God's Soldier Goes to War Every Day
I've had a long and erratic social orbit with Detective Jason McCall of the Waynesboro police force. It started in kindergarten when one of his teeth got knocked loose in some sort of playground accident and he would pull his lip down to shown me the purple, wounded gum tissue in his mouth. I used to nearly vomit, which tickled him no end. We hung out on and off throughout elementary, middle, and high school, our orbits growing further and further out of sync. By twelfth grade we were nodding acquaintances in the hallway, and although we attended the same college for four years, we never went to the same parties.
Still, there's a connection there. You share a neighborhood and a school system with someone, there's an obligation to the past that cannot be denied. I try to stay as cool with as many people from my past as possible and Jason McCall is a living, breathing connection to my childhood, a deep-voiced time machine back to tearing around the playground acting a fool and grossing everybody out, and how many of those does a guy get? We tumbled into a tenous electronic connection over MySpace a few months ago, and and when he was in D.C. last week for some sort of work conference, I was pretty stoked to catch up with him.
We met at a cigar bar near his hotel and caught up over the election returns on the flat-screens. He was pulling for the Republicans, me the Democrats. He got married thirty seconds after college graduation and joined the local police force shortly thereafter. I think that at every single decision point in our lives, we must have made opposite choices. It was amazing -- and so cool to catch up with this guy, a married cop with three kids, and just catch up and marvel at life, and at divergent roads re-crossing.
Here's some thoughts I got from Jason about having a family and being a cop, some stuff I doubt any of the dozen or so of you that read this thing regularly can confirm or deny from personal experience:
When I was on the force, every day I'd put on some pumped-up music. I'd pull on the vest (bulletproof), polish my boots, comb my hair and think to myself "Once again, McCall, you're going to war."
I'd kiss my wife goodbye every day and say "Honey, I love you," because in all reality, I might not come home. But you've got to have it in your head that you're coming home, no matter what. You get it in your head, and you get in in there early and you get it in there deep that no matter what, you're coming home -- you are getting over on the bad guys, NO MATTER WHAT.
"Was there ever a time that you thought you might not make it home," I asked. "Can you tell me about it?"
Yeah, twice. One time, we got to this house on a call, and a guy with a rifle meets us at the front door. So we immediately fall back and take better cover, whatever that was -- behind some cars or something. We've all got our guns out, and the whole time, he's holding the rifle, raising it and lowering it without quite aiming it at us, but MAN. And while I'm screaming at him to drop the rifle, I'm thinking "Shit. Either he's gonna shoot me or I'm gonna shoot him. And I really think he's going to shoot me, but I really don't want to shoot him."
So I'm bargaining with myself in my head, saying "If he raises the rifle past this angle, I'm gonna shoot him," and then he drops the rifle and runs back into the house. So we chase him back into the house, I'm fighting him in the bathtub, and we arrested him.
"What about the other time," I asked.
Man. I was all the way out at the edge of town on a call, all alone. And it was COLD, such a cold cold night, man. And there's this huge redneck there, drunk like you wouldn't believe and he's just FIGHTING me. He'd taken another officer hostage at gunpoint in the past, and I knew that while I was fighting him. And I'm fighting with everything I've got, man. I'm beating him with my flashlight, and he's punching me in the face, the neck, the chest, all over. He nailed me hard in the chin and I'm wrestling him and just bashing his face into the tailgate of his pickup, and he's still beating me! I was thinking "Oh man, if some backup doesn't get here soon, I'm not gonna make it home. But backup made it there, out to that lonely stretch of highway, and I got home.
"Why do you do this," I asked, ""go fight these guys and nearly get killed? What drives you?"
Well, it's not for the rush, I'll tell you. The rush comes and it goes, and when it's gone, you're not left with much. I say you're doing it fir the guys you're with, and to be a part of something bigger than yourself. I think every cop wanted to be something good that was more than just himself. I don't care what a cop says, the party line is that you're serving the community, but ultimately, you're doing it to take care of your friends. You get in these intense situations with those guys, and you just love them and want to help them out no matter what. You're doing it for the guys, to get home to your wife, and then for the community.
There's a tiered system in your head when you're out there. You're thinking "who would I die for?" You'd die for your team without even thinking about it, and for a kid -- no problem. Then you'd die for a woman -- that's third place. Some guy, you'd die for him last. In the end, you'd die for any of them, but you kinda rank 'em in your head, and it takes milliseconds in an actual situation.
Cops -- all cops -- we get jaded and cynical. Ultimately, I don't think anyone has good in them, innately. When I heard about Ted Haggard, some anti-gay minister being all on meth and getting with a gay prostitute, I was just like "Wow. I can't believe it took this long."
But I'm part of that problem. I don't need to look any further than my own mirror to see a bad person. I'm of the opinion that we're all innately evil and have to be set on the right path. I feel that anything good in my life, anything good at all, was given to me by God. God is what sets me on that right path.
Ninety-nine percent of the guys on the police force, the guys out there in a uniform, those guys have families. When you call 911 you expect the cops to be there. Nobody ever calls the cops to say "hi." Whatever you think of the police, you want 'em when you want 'em, and the rest of the time, they're at arms' length because they're an impediment to what you want to do.
Jason and I talked about our families, our friends, more about our lives. There was no grand conclusion, no ultimate moment -- just two very different guys with very similar pasts reaching out and catching up. At the end of the night, I walked him to his hotel and hugged him goodnight and goodbye, real, real hard. He might need God to set him on a good path, but in the eyes of this mortal, liberal sinner, he's one of the good guys and it makes me really, really glad.