When fear shatters our view

As I am gazing out of the picture window on this brisk and starry night, I am thinking about fear. Fear that is so biting that it keeps some hidden behind their closed windows. Ny is hiding behind those windows in another city tonight, being sheltered in a relative’s home far from his normal life, out of fear. He hasn’t slept a peaceful night’s sleep in a month and I know that it may be many more before his fear subsides and he can again sleep the rest of the weary yet safe.

shattered window
I have known him for several years. He was a good kid, made the same mistakes that so many of these young men do, fall for the deception that is a gang’s lifestyle. Desperation for a sense of belonging, something to fill the void left from broken homes and shattered dreams of a family life far removed from his reality.

He was always willing to do what others would not, just to get noticed, to get recognized and feel accomplished. This did not happen at the dinner table at home nor at the student desks in school. But being bold and sometimes reckless are attributes rewarded in the wasteland of a crime ridden and desperate city. He would get caught and spend time away from the streets. Each time he returned, we tried to help him start anew. Each time he told us he had changed and would not follow the path of destruction that he followed before.

But each time the grip of the lifestyle would reach back for him. Almost like a drug addict in desperate need for the next fix, knowing that they shouldn’t, but needing that relief. He was addicted to the lifestyle of a street gangster. Ny was no more, replaced by a low level thug doing what he had to do to get attention and gratification. Seeking those rewards often comes with a cost. He was now discovering that cost.

For every gang identity there are other gangs whose identity is based on conflict. They declare ownership of their streets and seek to defend their own abnormal and often twisted sense of respect. With conflict comes blood. On our streets today, fists no longer suffice to end the battle. These are now gunfighters and the sound of gunfire echoes through our streets daily. They feel power when they are the ones holding the gun. They are also coming to know fear when they are on the wrong end of the gunfight. Ny is learning that lesson.

Last week three people jumped him as he walked to his school bus after school. They attempted to beat him, to hurt him and in the same way that animals in the wilderness show their superiority by vanquishing their enemies until their enemy will pose a threat no longer. Adults interfered. Their attack was thwarted. But there he felt the first real twinges of fear.

When I saw him next it was with his grandmother by his side in a hospital not twenty-four hours after the first beating. The shades in his hospital room were drawn tight and even then he looked suspiciously between the window and the door. The bandages wrapped around his head hid the stitches where the bullet grazed his temple. Another inch, the doctor had told him, and he would have expired. Ny understood what that meant. That meant fear.

He looked up at me with the same fear. I knew that he would not tell me who had done this to him. He knew, he was walking toward them when they did it in broad daylight. But if he told me, if I went out and attempted to serve justice, the real justice that is done in the sterile environment of a courtroom, the street would seek its vengeance upon him. It will be worse he said. I knew that is what he would say. Snitches get stitches isn’t a catchy play on words in his world, it is a code.

His grandmother cries. She cannot help him and has other babies in her home. She too is afraid, for his life, for her life, for the lives of the others trusted to her care. She is the foundation of this small family. She also knows that for the sake of the rest, she must let this one go. He will go to another city. She packs a bag and the relative meets us the next day at the hospital.

Like a person in the witness protection program, every noise as he walks from the open doors of the hospital to the waiting car startles him a little. His eyes are weary, sleeplessness and helplessness twist together to cloak him in a dark fabric of despair. I tell him to look out for himself and to call if he needs anything. I tell him to get some sleep in the car ride, knowing that he will not. Knowing that it may take months or even years for him to sleep without waiting for the crack in the silence that comes with violence.

The car pulled away and I went home to ponder another victim to those streets where I grew up. How had I survived yet so many of them cannot find a way out of the decay? I had hope and with hope comes the courage to fight for that escape. Without it they simply exist, waiting to be swallowed up by the demons that consume them and their community. Ny doesn’t have to wait any longer. The demons have won. He will sleep in their grasp now, simply waiting for the darkness to come.

I look at the sky one last time and say a quiet wish for him. I pray that he will find renewal and peace. He is out there tonight, under these same stars but he will not take the time to see them. They hold nothing for him now, his only concern is for what lies below. I still hold a fleeting hope that he will not become a statistic. I must believe that or the journey would not be worth the fight for me. Once again, I go inside, kiss my wife and draw the blinds. Tomorrow is yet another day to seek renewal and a better view from inside my sometimes shattered windows.

When a knight falls

My view today out of my window is clouded due to the tears. The sting keeps me blinking and trying to keep them open to try to gaze through the glass in the hopes that it was a dream. In my mind, I can still see the flag-draped body and still feel the pain in my chest as I held my salute. I try not to think and to use my real eyes to see but my mind has taken over, and the images come like raindrops from the sky, just drowning my thoughts and pushing me deeper into the feeling of despair.

Yesterday he came to work and thought it would be a good day. It wasn’t raining but wasn’t too hot. It was quiet. He was doing his job. His wife was going about her day as was his five-year-old angel of a daughter. He was out doing what he did best; he was being a guardian.

But a clock never stops and each second includes the possibility of a change in your future. Yesterday afternoon his clock stopped. Not because our God called him home from an illness. Not because he was going to pass after a long and enjoyable life surrounded by loving family and friends. It was stopped by a person who was purely evil. It was stopped by someone who represents everything that we fight against. A madman killed him for doing his job.
end of the watch

I still see his smiling face and recall numerous conversations about his feelings for this world and his hopes for his future as one of the modern knights. He had been here for only eight years. So bright of a future for someone who cared and who loved donning his shield and protecting those who could not protect themselves.

After an entire night of watching and waiting for the cold-blooded, brutal piece of vermin to surrender, after continuing to try to kill more of those brave souls, it finally ended this morning. He stepped out in one last attempt to do harm to those guardians who had come to avenge our friend, colleague, and brother. Our brother was avenged in a split second by the dedicated, steady hand of snipers whose job was to protect the rest and stop the madman before he could take another human life.

I want to feel better that it ended this way. That our friend could look down and feel satisfied knowing that it was his handcuffs on the vermin before it died. However, I know that that image may bring some feeling of revenge and symbolic justice to us, it would mean nothing to him. His gaze from above would be directed far from us and to his family. His wife who now tries to explain to her precious angel why her father would not read her a story tonight or ever again.

Her father would not be there to take her to college or to walk her down the aisle. Her mother would not get the chance to live out the rest of her blessed life with the man who she chose to be her beloved for the rest of their lives. Who had laid next to her in bed and shared his dreams of their future. That side of the bed is empty now, and in just one day we watched his flag-covered body leave her life forever. Never to touch and hold her again.

I held my wife’s hand last night and told her that I loved her. After putting the black stripe across my badge, I kissed her goodbye today and held her a little tighter and for a moment longer. It had more meaning today, as it does every time this happens. The reminder that today may be the day. She will try not to worry, and I will try not to think about it. I will try to continue to serve a society that does not always wish to be protected. That’s would he would have done had I fallen yesterday.

I give up on stopping the tears from coming. They need to come and to wash away those memories. My clock still ticks, and I still have a job to do. But each tick has more meaning. Each movement of the hands has more urgency today than it did yesterday.

Thank you for what you have done for us all Steve. Rest in peace and know that we have the watch for you know Trooper.

A child cloaked in anger

You can see the anger in his face. His brow is furrowed and arched in a way that makes his eyes narrow and seem very frightening. When he opens his mouth to scream, words don’t escape from his open lips, but they emit a sort of guttural groaning sound. It is loud, and it disturbs me. I want to help him to calm down, but he will not listen to me. The walls are up, and it will take a lot to bring them back down again.

I look into his eyes again and see the hatred and anger. I have seen this expression before, but rarely could those looks cut through me and expose me to the core. I open my mouth to speak and, like him, words simply do not come out. I close my mouth and contemplate what I can do next to reach him.

He is seven, and he should not feel this way. The pictures that he draws are frightening, and the stories that he tells can scare anyone. They are afraid of him. I am afraid FOR him. Something happened to create the monster before me. He wasn’t born believing these things. He wasn’t born with the need to see how people react in terror to the things that he says or the actions that he takes. This game that he plays, his desire to find your core fear and to expose it just does not seem normal.

I pause for that thought. Again, someone said to me that he is not normal. It begs the question; please tell me what “normal” looks like? As a society, help me to figure this one out! Is it normal to watch televisions shows that depict the worst parts of the human condition? But those are the highest rated shows. Is it normal to feel such a strong sense of religious belief that you are willing to strap on an explosive garment and blow yourself up along with hundreds of strangers to demonstrate that commitment? It happens each and every day around the globe.

I have decided that each person in the world has their own normal. It is their history and their sense of who they are. It is their character and their DNA. There is no one normal and we need to stop trying to force others to fit into our own definition of normal.

Then there are those who experience a normal that conflicts with our sense of right and wrong, of safety and fear. There are these entities like the child that hides under the table before me. His experience was so very different; he can’t talk about what created his normal. He is not yet willing to open the curtains and show us the room that he has lived his life within. It hurts him. He sees the others and he wants them to play with him, he wants them to accept him so that he can feel accepted. He doesn’t know how to pretend that whatever he has seen, heard or even worse felt, did not exist.

And so the words just do not come. His frustration just explodes from his body, every movement, and every sound is a display of his feeling that he cannot control his world. He wants to control it; I know he does. He wants to be calm as the others. I know that too. It is the bridge that I must find to connect him with the person that he wishes to be. This is what escapes me. I don’t know how to help him. I sit and simply look at him. Like a paramedic sitting with his bag of bandages and medicine next to the patient yet not being able to show us where they are bleeding. We want to bandage them and find a way to make them smile. We need to do that but I cannot even begin to try to help your wounds heal if you do not meet me on the journey to show me where you are hurt and where I can put the bandage.

His father comes and forces him out from under the table. The boy is still angry then frightened. He fears whatever punishment may come after the calls from the school. The calls that took his father from his work and yet again brought him to us here. I hate these calls for the parent’s sake. The call where the person from the school tried to dress up the issue with a pretty bow and wrapping paper, but each parent knows what the call means. Something is not right with your child and we don’t know how to manage it.

After a ten-minute struggle, I watch the boy go limp in his father’s arms, surrendered to whatever will happen now. His will to fight is gone, he knows that he will not win and that he cannot control whatever happens now. He gives up. His father asks him if he is ready to go home. He looks up and simply nods his head.

Then it happens. It happens so quickly that I cannot find a way to relate what happens next with what I have seen for the past two hours. This child reaches up to hold his father’s hand. His father reaches down and gently takes his son’s hand, and they walk out together. No more struggle. No more tears.

I watch as they walk the sidewalk outside and I am struck by how much this poor tortured soul, for this one minute, gets to feel the way he wants to feel. He is a child who is loved by his parent. Watching out the window just now erases the painful words and jolts of pain when the kicks and fists came. There was the child I was trying to reach. He found what he wanted. He wanted to be loved. I don’t know what happened when they left. I haven’t seen him since.
For right now, I am hopeful that this child will find some peace. That the view outside of my window at this very moment will replay itself a few more times for his sake. That somehow if he is loved a little more and if he is allowed to be the child that he wants to be, that he can grow up and be “normal.”

What do you see when you look at me?

I wonder what they all see when they look into our windows. What do you see when you look at me? Have I spent so much time worrying about what I see rather than how others see me?  We must not confuse our own view of ourselves in the mirror with the view that others have of us as we stand naked in the window.

A famous story among policemen is that of the woman who calls to complain about the man who constantly watches as she undresses each night. When the policeman arrives at her home, she walks him into her bedroom where the shades are open allowing all to see whatever happens in the bedroom.  He politely explains that if she wants privacy all she need do is to pull her shades closed.

Yet so many of us lay ourselves out there, naked with the shades open wide to the world. Opening ourselves to the judgement of others and worrying or complaining about their views when they judge.  Have we not invited them into our rooms? Have we not opened our shades and exposed ourselves to others and their judgement?woman_silhouette_shower_curtain

So why should we fear their judgement? Perhaps we should ask them, what is it you see when you look at me? When going clothes shopping, my bride will try on a new dress then look at herself many times in the mirror, but her view is not complete until she asks me what I see.  Her opinion of the dress is not only framed by how she sees herself but how others see her in it.

The other day a woman called me a racist.  I have been called many things in my life, been cut by words as sharp as the knives that have stabbed me as well.  However, this stopped me and made me look again.  I found myself looking again in the mirror not to see what I have always seen of myself but wondering what others saw in me.  Did others think this of me? What could I have done to earn this moniker at the hands of this woman?

I have spent my adult life advocating for those who needed my assistance, regardless of race or creed.  I have spent hundreds of nights in the worst parts of our community trying to help those who called for help, never once asking what color was the skin of the person whose voice called for my help.  My curtains are always open and my emotions always on display, whether I like them to be or not.  I am a good guardian but not a good actor.  When I am cut, I bleed; when my soul hurts, I cry.

She sees me based not on the lens which I see myself but based on the lens of her own experience.  In her world, we are all racists.  I am a person who wears a badge in her world, therefore I am a racist like the rest.  She sees the shield alone and not the man who bears it.

I will continue to leave the curtains open so that I can look out and enjoy the view.  However, I will also wonder what others see when they look into my window.  I will wonder how they will judge me based upon who they “think” that I am and not what they can see from the outside.  And with that in my mind, I will try not to view them differently or to judge them based solely upon what I see with the lens that I wear but what they truly are. What they are when they lie naked within their room, beyond the open window and passed their open curtains.

I will view them in a way that I wish they would view me, with honestly and a belief that there is good within them until they prove to me otherwise.  I will look out of my window and no longer simply wonder about the things that lie without but also will wonder what others think of me and the things that lie within.

Judgement Day

There are no windows here. Four walls adorned with government symbols and flags. It’s supposed to represent the power of government to protect the people. For some reason it just represents a room with no view of the past or future. It’s just a place where we apply the law, nothing more and nothing less.

The lights in the courtroom seem brighter today. Almost blinding me. I am sitting with two others in the jury box because there are no seats available in the gallery. Normally we sit in the back, hidden away from the judge and the lawyers. Our work is done, after nearly a year and thousands of hours toiling over disgusting and almost inhuman information and messages and pictures and emails, after an eternity of darkness in his pathetic and single minded little world, we are done and today is his day.  It is judgement day.

In the back corner of the gallery I can see her sitting with her mother and father. She is in college now but she still looks so very innocent.  She is pretty and tries to hide her beauty under long hair and baggy clothes. Her lack of self-confidence is entirely because of him. Just another wound that may never heal.  She sees me looking and smiles shyly.  I smile back and give her a nod. She did the right thing. We are here for her today.  But she is not the only victim here.

His wife and kids are here to. They haven’t really seen him for a year. He sat in a cold dark cell while we busied ourselves exploring the depths of his depravity.  His wife still believed him. At times I wanted to just call her and tell her what we found. Tell her what he really was. Tell her that she deserved so very much more than the monster that she shared a bed with for so long.

I look to his oldest daughter who was only a year or two younger than the victim.  I remember seeing text messages to his daughters about picking them up and the very next text setting up a time to meet a girl their age to “play.”  That’s what he called the game. It was play.  Most games have a winner and a loser.  Not these games. Everyone lost. This entire room lost.

His hair is grey now.  He looks tired in his prison jumpsuit. I look at the handcuffs on the chain belt around his waist and smile a little thinking back to when we first cuffed him.  When we first took away his freedom much the same way that he took hers away. He was going with us whether he wanted to or not. She felt the same way. She thought he loved her and where he went she would follow.  She was a prisoner of another kind, a worse kind of emotional prison.girl-in-the-window

I hear him apologize to her and his family. Its sounds hollow to me. His mother begins to wail and he describes how their “relationship” started. He calls it a relationship. I feel like standing up in my seat and telling the judge that he shouldn’t be allowed to call it that. He shouldn’t be allowed to use that word because it doesn’t represent what he had with her. He raped her, there was no relationship I want to yell.

But I don’t. I sit and wait. Finally he stops talking and the judge begins to establish that he will spend the next seventeen years behind bars considering the impact of what he has done.  Some are happy with that but I look back at her. Her father is holding her tightly as she cries. This part is over. He will “pay” for his crime. But when they walk out of this building and into the street it will not end for her. She will pay for his crime for the rest of her life. I did what I could to give her justice but I know that it will never truly be enough to make up for what he had done.

Again I will go home and shower the feeling of the dirty animal off of me. I will put the thousands of notes and pictures and files into boxes in storage and never look at them again. But I won’t have to. I will remember each of them. I will remember each piece of the pain that he caused. I always do.

When I am finished I sit in my chair and look out of my window. The sun is bright today. All I can think is, “what’s next” and wait for the next cry for help.  It’s out there beyond that window and soon I will hear it and it will start again. That’s my choice. For right now, I relax and sit and wait. What’s next?

Renewal and looking inside your window

Yesterday I opened the blinds to look out of my wonderful window and took a moment to be thankful for the weekend view.  So many times we are so very hurried during the week that the view is always just passing us by, quick glimpses of those that we encounter and the view of others running the same race with no real destination beyond survival.

Then comes the time we are supposed to stop and spend time at home, looking inward instead of outside the window. Talking to our family and trying to forget those terrible things we may have encountered during the week.  Recovery. Solitude. Peace. And with a little luck, renewal.


I look at the lives that my children have and compare them to those who I encounter every day, those who have been the victim of some horrific act or another and those who would victimize others in one horrific way or another.  Some of them are as old as my children in years, but in life experience they are worlds apart.  Many have not felt the warmth of a parents embrace, heard the reassuring voice of a supportive parent or felt the deep sense of belonging that a family can provide.

Some are destined to walk alone and may never feel nor provide another with those feelings. How can we ever teach them to be good parents and to avoid the mistakes that they may have encountered? How can we shed light on what they should feel and who they should become as parents? How do we break through a wall that emotional neglect has created?

But it is the weekend and I close my eyes to stop those thoughts.  I concentrate on a picture next to my desk and remind myself that these are the ones who I can impact, that while I cannot save everyone, I can make life better for these kids.  I can make sure that each and every day I reassure them and hold them lovingly. I can remind them that they are special and they have something important to bring to the world.

Monday will come again and I will do my best to help those strangers who are in pain that I encounter.  And I will remind myself of the joy that I have looking inside my windows as I come home at night and see what my life is truly about.  While I spend so much time staring and wondering about the view from inside, it is nice once in a while to stand outside and look in.  The real joy is to see those who are looking back out at you.

Clearing the dust and looking out once more

It’s been a while since I could sit back and actually take a look for the view. I have missed my window and am looking forward to pulling up a chair and seeing once again what there is to see.

When I look out I have to clean off the dust that’s built up around it, I haven’t been able to look outside for an eternity, been so busy living in the world that I have somehow forgotten how to take a breath, take a step back and just look both inside and out.

There is safety inside the window. We are not exposed to the elements; snow is pretty but it cannot bite your skin with the pain of frost. A rolling thunderstorm is an amazing spectacle from the window, but outside it is a danger and you become drenched in sweat, rain and even a touch of fear.  It is always safe to look out this window from inside the locked room, not standing beyond and experiencing everything that exists outside of it.

Should we open the window?dusty-window Try to breathe the air but still be able to slam it shut if the air tastes bitter?   Put our hand out there to see if it can “feel” differently than within.  Perhaps we should. Or do we even want to?

From the window I can see the landscape before me and not that which lies in the shadows, waiting and whispering to me.  Things that have long fallen from my hands, from when I always left the window open, when fear wasn’t part of who I am.  I used to lean out of the window, teetering on the edge, almost daring myself to fall but not. I basked in the tension and thrill of the risk.

I have forgotten how beautiful it is to look out there.  Wind blowing across the trees and when I touch the glass I can feel the outside. The window pane shakes ever so slightly at my touch.  I pull my hand back quickly, almost afraid of the feeling yet wanting to feel it again. Making the connection and desperate to feel that world again.

In the end, I open the window and push myself past the safety of the window frame, exposed to the outside world and able to feel the sun again.  I breathe in and let the warmth fill my lungs.  The air is good and the breeze is gentle, almost caressing my cheek like a lost lover. It feels….welcoming.

The Writers Note:  I am so very sorry to have been away so long. So busy living life that I stopped writing about how I feel while living it.  I am back and looking forward to sharing the views yet again.