Recently, I had the good fortune of attending a momentous and joyous event. A past coworker and forever dear friend of mine was retiring from the City of Alexandria (VA) Police Department. I arrived in the city early, so I visited all the old haunts from my patrol days. The neighborhoods I used to patrol have really changed, but the memories linger. Faces, emotions, and more vividly came back to me as I drove – not all of them bringing joy: the place where I handled my first homicide; a telephone pole where two college students died tragically; a courtyard where a brave fellow officer was shot and killed. For a police officer, such memories reflect much of one’s life on the street. It is often frustrating, sad, and sometimes even briefly terrifying. Such memories tend to linger in your days and sometimes even during your nights.
As I arrived at the restaurant to honor my friend, I rejoiced at meeting several old comrades; many who I had not spoken with for sixteen years. The bonds of the life we shared were still strong, and it was like I had never left except for the many new (and younger) faces of police officers in the room. Soon, one younger man came up to me. I recognized the face, but I couldn’t quite place him. He was a captain now, but I had been his Field Training Officer for two weeks as he started his service just before I resigned to enter ministry. After some catching up, he pointed out that I might be back for a lot of retirements in the next few years, for all my contemporaries are at the age to retire. (Police work can prove hard on the body, soul and your family, so officers often retire at a younger age than other professions.) The bittersweet truth of what he said really hit home. My ties to this city and the brave men and women who served it would soon seem to be fully cut.
Along with a great lunch and fellowship, my friend entering retirement gave us some wonderful food for thought. As he sometimes tearfully shared about his many years with the force, the tears were of joy and thanksgiving. He didn’t focus on the bad times, even if he couldn’t forget them. He lifted up the relationships that had blessed him in his vocation, family, and life. We were officers together when violent crime was at its height in the twentieth century. It was an exciting time and a meaningful time. It brought us together in ways few people will ever understand. Together, love for one another had not only helped us survive but also thrive. Speaking to the younger officers, he shared the things that mattered most at the end of the day, especially going home safe to your family and friends. He lifted up those whose dedication to service had inspired him, and by honoring them, he hoped to inspire those who remained on the force after he left.
As I listened, I sensed the sacred at work in and through our shared life. As difficult as the past had been at times, I could see more and more clearly the light of Christ shining even among those many darker memories. Ours had always been a road of blessing, not curse. We were bonded to others of the past and the future through the service we shared. We are bonded to one another forever. The love of God at work, even when you don’t see it at first, has a way of unifying things and making them new. Although imperfectly at times, we had sought together to do our best out of love – acted justly, loved mercy, and walked humbly with our God – and it all mattered. The good and the bad times mattered. God had used them all. Now, the world and I will never be the same. Thanks be to God.
From Psalm 71 (NRSV translation):
16 I will come praising the mighty deeds of the Lord God,
I will praise your righteousness, yours alone.
17 O God, from my youth you have taught me,
and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.
18 So even to old age and gray hairs,
O God, do not forsake me,
until I proclaim your might
to all the generations to come.
Your power 19and your righteousness, O God,
reach the high heavens.
You who have done great things,
O God, who is like you?
© 2011 The Rev. Louis Florio. All contents not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.