Now they know what we've always known, and we wish to God they had not learned it this way. Our citizens - the ones we've sometimes laughed at, sometimes cursed, often had to step in and control and always, always protected and served - now they know.
They know what it's like to be killed just because they represent something. Because they stand for something. And just as we are sometimes confused about what our "something" is, they have only the vaguest idea of their "something," and now, terrible numbers of them have died for it. It is not clear or clean or easily grasped. You can't taste it, hold it, smell it. It is freedom and justice and democracy and while those things fail from time to time in practice, they stand fast always where we hold them strongest and most dear - as the ideals we live and fight for, and sometimes die for. It is what so many others in the world envy and admire us for and what a relative few - a destructive and vicious few - hate us for.
And now our citizens know. They know the price. They've paid it.
We know the drill; we know it by the numbers; know it in our bones. We've done it so many sad and bitter times before, we could do it in our sleep and God help us, sometimes we do. The dress uniforms are pulled out, brushed and pressed; black tape laid across the badges just so. The forms are filed, motorcades planned, flags unfurled. Sometimes pipers tune their bagpipes, knowing how chokingly painful it is to blow those mournful strains when your heart is in your throat. It's never routine, but it has a routine, and it's good for us; comforts us, pulls us together and lets us deal with our grief and go on. They - our citizens, the ones we've sworn to protect and serve, the ones we've died for hoping they would never have to know this - now they're having to learn this too, and it's hard, hard. We know how to say goodbye.
If there is any solace in this at all, it is that this time, we all went down together. Cops, firefighters, paramedics and EMTs, military personnel and insurance brokers and bankers and elevator repairmen and office workers and all the others of us. US. And all for the same reason: because we stand for something.
And now there's one more thing we know they'll have to learn: You take your losses; you mourn your brothers and sisters; and you get back to duty. Wiser and tougher, older and more determined, you go back. You go back on The Line. God help them, it's a terrible thing to learn. And we'll stand with them.