A lesson from a police-car ride-along

This isn’t my story, but something a good friend told me over brunch. It’s one of the most touching and important things I’ve heard lately, so I want to share it with all of you.

The rest of this post will be written in first person to avoid a lot of redundant “And then he said….” and so on. This is what he told me:

As part of a community workshop that I was involved in, I had an opportunity to do a “ride-along” with a police officer. It was fun. I got to ride in the car, and I was just dressed in civilian clothes, but I had, you know, a blue shirt on and a jacket, so I looked kind of official and everything.

Anyway, it turns out that a huge percentage of calls that cops have to deal with are domestic violence calls. One of the calls that we got, during my ride-along, was a domestic violence call.

We ended up going to a really terrible part of town. The house was this little house, practically a trailer. It was a single room, probably about half of the size of the restaurant that we’re sitting in now. It was divided in half by a sheet that was hanging from the ceiling: the beds were on one side, and everything else was on the other.

Three generations lived together in this one-room house. There was a woman and her husband, both probably in their 30’s or thereabouts. Her mother lived with them, and they had two children: one daughter who looked like she might have been six or seven, and a baby that might have been a year old at the most.

As soon as we arrived, of course there was screaming and pushing and shoving as they tried to explain to the officer what had happened. It was the grandmother who had made the call, and apparently the husband had gotten violent with her in an argument.

But while the police officer is trying to sort all of this out, I just kept looking at the baby. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. With everything going on, the screaming and hitting and throwing pots and pans across the room, the baby was doing… what babies do.  Just watching.  Holding her stuffed animal.  I could see her eyes going back and forth, and taking in all of the action. There wasn’t any fear there, there wasn’t any judgment. Just observation.

And I realized, in that moment, what was going on: I was watching as this baby learned that this is normal.

Right there, in front of me, I was watching this infant get used to the idea that this is just how the world is. This is what goes on. This is the way things are, and for all she knew, this is the way things should be and had to be.  This is what it means to be alive.

I’ve been a very successful person in my life. I’ve been very fortunate and done very well with my businesses and my career. And up until that point, I always described myself as having achieved it all on my own. I would always tell people that I accomplished everything without any help from anyone.

But ever since that day, looking at that kid… I can’t say that any more.

I may not have gotten money from my parents. I may not have inherited a business or a fortune. Every dollar that I have, I earned through hard work.

But at least I started at the 5 yard line, you know?