In the last week of March 2013, I received a phone call from an old friend from my working days, a Christian woman I had not spoken to in at least three years. I met her during a police call over a decade ago when I was a sergeant. At that time, her soon-to-be ex-husband was causing no end of difficulties for her and her two young sons. She had moved to Upland during the marriage break-up and was barely making ends meet through the divorce process. As I recall, her nearly-ex was allegedly most often intoxicated and belligerent. He harassed this woman during the hours of darkness by tampering with her mailbox and parked vehicle.
After reviewing the frequency of complaints we had from this one location and considering her plight, I assigned the beat officer to patrol her housing complex during the most likely times the errant prowler dropped by. The “ex” was arrested a few nights later on an outstanding warrant and was found to be driving on a suspended license. With him in custody and his car in tow, her prowler decided to cease harassing her at home. From a practical standpoint, the investment of a few hours of focused patrol solved a persistent problem. It was a win-win for this woman and the PD. The harassment by her “ex” and the police calls for service stopped at that location.
Once her divorce was finalized, however, the woman's difficulties with her “ex” moved to the lobby of the police station. As the custodial parent, court-ordered visitations became heated arguments between her and the ex-husband, which overflowed into the parking lot during child-custody exchanges. Eventually, tensions subsided somewhat and civility became the order of the day between both parties during child exchanges. That was a win-win for the kids.
And somehow, in sorting out the police-related mess of ex-husband issues for this woman, I had made an ally. She made it a point to call on occasion and ask for advice. Over time, she shared her faith and asked me to pray for her and the boys (and eventually for their father.) Sometimes she would call the station and give me updates on her life and church involvement. On a few rare occasions, this woman brought her boys into the station lobby to see me. She told me I was a good role-model. I made it a point to show kindness to these two little urchins. After all, it was not their fault that their parents were no longer together. So, I would make sure to drop to a knee and talk with the boys at eye-level, to encourage them in whatever activity or school project they were involved in at the time. One never knows what simple kindness may have a critical impact on another's life in the future. And my faith has taught me to treat others the way I would like to be treated.
Let's fast-forward to the recent phone call from my friend. When she called, she did not identify herself by name. She merely said she was a familiar “voice from the past” and offered only her street address. This caused my mind to run backwards through banks of long-closed files—for I knew who she was from the voice and clue, but my short-term memory could not immediately recall a name. I remembered the two boys, so I asked how they were doing and how old they were. As she happily recounted their scholastic and musical endeavors in middle school, I finally recalled her name. Whew!
But then something quite remarkable occurred as our conversation shifted from discussions of family to our shared faith in God through Christianity. She humbled me, in fact, with what she recounted of something she had felt compelled to do recently in response to hearing God speak to her heart. And I am ashamed to admit that I had given no thought to do what she had done in this circumstance; to show the compassion she had extended to a complete stranger (perhaps someone considered an enemy by association) in response to the Golden Rule.
Before I explain further what my friend had done, I want to caution the reader. Just as the adage concerning two wrongs not making something right is sound, I do not propose that the recent history of specific events I am about to relate are worth re-hashing for the sake of opening deep wounds or causing them to fester. So, I apologize if the mention of this particular individual (and related incidents) causes anyone closest to the tragedies he inflicted to revisit their pain, loss, and grief. Yet in the same spirit, I hope that those sympathetic to the victims of those tragedies will not harden their hearts and condemn this friend of mine for her compassion either. Instead, I would invite you to walk in her shoes and see things through her perspective before passing judgment.
And, because I believe speaking the name of the subject (surrounding this woman's subsequent actions) is unwarranted, I will not dare to utter his accursed name. He is not worthy of public attention or casual mention. In my estimation, the media event surrounding the actions of this particular individual are sufficient cause to never speak his name aloud again. Please consider doing the same out of respect for the dead and their surviving families.
This man's notoriety involved a published manifesto from his Facebook account, a week-long shooting spree across Southern California that left civilians and cops dead in its wake, and a fiery demise in the mountains during his attempted capture. His death was inevitable and welcome by a frightened public and hyper-cautious law enforcement community. For a few days in February 2013, the critical impact of his evil and selfish misdeeds left a number of grieving families and shocked communities numbed in the aftermath, which included members of his own family.
And this woman of faith who called me was struck by the enormity of that aftermath. She felt great sorrow and wondered what enormous loss must have been suffered by the mother of that “evil man” whom she called “son.” How would my friend feel (she thought) if one of her own sons died? She could not imagine how her life might be impacted by the loss of one of her boys in such a public and disgraceful way. She shuddered to think about it. But she was moved to think about someone other than herself in this instance.
So moved was this woman by compassion, she did some investigating and called in a few favors. And within a few days of the end of the media circus surrounding the dead gunman, she found herself corresponding with the dead suspect's mother. Then she attended the funeral. She went to the service to offer her condolences to a single-mom who had lost a son.
My friend was shocked at the sparse attendance. She talked with members of the family and learned how they had been shunned and ostracized by friends and acquaintances for something they had taken no part in; how they, too, had suffered repercussions from the public backlash of media coverage through the critical impact of one family member's rage and cruelty. And my friend voiced concern to me that perhaps I would not understand what she had done because I had been a cop, and she had attended the funeral of a cop-killer. In that moment, I felt God was gaining my full attention.
My friend made no excuses for what that man had done. His guilt and actions never were in question. This woman was overwhelmed emotionally by what very few cared to think about. She saw a grieving family; a mother who had lost a son; people who had had nothing to do with the tragic events and carnage; human beings who bore the blame nonetheless. What my friend took away from that service was a gaping hole in one family's heart; all the feelings of helplessness, isolation, shame, and insurmountable sorrow for all of the victims impacted by the tragedies one son had inflicted upon so many. How does one apologize through a door slammed and bolted in one's face?
And through her selfless action and story, I am reminded that I am not so a good a human being, a man of such impeccable integrity or noble caste to imagine that I am above reproach before anyone. I know that I have done things that, had they been aired publicly before millions, would have brought shame and disgrace upon my entire family. I am a sinner after all! And yet my family would not have deserved the brand of enemy by association for whatever trespasses I might have committed. What my friend offered to that publicly disenfranchised family of an accursed cop-killer was grace. She gave to them what she would have wanted to receive had the table been turned likewise against her. And I saw God's hand move toward them in her actions.
I have often heard it said… but for the grace of God go I. But for my woman friend, I recognize that because of the grace of God, I, too, must go. For grace is not a thing to be hoarded and locked away from the reach of others. Grace belongs to God and He grants it freely to overflow the tributaries of our selfish streams of scorn, so that others may partake of grace just as we received it—unexpected and undeserved—and when it was needed most.
(copyright 2013, Gregory Allen Doyle)