And some cops are angels…
To reteach a thing its loveliness is the nature of metta. Through lovingkindness, everyone & everything can flower again from within.
Sharon Salzberg, Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness
With all the story of bad cops, I’d like to share the story of a very, very good one who saved me when I was 15 years old.
I was an angry teenager – mostly because I was a terribly hurt one. Yes, I behaved badly and yes, I was a truly epic shoplifter (thank mercy, the statute of limitations ran out decades ago or I’d be fretting about confessing this). I could walk in with an empty book bag, walk out with a full one and nobody ever seemed to get it, until, inevitably, one day, my luck either ran out or kicked in, depending on one’s interpretation, and I was caught stealing at the university bookstore. I can’t even remember what it was I had and I’m pretty sure I didn’t need any of it. I just found that new stuff seemed to temporarily patch the hole in my heart and since my allowance was something like 50 cents a week, I couldn’t buy much.
I remember well the ice-water chill in my veins as a hand clamped on my arm and a stern faced employee ordered me to come along. The police were called and into the car I went, my heart quivering in terror and my bowels feeling they would let loose at any moment. I knew I was worth little to my family and my status as innately defective would forever be cemented by this.
The cop who picked me up wasn’t that much taller than me. Built like a barrel with a thinning head of nappy, greying hair, his beautiful brown face was seamed with the cares of a lifetime of service. His hands were gentle and so was his voice as he ushered me into a room to wait for my parents to show up.
“Look at me,” he told me, grabbing my attention with his kindness and intensity. “You have to listen to me. This is how it goes. You start out shoplifting, and it’s easy, so the next thing you do is break into a neighbor’s house and steal jewelry. Because that was so easy, you rob a store, but you don’t use a weapon, and you get away, so the next time, you bring a gun and then, somebody gets shot. And then, little girl, your life is over. You’re in prison for the rest of your life and you’re how old?”
“Fifteen,” I replied softly, looking at my hands.
“Little girl, I can tell you’re a smart one and that you’re not really a bad kid. I don’t want this life for you. You deserve better. You gotta promise me you’re going to stop it. I want you to promise me you’ll never steal anything again.”
I looked deeply into his warm eyes, so dark that I couldn’t see the pupil and in those eyes I saw that this wasn’t a story he’d read somewhere. This was a story he’d seen played out over and over again for decades and that he meant every word he’d said – and that he really, truly cared.
“I won’t,” I told him, my eyes brimming.
“Don’t just say it,” he insisted. “I want you to promise me.”
“I promise,” I said and with every ounce of me, I meant it. He was the first one ever to talk to me. He was the first ever to care, not just tell me that I was a thief and a vandal and a liar in tones of absolute contempt and loathing. My lonely heart rose and at that moment, I would have promised to retrieve for him the moon and the stars. Abstaining from stealing was the least I could do.
And despite further misbehavior (none of which would have caused legal issues for an adult), I never did. I never stole again. I kept my promise, not because it was the right thing to do or because I believed that I was worth better than that. It took me years and years to understand those things. I kept my promise for him, because at that moment, I knew he loved me – for real – imperfections, anguishes, angers and all.
And over the next year, when I was lucky enough to see him, I always told him “I’ve kept my promise. I always will,” and he would grace me with that angel smile and my entire being would warm and my heart, at least for a while, would be soothed.
He has to be long gone now – this was 1971 and he wasn’t a young man – so I hope wherever he is, it’s as sweet and beautiful and blessed as a soul that pure and good could ever hope for. He was one of the first who reached out to teach me that I was worthy, that I did deserve better. Sometimes it just takes one angel to open up a window in our hearts.
This is for all the angel cops out there who do care. We haven’t forgotten you exist…