We lost a member of the brotherhood early Tuesday morning. I wish I had known Cpl. Paul Potts better. What I knew of him was that he was passionate about his job. He was well-trained and always seeking to improve his skills. He was an achiever who wanted to excel rather than just pass. He was a police officer and firefighter who was close to becoming a certified EMT. A big, strong, tough guy who was constantly seeking ways to help others.
I don’t know all the experiences and circumstances that brought about the events of Tuesday morning. I’ve heard things. I know that Paul lost a grandfather earlier this year. This was the man who had been a surrogate father to him. Another traumatic event was the emergence this year of his father, with whom he had no contact since early childhood. I wondered if perhaps Paul had spent the last 30 years of his life trying to achieve, impress, and gain the acceptance of a father who had left him years earlier. Grandpas are great, but nothing can really replace the love and interest of a “dad.” When a child feels abandoned by a parent, it can result in a “love deficit” that the child will try to fill, often in unhealthy ways.
But, that’s speculation on my part. What I do know is that at some point late Monday night or early Tuesday morning, Paul’s depression reached a point where he felt that death was his best option. That kind of desperation is usually generated by pain. Sometimes the pain is physical. More often the pain is emotional. And let’s face it . . . law enforcement officers can’t show that kind of pain. NOT because of the bad guys they confront everyday, but more often because of the pressure of their peers. They cannot appear “weak” to their fellow officers. So these wonderful guys and gals who stand between the law-abiding public and the criminal element will hone their shooting and ground-fighting skills. They’ll hit the gym 3 or 4 times a week to bulk up. They’ll do some aerobics to build up their endurance. BUT, they let their emotional and spiritual health atrophy in the process. They don’t want to talk about “issues” that are affecting them. They shy away from medications, churches, spiritual development, psychological triage, or even time off because they might “appear weak.”
To all my Law Enforcement brothers and sisters, I have an update. No matter how hard we train, we’re all just flesh and blood. No matter how tough the exterior, we’re all the same on the inside. We’re all very human.
There is a Bible verse that says, “Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16 NLT) No matter how hard we work out, we continue to experience the limitations of growing older. But the real spark of life is our spirits. When the spirit is crushed, the healthiest body in the world can’t alleviate the pain. That’s why we need to nourish the spirit as well as the flesh if we are to really be healthy.
So, what I am trying to say? In The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey tells a story that illustrates the need for adequate rest and renewal in our lives. The story goes like this: You come upon a man in the woods feverishly sawing down a tree. “You look exhausted! How long have you been at this?” you ask. “Over five hours and I’m beat,” he replies. “This is getting harder,” he says. So you reply, “Maybe you could take a break and sharpen the saw. Then the work would go faster and easier.” “I don’t have time,” the man replies. “I’m too busy sawing.”
Perhaps you can identify with the man in the woods. You just keep on keeping on in hopes that the issues that haunt you don’t overwhelm you. But sooner or later . . . well quite often those issues manifest themselves in narcissism, anger, anxiety, or depression. It can negatively affect your closest personal relationships, your professional performance, and your private life. It can be a killer, but it doesn’t have to be.
Exercise yourself mentally, emotionally, and spiritually as well as physically. Sharpening the saw means taking time for reflection, rest, and recuperation. It means taking time to stretch, exercise, and heal the body, mind, and spirit. It means acknowledging wounds and seeking out the help we need to mend them. It means finding trustworthy friends and professionals with whom we can be honest about our “issues.” If the “issues” can’t be confronted, they can’t be overcome. It means recognizing that, according to the psalmist, even God our Creator ” . . . knows how weak we are; He remembers that we are just dust.” (Psalm 103:14 NLT)
So, my brothers and sisters, do not be afraid nor ashamed to reach out for help when the burden becomes cumbersome. As I’ve often told my sons, it’s not the strong man who refuses to ask for help; it’s the weak man. Continue with your physical exercise and healthy nutrition. Take your vitamin supplements and prescribed medications. But take the time to stretch yourself mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Join a support group. Get involved with a church. Read. Reflect. Reconnect with your spouse or a friend with whom you can ventilate your true feelings. AND encourage your co-workers to take a break to “sharpen the saw.” Perhaps that encouragement will prevent us from having to place the black band on the badge again.