Third graders run into their classroom, backpacks bobbing up and down on their shoulders as they find their desks, only to quickly remove their belongings and congregate with friends. Conversations, keep-away, tag, games of catch with tape-balls commence. The morning bell finally sounds at 8:15 and the teacher rises from her desk to address the students, lead the Pledge of Allegiance, and outline the agenda for the day.
Basketballs fly through the air to each of the six hoops in the school gymnasium prior to an afternoon practice. Some shoot free throws while others play a game of 3-on-3. In walks one of the head coaches, his hat under his arm, standing tall in his black police uniform, gun in holster. He chats briefly with the other head coach before a loud, bellowing yell reverberates throughout the gym, “On the line.” The squad of 12-14 year-olds lineup on the baseline and await the whistle for the first of several sprints followed by numerous drills.
Runners approach the finish line of the heralded Boston Marathon on Patriot’s day. More than four hours have passed and their eyes are on their long-awaited achievement, only feet away. They survived “Heartbreak Hill,” yet before they can celebrate their feat with friends and family, their hearts, along with millions of others, are broken, when bombs explode nearby, ruining an historic event. Police rush to the site of the explosion and volunteers attend to injured people covered in blood and shards of glass.
She came home every day with several books and stacks of papers in hand. My brother and I would often meet our Mom halfway on her journey from the car to the kitchen and help carry her materials from school. I watched as she stayed up late at night to grade papers well after the last bell had rung at 3:00 that afternoon. I went with her to school over the summer to play basketball as she spent countless hours re-organizing her classroom and refining her lesson plans. Every year was yet another opportunity to capture those bundles of energy that entered her classroom and mold them into the people who would one day do great things, to begin to fill those “blank slates” with valuable information that would be used on their journey through life.
The only police officer I have known was my middle school basketball coach. For the practices he could attend during my three years on the team, he usually arrived after or during his shift. He brought with him a simultaneous aura of pride and intimidation, standing tall with his shining badge and uncorking resonating critiques when a play went awry. His practices instilled within us discipline and a passion for the game, as he urged us to hold sacred the time we spent within the lines of the court and away from everything else in the world. His approach to the game did much more than teach us about a wonderful sport; it left us with unforgettable life lessons. Before each game, there were no more deafening teaching points. He would just look at all of us in the eyes and with a smile on his face he would say, “Enjoy this moment boys; it will go by all too fast.”
On this past Patriot’s Day in Boston, MA, we saw the chaotic scenes on Boylston Street in horrifying video clips, as people scurried from two explosions at the end of the prestigious Boston Marathon. Immediately though, police officers, EMTs, and volunteers rushed to the smoky scenes to begin to restore order. They did not think about their own lives, only the ones of those around them; the people they could help, whether it was by securing the area or providing assistance to a victim. Boston Police has been on call the past few days to maintain that security and to protect us while nurses and doctors have been attending to those injured at the numerous downtown hospitals.
An explosion sends the common person running in the opposite direction, a natural reaction of survival. However, for some, their own survival takes a backseat to the welfare of others. As others run away, they run towards the disaster, their natural reaction to such an event: to protect and help those in need. It is an innate trait in those who put their own lives in harm’s way for our protection. These are police officers, firefighters, EMT workers, and race volunteers who brought a calming influence to an otherwise chaotic scene.
The events in Boston struck close to home, both literally and figuratively. Upon hearing the news, I immediately texted my Dad to make sure my family members in Massachusetts were alright. Then images of friends who once sat in my Mom’s third grade classroom, who used to roam the halls with me at our elementary school, many of whom ran those sprints with me after school in those practices, came to mind. I wondered who would have been there. The injury tally kept climbing and different faces kept popping into my head.
Just like those hallways and that baseline, I had walked Boylston Street numerous times. I took it for granted then, just like I did when I was a third-grader or a middle school student striving to be a better basketball player. I did not appreciate what these people were doing for me. They were putting our lives ahead of theirs, and it took years for me to cherish those moments and memories, as my coach once advised so genuinely. He, a police officer, knew all too well how precious life is and how fleeting it can be.
We witnessed acts of courage from our civil servants on Monday. Unfortunately, sometimes it takes a tragic event to remind us of those selfless people around us,* the ones who quietly play their role and allow our world to function with some sort of order as we go about our daily lives. They did not choose the occupation for the accolades, the press, or the compensation. They chose it because of that unique ambition to serve the community and better our society, to provide order to an otherwise entropic world. The majority will remain anonymous: those third grade teachers, those local police officers who coach basketball on the side, those Boston Police and SWAT team members who responded immediately to the tragic events on Monday. However, their efforts as a whole have not gone unnoticed.
There are no words to express the appreciation for protection, security, and a learning environment created by these people. You have provided and continuously work to maintain a sturdy foundation upon which our society can grow and prosper. All of you civil servants – policemen, firefighters, teachers, and many others – you keep order and a sense of normalcy in an otherwise chaotic world. You are there for us in both good and bad times. You deserve much more, but at the very least, know that we say “thank you.”
*In addition to the civil servants (police officers, EMTs, etc.) who acted so selflessly this past Monday in the wake of this tragedy, there have been numerous locals in Boston that have opened up their arms (and doors) to console people from around the world who had traveled to the city for the historic race. The horrible acts did not cripple the people of Boston. It has only made us stronger, the fundamental human bond showing through as strangers assist one another in a time of need. There are numerous accounts of locals attending to those maimed by the explosions, tending to those exhausted from the race, and offering whatever support they could in the hours and days after those tragic events. Such selflessness exemplifies the incredible power of the human spirit.