Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Hazard Pay for Us All

My all-time favorite read is a mystery, the thriller. Give me a British cozy and a cloudy day, and I’m happy. Direct me to a finely drawn police procedural, and I’ll stay up late to read just a little bit more. G. W. Malliet, Elizabeth George, Tana French, Peter Robinson, Ian Rankin, P. D. James: each and all have challenged and delighted me.

Reading a number of police procedurals suggests the human price that some pay for turning over the rock to look at what’s hidden from the light. Most of us don’t care to look, but that’s the job of the police. They must look and deal with what they find, not just by bringing the slimy thing to justice, but finding a way to heal their own hearts and minds after coming so close to a thing so vile.

Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers, a character conceived by Elizabeth George, eats and drinks too much. She’s disheveled but dogged, single but a loyal friend, a woman filled with love unrequited.

Detectives invented by Tana French tend to have fragile relationships. In fact, they are often divorced as an effect of being driven and committed to the job.

Other detectives drink too much. They dull the ache and pain of their work with copious amounts of adult beverages. Robert B. Parker’s Jesse Stone is an excellent example of needing drink to cope and of drink ruining relationships and careers.

Television has seized upon the troubled police. Southland, now on TNT, is an unapologetic look at the egos, secrets, and mistakes made by Los Angeles police. USA’s Common Law did not survive for a second season. I wish it had, but when it aired, the series showed police partners with very different temperaments engaged in couples therapy in order to exorcise their demons and work well together. Chicago Fire proves that police are not the only servicemen and women who suffer as a result of the service they perform for the rest of us. And The Following, FX’s brand new sinister portrait of killers and the people who pursue them, proves that few people can do such work without being irrevocably altered in spirit, faith, and hope. Kevin Bacon plays a broken man barely holding on to life itself.

Clearly, print and film characters, including John McClane and Axel Foley, prove the one story we believe in: those who serve a city will pay a high price. Why then do we expect so much more of the men and women who have experienced the unrelenting risks of war, its physical burdens, and its vile circumstances? We seem to believe that they can return home, step back into the rhythms of civilian life, and sleep peacefully. We enjoy a collective moment of celebration, relieved to see him and her return alive, whether whole or with damaged limbs, but quickly return to our routines, certain that our ex-warriors will find the routine comfortable?

We must make the short, logical leap between what we know to be true about policemen and women, firemen and women, and soldiers in war. We must offer them counseling when they have been involved in a shooting. We must grant them leave when blood has been shed. We surely can provide them with medical care for their wounds even if we cannot see them. And above all else, we must recognize that art puts before us a mirror of the human experience and it reflects this truth: those people who serve all of us are not superhuman. They bruise and break as do we. We must heal them with our understanding and patience.

Last month, the people of Boston confronted an ugly truth: sometimes we are not safe in our own cities. Like little Jem Finch, Bostonians had to acknowledge that the faces of their neighbors may be the faces of monsters. For the few broken families, several hundred injured, and hundreds more First Responders and caregivers, One Fund Boston was born. Donations to that cause will

  • retrofit houses to accommodate wheelchairs and lifts,
  • buy prosthetic devices,
  • make counseling available,
  • provide job training, therapy, and more.

In brief, One Fund Boston recognizes that trauma requires an investment in the future of the city and its citizens, especially those who were affected and who served to meet the needs of the city. We should do no less for returning veterans, for Hurricane Sandy survivors, for New Orleans, for First Responders. We should never hesitate to make whole what man has torn asunder.