The background to this post is that I write letters to the editor, early and often, usually about justice issues. I'd like to think of these letters as bold and illuminating, but friends keep me from vanity with remarks like, "I see where you were gassing away in the paper again," or simply "Blah, blah, blah."
My friend Cee-Cee (not her real name) is a retired policewoman. I met her, if that's the right word, when she called me up very late and out of the blue, to chew me over, grind me up and spit me out for a letter of mine she'd just read. The letter concerned what I saw as a poor judgment call on the part of a police officer.
Keep in mind that this was around midnight. I'd been asleep. Cee-Cee, a stranger to me then, has a voice of mighty thunder when upset, sort of like God and Thor combined. She said, or shouted, that although the facts in my letter were "technically correct," I had written it in a spirit of smug fault-finding and from a place of ignorance. Like most civilians, I had no idea of the thousands of judgment calls which every officer is required to make, often under severe stress. Neither I nor any other civilian would hear about the great majority which turned out to be right. Cee-Cee said I'd been wrong to zero in on this officer's rare mistake, when what mattered was an honorable career as a whole.
I was speechless for once. You would be too, if the side of a mountain suddenly split off and fell on your head, or if an avenging angel suddenly swooped down out of heaven and began flogging you like a racehorse. But I come from an ancestry of bossy teachers and ministers confident in their salvation, and those genes kicked in. I told Cee-Cee the truth. I said that I admired the police, because they have such a tough job. I said that I would never say or even think a single harsh word about an officer, as long as he seemed to keep alive and active in the front of his mind the fact that he'd promised to protect and serve the innocent public. He had not vowed to protect and serve himself.
"This cop you wrote about is a good one," Cee-Cee said bluntly. "You were wrong." Then, still angry but in a lower voice, she said, "I bet that if you ever needed help, you'd be the very first to be yelling for the police to come and save your puny butt!"
I said, "You got that right, I'd be the first, and if there were some number before 'first' I'd be that. I would stand there screaming like a toddler for them to come and rescue me, to come charging up in their shiny cars and obliterate criminals threatening me and sweep me to a place of safety, because in crisis that's their duty. That's what 'Protect and Serve' means!"
Unexpectedly, I heard Cee-Cee's deep, jolly, and striking laugh for the first time. She said, "You don't expect much, do you? You certainly are a STUBBORN little shit." I wasn't crazy about being called a stubborn little shit, but her tone had warmed up. After that the conversation was much more amicable. She even generously allowed that my letter had been "an honest, though stupid, mistake."
And a few minutes later, after a thoughtful pause, she said slowly, "Not that every single cop who ever existed was an altar boy or altar girl. There's a story or two I could tell you--no names, though--"
"Over a glass of good red," I said. "My treat."
"Deal," she said, and laughed.
And I think that Cee-Cee is a woman who keeps her word.