In a few days I will face one of my greatest fears, one that I’ve been avoiding for nearly 8 years: back surgery. The anxiety that I have is palpable. The pain is very real. The intrusion that this injury has caused on my personal life has been, at times, overwhelming. Unfortunately, the time has come when the pain has surpassed my anxiety. I need to have the surgery done.
This injury is a result of working as a police officer and occurred while making an arrest. Since that time I’ve undergone a lot of personal struggle and transformation. Being accused of police brutality while suffering a debilitating, career-ending injury tends to have that effect.
The incident was front page news, a lead story on the local news, and had the phones ringing off the hook at the local talk radio station, all seemingly wanting the police crucified. (Go ahead, Google it, you’ll see.) What seemed innocuous at first quickly became a life-changing nightmare.
Was I nervous? A bit, considering a month after the incident I was sitting in an interrogation room with my attorney and being questioned by an FBI agent and a detective from the Pennsylvania State Police. Yeah, I’d say that the potential for doing time in a federal penitentiary or a state correctional facility, possibly being sued and losing my job has the potential to make me nervous.
Was I Angry? When our criminal justice system “partners,” the District Attorney’s Office, refused to aid the police department’s criminal prosecution against the accused, which is highly irregular, yeah, absolutely I was angry.
Was I disappointed? I caught wind of the chatter that I was faking my injury; insinuations and implications that I was malingering (that’s the “medical” term the worker’s comp doctor used in the abandoned building where the “exam” was conducted). “Milking it” was what others around the city were saying. Disappointed doesn’t begin to explain how crushed I was.
Crushed because I gave my heart and my body to the police department. I wasn’t the fastest guy, definitely not the strongest, but I could make an arrest, kick down the door or run after the “bad guy” and then have the ability to articulate it in a court of law and get the conviction. Now, I’ve lost most of my muscle mass and put on 50 pounds. I can barely stand longer than 20 minutes, let alone jump, run and lift. I started coaching football, forcing myself to be involved with my son’s activities. Some nights after the two-hour practices I was fine; after other nights the pain would ruin my next day.
The living room has become a sanctuary and a tomb to me all at once. I’m comfortable on the couch, but I hate it just the same. Times when I should have been up and about with my kids, I couldn’t. Instead of being active, I was sedentary. Sure, I could have pushed myself more, but it hurt like hell. It hurt so much that all I could do was take more pills and sit some more, let alone do “core strengthening exercises.” Vicious cycle. (Thanks, honey, for taking the kids everywhere.)
Over the past eight years I’ve been through the mental, physical and spiritual gamut. I’ve experienced all emotions conceivable, even contemplated taking my own life. I’ve incurred debt as the result of loss of income and put stress on my wife. My kids know way too much about my back and tend to me more than any little kid should have to for their father. But that’s our life now.
I’ve cried. I’ve complained. I’ve cursed. And then cried some more. I’ve asked “why?” but got no answers. I was angry, bitter and baffled. I’ve been disappointed, sad, and angry some more.
Fast forward a handful of years and I’ve coped and changed. I’ve retired from the police department, went back to school and earned a Master’s Degree, currently on track to be ordained in the United Methodist Church. I’ve let go of my former grudges and, probably most importantly, I forgave. It wasn’t easy, but I did it… but I haven’t forgotten. All the while folks were judging and mocking me, casting me aside like a pawn in some morbid game, refusing to help me or by intentionally making my life harder, I’ve made progress. Like I said, I’ve forgave but I haven’t forgotten.
I now have to be operated on. Without the surgery I risk irreparable nerve damage and my future mobility. I’ve dealt with the pain and “sucked it up” the best I could, but now, after nearly a decade it is now time.
Why am I telling you this? To remind us all that we never really know what another person is feeling or going through in their lives, what their circumstances are, where they’re coming from or where they’re going. We’re all people, we’ve all got stories. No one is special, no one is exempt. In some way or another, to what degree we may never know, but in some fashion we’re all suffering, struggling or overcoming something. It’s who we are.
I’ve learned though that this isn’t the worst thing that could happen to me. Terrible things happen to people every day, much, much, much worse than what I’ve dealt with. It has changed my life, some for the better and some for the worse. It has given me more time with my family and has led me to God. I can never say “I’m happy it happened” but I am thankful for the ways it has turned out. And still, this has been my burden for eight years.
This Friday, I hope and pray that it’s gone, or at least mostly (the pain). While I live a wonderful life, I still want that part back.
I also hope and pray that the next time you encounter someone at your workplace, in your family, or in your community, that may seem odd, out of place, do things differently than you or you “don’t understand how they can be like that,” that instead of jumping to judgment you offer them grace. Grace is good. Our police officers need that grace just like everyone else. The world could definitely use a lot more grace and a lot less judgment… I know I could have. Thanks for listening. God bless.
Rev. Chris Hardy
WBPD Badge #649, Retired