I love my job. No secret if you know me personally. In law enforcement, the fact that no two days are ever the same makes it constantly stimulating. Few days are boring, some are exciting, interesting, heartbreaking, and some days are downright terrifying. And then there are days like Sunday. A woman from a local grocery store dropped off a huge bag and a couple of boxes of day-old breads and pastries at the police department while I happened to be in the office. Normally, someone on the dayshift takes the food to a church that feeds the homeless. Problem was, this time it was later than normal, nearly dark.
Rather than call an officer in off the street, I decided to take the food to my car and find a place to deliver it. I started driving to one of our local social services sector, but calls for service delayed me. After one call, I stopped at a light and observed a man sitting, almost invisible, at a street corner holding a small sign. The man was relatively clean cut, I guessed in his 30’s, and when I looked more closely, I realized his right leg was a prosthetic limb. I stopped and asked the man if he was a veteran. He smiled and said, “Yes, ma’am. US Army.” Knowing why I asked, he said,
I returned to my vehicle and pulled three loaves of bread from the bag. His face lit up. “Thank you, Sarge.”
“No, I owe you much more than thanks,” I said, feeling unworthy in the face of his sacrifice. I then asked if he had a support system and somewhere to stay. He said, for now. We shook hands and parted ways.
I was filled with humility and a renewed energy. My new mission was to seek out others who were on the street, rather than shelters, falling through the cracks. Next I met a Viet Nam era vet, another man who lost his job eight months ago, and a couple with two kids trying to supplement their dwindling savings by selling bottles of water. All were exceedingly grateful for something as simple as a loaf of bread.
By now it was getting late and I was having a hard time finding recipients, since our city prohibits panhandling after sunset. I took the remainder of the load over to the shelter that feeds women and families in need. When I handed the kitchen worker the offering, she beamed.
Although my shift didn’t involve arresting a felon or what I would normally describe as exciting, it impacted me in ways that I cannot describe. The people I met will live in me forever. Each one had a different story, and I realized that after 20+ years of seeing the worst of humanity, I’d become a bit desensitized. The simplicity of touching another’s life in some small way was rejuvenating. My humanity had been jumped started. My heart swelled. I felt like I’d won the lottery.
The purpose of this story isn’t to say I did a good thing. I didn’t. The Publix store in Tampa donated the food. I did something insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but the circumstances that led me to that action transformed my outlook forever. I know that I will spend my remaining days in law enforcement with a renewed commitment to doing “good”. Only now, I remember that good isn’t only arresting bad guys. It’s the quiet human connections make all the difference.
I hope 2013 provides each of you unexpected blessings and connections of the heart.