Tonight, You’re Someone.Posted: April 27, 2012
When I was new in the career that I am now an old man in, I worked for an old man who watched over me and my peers. He knew we knew a lot less than we thought we did and it was his job to fill in the holes in our knowledge.
Sometimes he told us what we needed to know in a meeting. There were times he’d see that my ego was ahead of my ability and he’d correct that pretty directly – it didn’t matter who was there to hear it.
And then there were times when he would do things and none of us knew what he was thinking.
Early One Morning
I’d been working for a few months and went on a call at a house I knew was used for gambling. An anonymous caller said that an elderly man was unconscious on the front porch. This was not an unusual occurrence at this location, they’d toss drunks out all the time. This time, it was unusual.
He was dead.
As best as we were able to assemble after the fact, the man had some sort of medical emergency inside the house. The people running the gambling house thought he was drunk. They put him outside, shut down the operation for the night and left him there. He was sitting on a chair on the porch when I got there. There was nothing I could do to change what had happened.
So, I called my Sergeant, according to procedure. He arrived and we handled the situation, according to procedure.
Then it was time for me to learn.
Do You Have The Man’s Drivers License?
Things were moving along, reports were being written and procedures followed. After he spoke with some of the more experienced officers on the scene, he called my name. I knew never to make him call it twice.
“Boy, someone’s got to notify his wife. Tonight, you’re someone.”
I’d always wanted to be someone, until that moment. I knew that there was no way anyone else was taking on that sad task that night. My fate was as sealed as that poor man in the chair. I also knew I had no idea how to do what he was telling me to. I asked him how to handle the situation.
“Do you have the man’s drivers license, son?” I handed it over.
He looked it over and then read the dead man’s name aloud. Then he said the most incomprehensible thing I could have imagined at the time.
“Go to his address and knock on the door. When the lady inside comes out, you say ‘are you the Widow Jones?’ Go on son, do your job.”
Things Are Kind Of A Blur
I remember standing on the porch of a neat little house in a bad part of town. It was around 3 a.m.. I hated the old man for making me do this. Minutes passed before I knocked and when I did, I cursed myself because there was no turning back.
She cried and I was as comforting as a 23-year-old stranger can be to a woman of her age. I just did whatever I thought I should. It felt like I was there for about 23 years. But I know I was there less than an hour. Her family arrived, I spoke with them and left.
At 4 a.m. the sergeant called on the radio to get my paperwork for the night. He called specifically for me first. Usually he called for everyone on the shift to meet him and drop off our reports. This time, just me.
I gave him all my written work. I was so frustrated with him that I rushed to get away. I didn’t make it. He wasn’t through with me.
“Tell me what happened”
I told him what I said, what the reaction was, and what I did next. He asked what I thought about it and I told him it sucked. Then I amended that to “I didn’t like it, sir.”
The Only Time He Ever Said It
“I know you cussed me all the way to that lady’s house, but you need to know that I don’t know the answer to what you asked me. No one knows. Sometimes things are bad, and you do the best you can. Be as kind as you can and do your best. Whenever you don’t know what to do, just do that. Go home early, you had a tough night. You did your best.”
He got on the radio and called for everyone else to bring their reports to him. That was the end of the lesson. “Go home, boy, that’s enough.”
So Now I’m Old
I’ve never taught that lesson in quite the same way he did, but I’m old enough to have picked up on where he was going with it. Sometimes, when you feel that you can’t do enough, the truth is that no one could do enough.
The desire to do enough at those times is plenty. That desire means everything to people, especially when it is all either of you have.
I’m still the guy that knocks on the door. It never gets easier. I’m sort of glad it is that way.
I don’t send my people to do it, I go with them. Sometimes, I go with someone who has never knocked on a door. We talk afterward.
I teach them to be kind and then I send them home.
I wrote of the old man before, here.