Illustration: Sequoia Blankenship.
The other day my wife, "The Sarge," and I were sitting in the living room talking. The television was on in the background, and my eye was drawn to a shot of a man walking across what appeared to be a desert with a heavy burden on his shoulders. We both stopped talking and turned up the sound to find out exactly what the commercial was for. But it wasn't the words that mattered; it was the image of this lone soldier walking toward us determined and steadily.
This wasn't one of those strange "Army of One" commercials, but a message for the Wounded Warrior Project. As the soldier draws nearer his face, determined, dogged, becomes clearer and clearer and yet he walks steadily onward with the burden of a fellow warrior in a fireman's carry over his shoulders. I tried to swallow the lump in my throat but it was too darn big, and the Sarge said nothing as she handed me a Kleenex to "clean my glasses" with as the commercial ended.
I have always been touched by certain images, sounds, and words, and the older I get the more things trigger my emotional reflexes. At the same time I find I am less and less embarrassed by my tears. I used to hide them from others, especially my kids; trying to keep the image of the macho crimefighter intact. Yet now I know the tears are not from weakness but from respect, from the heart.
I was working out at a gym once while I was running physical training at the academy when I saw a badly crippled young man in a wheelchair come into the gym with an older woman. I watched as he fought his way out of the chair and began working out on one machine after the other. Each repetition took his total concentration and effort. Finally, I introduced myself to the two and learned he was a victim of his own drinking and driving years ago and now made his living speaking to groups of youth everywhere about the foolishness and danger of drunk driving. His mom was there to drive him to and from the gym and speak encouragement, as it hurt so much to work out. But he did it sthree times a week.
I told him I wished I could show my cadets a video of him working out so they could know the nature of courage and strength. The last few words were hard to get out with that stupid lump acting like a nasty speed bump to my words. I didn't try to stop the tears; I couldn't stop them, wouldn't stop them, because I knew what a gift this young man had given me by letting me watch his day-to-day struggle in the microcosm of that gym. I began telling each class of my cadets about this young man so they could have a standard for their own effort, their own courage.
Too often we think of tears as self-pitying, and some are, but often they are a mark of our deepest respect, love, and concern.
A recent Internet video that showed soldiers surprising their loved ones by coming back from overseas unexpectedly had one thing in common, the tears.
So pause and ask yourself, is this something you should run from, or embrace as one of those deeply human things that gets amplified by the nature of our profession? We weep at funerals not just in sorrow, but in respect, in love. Too many see weakness. I see the deeper pride and sense of mission we, too often, have no words to express.
The tears we shed when the movie ends, the song plays, the widow speaks, the veteran remembers, and the pipes play, are the same ones warriors have shed for millennia. I don't hide them anymore...well, not so much. I understand them and know that laughter and tears live deep in the hearts of warriors so that life is lived fully; they are not opposites but complements of each other. It is not emotion but apathy that is our enemy, that kills our souls and turns folks into the living dead.
So gang, laugh, love, and don't fear to cry. I hope you have someone to hand you the Kleenex when you need it and to laugh with you when you need that too...it makes our lives full and you warriors deserve that.
Dave Smith is the creator of "Buck Savage" and a retired law enforcement officer from Arizona. Currently, he is the lead instructor for Calibre Press' Street Survival seminar.