Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Memorial

On November 29th four Lakewood Washington Police Officers were shot to death while they sat in a coffee shop before their morning shift started. Their deaths were senseless, violent, tragic. In just minutes four veteran officers were gone, four families were devastated, and nine children lost parents. One of those officers was my neighbor.

I did not know Officer Tina Griswold, although I knew she lived in the neighborhood, one of several police officers from various precincts who have settled into this development. It's a large neighborhood and it isn't possible to know everyone but you notice the homes with police cars parked in the driveway. There is a certain peace of mind knowing they are your neighbors. When news of the shooting was first reported I didn't think about the Lakewood police car that parks two blocks from my house but when I took the kids to school Monday morning there were four police cars on the street. Suddenly news from thirty miles away became neighborhood news and at the school, where her son is a student, the kids struggled to understand.

Last night my daughter and I helped the PTSA tie black ribbons on trees lining the main street of our neighborhood. There were maybe twenty of us, parents and children, bundled against the cold and racing to beat the setting sun. There is a tendency in humans to take tragedy and make it personal. It's a double edged sword behavior. One person will be spurred into action, coordinating aid for the victims, organizing memorials, while another will simply gossip. I worry about being the one who only gossips but never know what to do to help.. so when the PTSA asked for volunteers it was a relief to say yes. However, tying ribbons on trees felt like an insignificant expression. When my daughter asked why we were doing this I found myself grasping for an answer. Of course we were tying them in memorial, as a sign of respect for the fallen officers, as a token of support for Officer Griswold's family, but as I talked with her I realized that there is another motivation that is harder to explain. We were there not to be part of the news, but because our community needed a way to come together and express a grief that isn't easy to define. It is a grief that is part gratitude and part guilt for the people who have made protecting our community their life. People who we often don't appreciate enough. We live in our safe, self absorbed bubbles and forget that the police car parked down the street, making us feel smug about the safety of our neighborhood, is driven by one of our neighbors. A person with children and dreams and a mortgage just like us. A person we should have known.

Today 20,000 people attended a memorial service for the four Lakewood officers. So many Law Enforcement Officers from all over the world had traveled to attend that the city asked the general public to stay home and watch the service on TV or in the auditorium of a local University. As I watched I realized that these people did not mourn because they knew the officers personally but because they were part of the law enforcement community. A community that embraces each other as brothers and sisters even if they have never met. We need to learn from them. The police and firefighters in our neighborhoods risk their lives for us, whether they know us or not, they look out for us like we are family and we should return that loyalty and dedication.

Tina Griswold was my neighbor. On Monday night we did what we could to say goodbye to our neighbor because it was the right thing to do. She was one of us and her death is a great loss to our neighborhood.