A Different Kind of Hero

This is a reworking of a note I wrote on FaceBook last year.  I hope no one minds!  It seems a good way to start off a new year.

Every spring, Metro Police Dept. holds their annual citation party, handing out certificates to Nashville’s heroes of the year. Some of them are cops, some are civilians. They all deserve the recognition. But there are so many unsung heroes in Nashville: police officers, fire fighters, emergency medical techs, or in some cases men like my better half who are all three wrapped in one efficient package. These are the men and women who do all the daily dirty work of keeping the civil in civilization and preventing our society from disintegrating into chaos. They are the ones who run towards danger when everyone else is running away. They are the ones who work behind the scenes to keep us from hurting ourselves and from hurting each other; or, if unable to prevent us from doing stupid or harmful things, they clean up the messes we make with our self-absorbed, reckless behavior.

Take my husband, for example. He is an elder of our church and gets lots of kudos in that capacity. And so he should, because he’s good at his job. But he is also a cop, a fire fighter/rescue worker, and an emergency medical tech; and he almost never talks about this part of his life. He loves to tell the funny stories, the stories of crazy people doing unbelievably ridiculous things. But the important stuff, he doesn’t like to talk about. And that’s a shame, because he makes a difference, and he doesn’t even realize it. So, I thought I’d tell a few representative stories about my own personal hero.  Because I’m proud of him. Because he’s really good at his job.

“So I’m trying to get him out of the car while keeping his hands out the window, because he keeps trying for the magnum he’s got stashed under his seat. And with a garage full of innocent bystanders, I wasn’t about to let him get to it. I knew I’d have to shoot him first. I guess he finally realized that, too, because he finally got out of the car and became cooperative. While I was cuffing him, he says to me, ‘You’re lucky, cop. If you’d let your guard down a fraction of a second, you’d be dead.’ I couldn’t believe he said that. I mean, it sounded like hokey dialogue from a B-movie. . . .” Rich looks at me and trails off. This was early in his career.  He hadn’t been a cop long enough for me to be able to handle a story like that. He’ll never be a cop long enough for such a story not to scare the crap out of me. After seeing my fear, he never told me stories like that again. But it doesn’t matter. I’m perfectly aware, every time I see him off for work, that he might not be coming home in the morning. When the phone rings in the middle of the night, I just know it’s the chief. “I regret to inform you, Mrs. Ross. . . .” Do I sound overly dramatic? Then check and see how many cops get injured or killed in the line of duty. It’s a reality all wives of police officers live with. But here’s the point: I hang onto what that B-movie guy said. “If you’d let your guard down for a fraction of a second. . . .” But, Rich didn’t let his guard down. And I know he was praying throughout that entire incident. So I can trust that he’ll be okay. Because he’s doing God’s work, and he’s good at his job.

The man had been following the bus around the terminal for hours in his car. Finally the bus driver called in to complain. The guy hadn’t done anything, but hey, it was creeping him out! Rich pulled the guy over and the bus drove away without its tail at last. The first thing Rich noticed as he walked up to the creepy guy in the car was the shot-gun sitting across his lap. The voices, the guy said, told him to take this loaded weapon to the airport and shoot up the bus. “Last time they told me to come to the airport, they said to take the shot-gun but they never said to load it. So I outsmarted them! I didn’t load it!” “Um, but they said to load it this time?” Rich asked cautiously. The guy looked downcast. “Yeah, they didn’t leave me any loopholes this time,” he admitted. “But they didn’t say I had to be in a hurry.” Rich smiled at him gently. “You don’t want to hurt anybody, do you? I can see that you don’t. Let me help you out. Give me the gun, and you won’t have to hurt anyone.” It took a bit more sweet-talk, but Rich was finally able to take the gun carefully out of the guy’s hands and then get the guy himself out of the car. He called the “Roving Nut Squad”, as it is whimsically called, to pick the man up and take him to the mental hospital. As they waited, Rich asked him how the voices spoke to him. “They talked to me through the TV,”  he said. “I have a suggestion, then,” Rich offered. “Turn off the TV.” And that was the end of that. Except for the call Rich got from the man’s grateful father later that week, thanking him for his kindness. Other cops had caught his son out “obeying the voices” before and had frightened and man-handled him. And I understand that; it’s a tense situation, fraught with danger. Pulling a gun on the guy and yelling at him to throw the shotgun out the window, then grabbing him and throwing the cuffs on him, is the safest logical solution. But Rich was praying his way through and seeing this man as fellow human being whom God loves instead of merely as a threat. That’s why he’s good at his job.

“I never felt so helpless in my life,” he confessed, tears in his eyes. I haven’t seen him cry often, but there are times when it’s all there is to do. “I’ve always been able to help people before. I mean, I either save their lives, or I keep them alive until the ambulance arrives. Or, they’re already dead before I get to them and I know there’s nothing I could have done. But this time. . . .” This time, a car drove by another vehicle in front of the airport and riddled it with bullets, killing the driver instantly. Rich raced out of the terminal to see a patrol car speeding after the perp and the passenger bleeding to death in her seat. He pulled her out flat on the ground to see to her injuries, but it was immediately apparent that she had no chance. Even if he’d been able to magically transport her into surgery surrounded by doctors that very instant, she was going to die. “I didn’t do a thing for her,” he grieved to me when he got home. “All I could do was pray and make her as comfortable as possible until the end.” I know better. He made her feel safe and cared for in her last moments on earth and he eased her passing with his prayers and comforting words. And so all I can do to help him is hold him and assure him that he really did make a difference; that he is truly good at his job.

“I don’t know why I keep this job,” he says miserably. We are talking on the phone, even though he is in our bedroom and I am in the kitchen, only a door away from each other. He had scraped a drunken old man off the sidewalk that night and taken him downtown to detox. The man had been covered with every kind of human excretion you can think of, and even though Rich wore rubber gloves he could not help getting stuff all over him. In addition, the man coughed on him and they were shut together in the patrol car for 20 minutes breathing the same air. And later, Rich was informed that the man had TB, was not on medication, and was highly contagious. TB is not the easiest disease to catch, but obviously people do catch it and he was taking no chances. Until his own labs came back, he was isolating himself. “This job is not worth it,” he grouses to me. “Endangering you and the kids. Why shouldn’t I find a safer job?” I smile into the phone and will him to hear it. Because I know that he prayed for that drunken old man the whole time he was with him, treated him with kindness and as much respect as the situation allowed for; and that’s a lot better treatment than he might have gotten with some other officer. “You don’t quit because you’re good at your job,” I remind him. He snorts. He doesn’t believe me, but he just keeps going anyway. And eventually, his tests come back negative and I can kiss him again.

“So, this TSA guy talks to me for over an hour while I was on the checkpoint. He’s got cancer and he wanted to tell me all about his chemo and stuff. I didn’t know what to say. I pretty much didn’t say anything. Then he says to me that he had been so depressed that this morning when he got up he just wanted to kill himself. But after talking to me, he felt so much better that he has hope again and wants to keep on trying. Isn’t that weird? I didn’t really say anything to him.” I have to laugh, because he still isn’t aware of his own super- powers. “You’re good at your job,” I tell him, chuckling. “I don’t think talking to the TSA guy is part of my job description,” he grumbles at me, trying to see what I’m finding so funny. “When God wrote your job description, He got all the “elder” stuff and all the “cop” stuff mixed together,” I explain. “You’re an elder who also happens to be a cop. You’re a cop who is an elder. You’re both, all the time.” And Rich says, “Hmm.”

But it’s true. Whether he’s cutting the injured out of wrecked cars, doing CPR on a medical in the terminal, taking car keys away from a drunk driver and calling a cab , or talking mentally ill people out of chewing up electrical wires, he’s praying for their souls and he’s showing them the love of Christ. He’s good at his job. Both of his jobs. All the time.


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