen soon set me straight. We govern by placing ego and position above want and need, he would say. While the people are oft spoken of, it is the power that speaks the most here. Power echoes through both chambers of government, a clamoring to out speak and outmaneuver another. There are battles won and lost here, compromise often comes down to favoritism and favors exchanged behind closed doors or within closed hearts. Occasionally, he would go on to say, they may help someone in their work, but rest assured these occasions are almost all accidental.

I listen to them talk of constituents and needing to serve the needs of their constituency. Those are people who contribute or vote for them. Those voices are heard here. Someone rushes to take those calls. But how many of the people who I have served for most of my life were a constituent? How many of them could vote? Would these leaders of man take their call? They would not, I believe, for those people work each and every day feeling less and less a part of the fabric that we struggled to create two hundred odd years ago. In fact, that fabric now flies above most of the masses, keeping them from seeing the light of day. The symbol of hope for some may well serve as a symbol of fear and isolation and hopelessness to so many more.

There are so many days that I miss my old view of life, of people in need who called and of being able to be, for that few minutes, an answer for those who were searching for one. My shield sits in a clear glass box now. It is still a symbol of where I came from and a reminder of what I represent, of the oath that I took and which I stand by to this day.

I meet their eyes as I walk down these halls. I look up with awe and wonder at each of their faces. I will not forget what they did for those who came before me. Sacrifice is something I have done for my entire life, I have worked in fear of the darkness, the last thing that I shall do is to live in fear of the light. I will not sacrifice who I am for them. Nor will I sacrifice those who once upon a time I swore an oath to protect and to defend.

I can smile again and move forward. I turn away from the window knowing that I can walk these halls today with the pride of conviction and belief. At least for today, the snow has brought me solace and the reminder of what wonder there is when we look for the purity and goodness in our world. Sometimes we just have to open the window and make sure that we look.

 

 

Why the view has changed so much. And how I have changed with it.

The view now is sometimes exhilarating and sometimes disgusting and sometimes challenging or disappointing. The view changes daily, but not as dramatically as it did before. It has been a year since I last bore my shield and worked in a police car. In that year, I have started wearing another uniform, this one consisting of a tie and starched white or blue shirt, simple khaki pants and still my same shined leather shoes. The badge I display now simply opens doors for me into and out of the office where all of the other government workers dwell and deal and survive and sometimes even thrive. Yes, the view has indeed changed.
I sleep now, sometimes very well. The nightmares are growing fewer and fewer. I still hear their voices, hear their cries for help from my past, but they are growing dimmer by the day. I smile more now. I do still get to protect and serve those young people that I care about, but I do not get to see the faces that I impact, and they will never know me. They call it policy making and program management. I still call it caring.  The difference mostly lies in the fact that I can do it Monday through Friday and see my family at night.

 

man staring out the window

 

I no longer must stop a mile from the house to cry or to take deep breaths, so my family does not see the pain or the rage or the fear. I still see the pain of those I wept for, but usually its in the form of numbers on a page. But unlike those around me, I know so much more about what those numbers mean, about who those numbers truly are. It still can impact me, I still get calls and take time to visit with old friends and colleagues, fellow Guardians who followed the same path. We still cry, we still shake hands and stare into each other’s eyes because we have shared the same nightmares and fought the same battles. But then, I get to drive away and I no longer look into the rear-view mirror as much.
I can start writing again because my shame is gone. At first, I felt as if I were a coward, sneaking away from my calling in the night and turning my back on the countless others who needed my help. It was hard, looking in the mirror was difficult. Waking up and not sliding a holster on and walking with a shield and gun into the world as its defender, as if I alone could right the wrongs and help those who could not help themselves. I don’t remember what it felt like. But I know I was right, there were others who did follow. They were extraordinary Guardians with as much passion and perseverance as I once had. I can sleep now knowing that they have the Watch and I am under their protection. It is a sounder sleep than I have ever known.
And when those first rays of sunlight begin to sneak through the cracked blinds of my window, I do not dread their arrival. I smile and thank God that he has blessed me with another day. Another day to try to make a difference. Another day to live and not live with fear or pain, but to simply live. Yes, the view is truly different now.

A broken shield protects no one

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.

 

broken shield

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.

Sometimes we are just broken

“What are you going to do about it?” The man is really shouting now. He points at three of us sitting quietly across the room. “They keep on shooting and dying.” I am not looking at him but looking slightly down and simply nodding my head. I want to stand up and just yell. I want to scream at the top of my lungs until there is no air left to create sound. “What do you think I have been doing asshole?,” I want to yell. I spend every day trying to figure out what more I can do, how else I can have an impact. I already work eighty hour weeks and leave before the sun comes up and struggle back in the door long after it has retreated for the night. I have given you and this community what is left of my crumbling soul, I have nothing else that I can give.

 

There are gym windows above his head. I stare out at them, wishing I could escape his wrath. He is a parent and I know the son that he lost. He has every right to be mad, there are two more innocent lives that he must shelter from the storm. He needs help. I know that he needs help, but so do I. We need each other, we all need each other but no one here gets that. Today is about blame and responsibility.

 

These meetings are a waste of effort and I grow tired of them. Some politician will come in and remind everyone about how much they have done to help the crime and violence problem. They look to us to support their claims, although we each know that their “efforts” are just talk and the end result is absolutely nothing. The impact is none at all, their effort cannot do much. A fly cannot possibly move an elephant yet these fly’s want to take credit for trying.

 
The uniformed chief next to me speaks first. He explains that we use data to help deploy resources to areas that need then, that officers walk the streets now instead of driving up and down with windows closed and eyes hidden behind dark glasses. He says that we talk to people now.

 

All of those things are true, yet it hasn’t changed. We do walk around now and talk to people but they don’t talk to us. They don’t trust us and they don’t trust each other. Here if you are heard saying the wrong thing to us and your name will be shared quickly with those who do not like that you chat with us.

 
A community opens its door to everyone. When I was a kid, the back door was never locked. The mothers, all of the mothers, would sit and listen to the yard to hear what kids were doing and to seek retribution when they heard one of us wrong another. More than once I was corrected by another mom or dad on the block for my violation of our neighborhood rules for the way we treat each other. They would not do that now. They could not do that now, it would be disrespectful toward the kid. The kid who decides what respect means and uses his 9 to communicate the decision.

 

I look back at their faces and see the fear. It looks like anger and hatred, but that is exactly what fear looks like. Fear and anger are the same. I cannot get angry at something that holds no sway over me, that I am not afraid of. But if I fear you, then you have power over me and that makes me angry. They have no control and they are angry.

 

So am I. I am angry every time I look at the lifeless eyes staring back at me from a child whose bright future came to a dark end on a cold filthy street for no reason. I am angry because that same street is empty of life, no witnesses, no empathy for the family or guilt for the failure to stop it. They will come here and be brave and bold in accusation but out there, they cower and hide. They avert their eyes but I cannot.

 

They leave shaking their heads and muttering about how useless we are. That is the first thing that they would say today that I agree with. That is what I feel. This is why so many days I have to close my door and hide so that I can just break down. The tears will come for maybe a half an hour then just stop. I have no idea when they will come again. I don’t know what images trigger them, but I do know why. It is because I am helpless. I am a tool for a broken system. I am a broom left to clean up whatever mess is created. But even a broom needs a hand to help it. There is no magic here. The broom will sit quietly in the corner until someone, anyone, steps up to use it.

 

I am tired of feeling this way. I am tired of not sleeping and feeling the guilt of a hundred innocent lives and countless more who have yet to suffer but I know will. I am tired and weary when I leave. My shoulders sag and I feel as if I can do nothing but stagger under the imaginary weight of all of them.

 

broken windows
These are the days that I don’t just have thoughts when looking outside this dirty and disgusting broken window. These are the days when I just wish that I could jump and not feel it any more. I am too afraid to jump. I am afraid and I am angry. I cannot look out the window anymore, I just close my eyes and wait for the pain to stop.

When love speaks louder than hate

I love the view today. I can hear the shouts and yelling but I smile when I do, for it is not the type of shrill shouting or vile words being yelled that normally beckon for my presence. I watch as what must nearly be a hundred kids jump, swim, scream and splash in the community pool in our city.

The streets are hot in the summer and it is a delicate time for me. No kids in school so I spend most of my time preparing for their return and praying. Time can be a friend or foe to our streets. Like anything else, time can be used by these kids for good or for evil.

During my days when the hallways of schools are swarming with them, I can be content that I am here to help them, to protect them and keep the wolves outside of the door in the hopes that those within the walls would be free to discover so much more than what they have been presented with. That within these walls they would become more than what they thought they could be, and what once seemed impossible would seem within their grasp.

When the halls are empty, I cannot protect them and help them avoid the wrong choice. So many fall so quickly back into the rhythm of the street, the ease of finding money and respect by just doing what they have watched so many others do.

For years I have watched motivational experts on television and the internet talk about becoming successful by modeling successful people. Do we not see that these young minds are following that advice? The filthy death merchant on the corner looks successful, he drives a nice car and never appears to want for anything. They are modeling. I cannot stop them but wish the clock to tick faster and get through these days so that I can try again. I maintain my sanity because I can try.

Not today. I smile today because they are not thinking about respect or street credibility or whatever else they call it today. The color of a bathing suit does not represent an allegiance or loyalty, it represents childhood and happiness. I cannot help but smile and watch as they play. I let my guard down and my fears begin to slide away, just for the moment.

pool

I almost didn’t hear the footsteps next to me but turned my head and tore the smile from my face as I felt the approach next to my window. I instinctively reach for my hip, for the reassurance that is always there. But I am greeted by a smile. I relax and smile back. He hasn’t changed much. TJ looks like he did two years ago when he walked out of our school and out of my life.

TJ was high when we first met. He had joined up with others and left the protection of my halls to go into the woods and experiment as young people occasionally do. He had never been in trouble and I hadn’t even known his name. He didn’t have anything “on him” I had told the school, so I would not place him into my custody, but I would take him into my care.

We got to know each other and I had hope for him. We had lunch together in school occasionally and I felt as if he were staying out of trouble. One day when I saw him in the hall, he averted his eyes and tried to hide the marks on his arm that I had already seen. It was artwork to some, a way to use ink to display your sense of self. I knew better, and he knew that I knew. I had seen this art too many times. I had lost TJ. He had joined a gang.

He tried to explain and I told him that I understood. I do. I do not live on his street where survival comes in different colors. I just had hoped that he would find a way out. I heard he had picked back up with his friends and that again he was getting high. I eyed him suspiciously behind my sunglasses.

I hate myself. I hate what this job and this city has done to me. I no longer look at people and assume that they are better than they were or that they had turned their life around. No, like so many other guardians, I assume that once you have joined the forces of darkness, it is too hard to find your way back through that darkened curtain.

I ask him what he is doing. “Working,” he said smiling and pointing his still gaunt finger toward the pool that I have been allowing myself to enjoy and to hide away from my real world. “I lifeguard now.” I notice that the art is covered up by a light brown bandage, big enough to hide it from prying eyes. He sees me look, “they don’t like to see it so I hide it.”

You still hang with your crew? He smiles. I know smiles. I know when someone smiles because they are about to lie to me and want me to believe that they are smiling because their pulse didn’t just increase as they prepared to lie. I am a bit surprised because that was not this smile. “That’s not me.”

“My moms is sick and I need the work for the family,” he tells me as the smile slides away and he looks down at the ground. An adult would be proud to say that they work to support their family but he is a child, he knows that he is doing something that so many others are not capable of doing.

I am proud of him and let him know. The smile returns. It is again my turn to be shocked. “Next month I leave for boot camp and going into the Army,” he says with a true sense of pride. I do not even try to hide my surprise and my pride. I had nothing to do with his change or his desire to change, but am proud that I know it.

We part ways and he trots off to work and I roll the window up and begin to pull away. Someone once told me early on that there were too few victories on the path that we have chosen. Too not get invested or take them personally. I didn’t model that behavior. I am always part of them as they are a part of me. It hurts when I lose them. It hurts when I cannot protect them.

But that is the cost of caring that I have willingly paid so that I can experience these moments. These quick glimpses of so many that do make it out and do move on to change the world. They are few and far between, but I take them and store them behind the shield, closer to my heart. He made it and for that moment, all is right with my world. When I pull away, I pray that this moment will last forever, or even just longer that it has before. Only the hands of time and fate can tell. For now, I can again smile at the view.

When innocent blood spills

My view is of the wipers across the curved windshield as the rain pounds across the glass and each drop sounds like a bullet shot on my thin tin car roof. The sounds distract me as I begin seeing the flashing lights up ahead. As I get closer, I slowly prepare for what is next. Then I look over and I see him. I wish that I didnt, that I could close the door and drive away.
He was only six years old. The paramedics are working on him on the ground, his mother is being looked at by another ambulance person. I am trying to focus on my job, looking at the faces in the crowd to find the one, the one who did this terrible thing. Is he here? Is he looking at his handiwork as they try to save the child’s life?

I try to wrap my head around the scene that unfolded before me. I arrived to see them doing CPR, I had seen it so very many times before. These people are amazing warriors, they don’t take death lightly and fight it as if the enemy were there standing over them trying to steal away this precious young life. When it is a child we are all there to fight, it is even more important.

The window of the white SUV is shattered with the speckled shards of broken glass all over the inside of the car. This is what we call a clue. The window to the driver was closed. So many times we see the window open and begin to ask, was there more to this than meets the eye? Was this some poor drug addicted mother, with her vulnerable child sitting in the back seat, helpless to help Mommy fight her addiction as she purchased her sins on the corner?

No, she cares and she was driving home. Macaroni and cheese, she said. That’s what the conversation was in the car, he wanted macaroni and cheese she begins to wail again as she watched. They are taking the stretcher now and putting it into the blinding light of the ambulance. The siren will soon start to wail as they rush to the trauma center, life hanging on every tick of the clock.

The bullets struck him in the head. One moment sharing what joy a mother and son share when talking about a family dinner with mother, father, son and older brother. Then in a flash, their life changes forever. Not because they wished it upon themselves, only because on this night, in this town, they pulled down the wrong street and drove in between a violent representative of the devil and his intended victim. The child did nothing wrong but get in the way of a bullet intended to end yet another life.

I look at them and wonder if any will talk to us. So many times they tell us that they are afraid, but when do we draw the line and push fear away to fight? When will they fight for their own freedom? This innocent child is the victim of this war, what will they say?

 The next morning I was surprised and elated. Three people had come forward in        the night. They were afraid but said they needed to give this fallen angel justice. We   will find him, we must find and bring him to justice and off of our streets. We will win this battle, but will they help us fight the war?

 I am hopeful on this rainy day looking out on my city. Hope emerged in the  darkness and I pray that others can learn and follow on their path of bravery. Behind the clouds I can see the sun and I cannot wait. My view is one of renewed hope in those on the other side of my window.

The search for truth and meaning

Today’s view begins behind drawn curtains but will end with a view of endless wonder. I was reading this morning, as is my habit to try to expand my knowledge beyond that of a simple guardian, and was struck by how difficult it was to answer two very easy yet terrifying questions.

The first question I have asked myself perhaps a thousand times but the wording was such that I had to choke back and realized that I knew not what the answer truly was. I have asked myself “what would I try to teach my children if I knew I had only minutes to live?” I have confidently answered this question many times in my mind as I prepared myself for the challenges of fatherhood. Honor, I say to myself, and ideals are the values that I wish to impart. Something cliché such as to leave the world better for your having been upon it.

But alas that was not the question which stopped me before I took the time to look out of the window. The question asked of me was, “If I knew I had only thirty seconds to live, what three things would I teach my children about how to live a happy and fulfilled life?”

My pulse quickened even as I re-read the dastardly note. A Happy life? Why I don’t know what I would say! I turn from my window to glance upon a mirror on the wall. Have I lived a happy life? I query my own image. Can I even define happiness? Were I to pass today, this very moment, I would not be able to impart guidance of any value to them for I am not sure that I have completely lived a “happy” life. I have enjoyed friends and celebrations, have experienced true romance and passion. I have “felt” happy, but cannot say for certain that I have lived a “happy” life.

I smile almost daily, surely that’s it, that is the sign of my happy life right? We cannot really smile if we are not happy. So that must be it, I would tell them to make up their mind to just “be” happy. I can see my son looking right through me as he asks the question that many a young person has asked, “how?” I don’t know. That is all that I could say. Make a decision to be happy, but its not that simple is it? What kind of father could I be if I do not know how to teach my kids to be happy?

Before I could even begin to recover from this trauma to my fragile ego and psyche, the next question finished the job of melting away any semblance of belief in my own mastery of my life.

“If I could achieve one single thing in my life,” the written words taunt,” what would make all of my hard work worth the struggle?” Once again, I beseech the mirror; please tell me that you know, for I haven’t the foggiest! The truth is painful; I cannot answer the second question even an inch better than the first.

I try to think past material wealth and the well-being of my offspring, but is that all that we live for? Is our life’s mission to revolve solely around our children and take us past our own desires? I had desires once. I knew what I thought that I wanted. I have achieved so much yet cannot point to a single thing to say that one thing is worth all of the work and effort and blood and tears. Surely it must be my children, but why doesn’t my heart leap at that answer?

The answer to both is simple. The answer to both questions is that I do not know, but my journey is set to help me find out. We go through our daily lives looking and seeing but not searching. The meaning, the one thing which brings everyone happiness, the one moment that shows the victor that tha view of the night skye spoils of his victory are out there if only we knew we were searching for them.

Today I will look out my window with a desperate desire to know myself and know my destiny better than before. I can no longer just look outside of my window but search within and without until I find that which is out there awaiting my embrace. Out there I will find the answer to who I am and how can I know that I have accomplished that which our Creator sent me here to do? I turn the corner of the little book; I rest it on my shelf knowing that someday I will again take it up, once I know the answer. Until then, the search continues…