It happens in most lives sometime. I am talking about that difficult time that feels like being totally enveloped by the thickest of darkness, even in the brightest of daylight. It seems to take over everything. It may come after a catastrophe… Or come seemingly for no readily apparent reason… But there is always a reason… It just may be that it takes a long time being found. Sometimes we totally recover and function well for a long time before we learn what the reason was… the experience still comes to most of us sometime and often more than once over the period of a lifetime.
I had set out in my peace keeping career to make the world safer for the people in it. All of my life I had seen the senseless deaths and destruction caused by traffic law violators. I had witnessed the senseless death and destruction caused by intoxicated people in daily life as well as on the roadways. I had seen the damage and destruction caused by totally self-centered people to the welfare and safety of others around such people anywhere they happened to be. I watched this destruction, read of it in history, read of it in the news, heard it on radio and observed it personally. This caused me to be both angry and ill deep inside. I knew the answer would come only if people who could do something about these things would do something… Do whatever they could do!… But unknown to me, success in this field of making a difference occasionally caused the crusader to suffer life altering reality checks.
The first reality check came on my first duty station… The court I had to use had a liberal judge who made decisions that suited him rather than decisions according to evidence. After a while of taking many cases before that judge and getting a poor conviction rate, I requested a conference with him. My only question was why does good evidence not bring about convictions in his court? His reply floored me… He said that I was bringing in good cases but good cases were not his criteria for convictions… He would not convict accident cases involving more than one vehicle… To him they were civil matters to be settled in civil court or by attorneys. Sometimes he would not convict single vehicle cases either… If they did no damage to anyone else but themselves and their vehicle, he would say it cost them enough to teach them a lesson. Occasionally he would ask to hear a case that had posted a bond, dismiss the case and refund the bond by mail. These actions by the judge caused me much consternation and deep searching for a time until I came to a conclusion… My conclusion was to continue to do the best job I could do in investigation and enforcement in my jurisdiction. The court was not my jurisdiction, it was the jurisdiction of the judge and he was responsible for what he did there! That gave me the freedom to do the very best I could in daily peace keeping duty and know at the end of each day that I had truly done the best I could with what I had where I was! I left the rest to the court and the prosecutor.
All went well then until I moved… In the years on my second duty station one such experience came to me because of a case that I was assigned to handle. Until then I was just where I wanted to be, living just where I wanted to live, doing just what I wanted to do… Having a happy life and I was loving it!… Until one midnight shift I was assigned to work a fatal collision. It happened at an intersection of a four lane divided highway with left turn lanes and a two lane crossing road. Visibility was good in both directions on the four lane. A station wagon containing a father, mother and two children was crossing the four lane on the two lane road (headed east bound), already having crossed two lanes and entering into the second two lanes (the north bound lanes)… Crossing from left to right to the second two traffic lanes (the north bound lanes) of the four lane divided roadway (the farthest lanes in relation to the direction of the station wagon travel). The station wagon was struck violently in the two right side doors centered on the post between the two doors, pushing the doors and door post into the station wagon about eighteen inches (the mother was in the right front seat) knocking the station wagon into a pole that also caved in the left side of the station wagon about eighteen inches centered on the door post between the two left doors (the father was driving, the two children were in the rear of the wagon)… Leaving the station wagon looking like an hour glass when viewed from above. The vehicle that collided with the wagon was a Mustang, fast back, two door vehicle… It came to rest behind the station wagon on the right side of the roadway north bound… It was bowed as though a giant foot had stepped on the roof and both the front and rear had been pulled upward… It had much front end damage from the collision.
The only means of exit from the station wagon was the tailgate window… The father and children had gotten out that way… The mother was still in the station wagon and she was dead. We had to remove her on a board out through the tailgate window. The father said there were no cars in sight when he started across the four lane roadway… The collision happened in the fourth traffic lane or the right hand north bound lane. There was a tractor trailer parked near the scene and the driver was waiting to talk with me. He had been driving northbound on the four lane roadway some distance from and approaching the intersection where the collision happened when he was passed by two vehicles racing at high speed. He gave me the license numbers of both and a description… One of them was the Mustang… The other was not at the scene when I arrived. After the investigation and viewing the Coroner’s examination of the damage done to the dead mother, I charged the two drivers who were racing with manslaughter.
Sometime later and before the court date, I was in city court and was on my way out of the building when someone called to me to wait. It was an attorney (a candidate for Governor that year). He asked me if the County Prosecutor was really going to prosecute the manslaughter cases. I informed him that he had no choice, I had brought the charges. He smiled real big and said, “I’ll see you in court.”
The case hinged upon proving reckless driving by the two drivers who were racing. After both myself and the truck driver testified, the judge looked over his glasses at me and said, “I see no evidence of reckless driving here… Case dismissed!” I expected justice but this was not justice!
Later in the civil suit, the exact same evidence did bring a decent award to the family because of the death of the mother. In the civil case both drivers readily admitted the racing as we waited in the waiting area outside the court room of the civil case. The County Prosecutor had promised that if the civil case were found for the plaintiff (the damaged party, family of the mother) he would go for a Manslaughter indictment in Circuit Court using the transcript taken under oath in the civil trial… But he never did it!
This fatality case would not leave my mind. If politics could short circuit lower courts in such a manner regarding airtight cases, why should I continue to risk life and limb to take them there? The time an old Trooper called me a fool for working so hard echoed much inside me… This case combined with several other memories of those times plus a life threatening illness in my wife requiring major surgery took me through one of those long dark times… I have heard it called the Dark Night of the Soul… And I have experienced it more times since those early days of so long ago.
The Dark Night of the Soul can be brought on by so many things… Great disappointment… A seemingly insurmountable challenge… A great spiritual need… Death of a loved one/family member/child/spouse/friend/pet… Severe illness or injury requiring a long effort to recover and maybe leaving a permanent injury or handicap… Searching for something you believe is available, but that you cannot find over a long period of time… Stress, now commonly described as PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)… Addictions… Loss of a deeply meaningful relationship… Loss of job or profession… Taking a life… Seeing a life taken… King David called these things “walking through the Valley of the Shadow of Death” (Psalm 23:4)… Sometimes it feels as though death would be a welcome relief, especially when the condition is brought on by nothing you can identify except the possible actions of others… “…; weeping may endure for a night (or many nights – DRS), but joy comes in the morning (the dawn will come again bringing light -DRS)!” (Psalm 30:5) David knew what he and I are talking about because he had to run and hide for twelve years from King Saul who sought many times to kill him because David had been anointed to be the next king. Saul was afraid David would kill him in order to take the throne, though David had not made, and did not intend to make, any such effort, even though he had the chance!
I learned from David… And I learned from Isaiah when he said, “Do not [earnestly] remember the former things, do not consider the things of old.” (Isaiah 53:18 Amplified)… He meant do not give evil nor destructive memories power over you! And I learned from Jesus in Matthew 6:33-34 Amplified… “But seek (aim at and strive after) first of all His kingdom and His righteousness (His way of doing and being right), and then all these things taken together will be given you besides. So do not worry or be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will have worries and anxieties of its own. Sufficient for each day is its own trouble.” Jesus was talking about food, clothing, shelter, size, length of life and daily life. These things and much more that I have learned have conducted me through the “Valley of the Shadow”, the very darkest of shadows, and through the Dark Nights of my Soul… The most recent ones being my severe illness and medical retirement… Few know the darkness of these Journeys that occur in life any more detailed than I do for I have traversed them many times.
The trip is always difficult because it takes you through feelings that betray your goals… These feelings make the goals seem impossible or foolhardy to even consider them… In most cases, goals are achievable only as they depend upon you and God… In some instances you feel like you will lose your mind… Emotions can demand to be volatile… You feel like you want to explode, but if you explode, it does not help… You may feel like you want to lash out, but lashing out does not help… You want to scream/cry out and sometimes this will help but do it in a private place or bury your face into a pillow… Violent weeping may help, but do it in a private place… The only lasting keys that work are: Do not give up… Be persistent… Do what you know is right no matter what anyone else is doing or is not doing… Always return to calmness as soon as possible (learn relaxation techniques and use them, use exercise and vent the feelings that way, kick a cardboard box to pieces, chop wood, workout, jog, do pushups, etc.)… My most powerful technique is prayer. Exercise is very good also and I use it often…
Remember that the key is to do what you can do that will help you but not do damage to you or another person in any way. Booze, illegal drugs, abuse of pills or legal medications, love affairs with other than your spouse… The temptation to put your gun to your head or in your mouth… Crashing your car or your motorcycle… These and other things are negative and destructive methods of coping with the stress or the “Valley of the Shadow” or the “Dark Night of the Soul” or whatever you want to call any other unpleasant experience you are having now or any other time. Sometimes it just feels like life demands too much and we are tempted to take a way out of feeling it or a quick way of ending it. Not many, if any, good hard working people are ever able to avoid these difficult places and times in life! The real true key is to find a positive method of coping that works for you… I have many that work for me but prayer and exercise are number one and number two for me plus eating properly and getting enough rest even if sleep is not easy to get. Sometimes sleep does not come easily even if there is no known distress.
Hobbies are another method of coping that always worked well for me… Shooting on a safe range is another that I have enjoyed immensely… Both of these methods can get expensive… But not coping can be much more expensive! Sitting in a special, quiet place can be most comforting sometimes… Find an open church , synagogue or other sanctuary or a quiet park and try sitting quietly in a peaceful place… In really difficult or seeking times I have found a secluded mountain side or a bubbling, fast moving, mountain stream to fill my need most efficiently… Others get the same good results sitting on a beach listening to the gulls and the surf… Sometimes the presence and company of a true friend is a great comfort even if you do not engage in conversation! If you put as much into seeking something that works for you as you put into doing other things that do not work I am sure you will find your regenerating places as I have been able to find mine…
In these political times in which we live in the United States, many are facing despair of ever seeing the good return again in their lives. Folks, it is not just the political times… Some event will come to each of you sometime that will bring you to the experience described here. When it comes, recognize it for what it is and do the best you can with it. Either it will pass or you will find the keys for dealing with it if you just do not give up. Function for as long as you can and as well as you can… If you cannot function well, then ask for help or ask where to seek help. Peace Keepers are dying far too often… Sometimes unintentionally by their own hand in making driving mistakes or being in the wrong position when they did not have to be… Sometimes the load becomes too great and they just do not want to live and cope anymore… When the load starts becoming too much… Ask for help! Ask a friend, a priest, a clergy person, a chaplain, an EAP person, a medical professional… Even ask a supervisor if no one else is available!!! All of us are here for a good and useful purpose! If we are lost, that good and useful purpose may never be fulfilled!… Do what you can to survive, live and be successful… The bottom line of that depends upon you and no one else until you enlist the aid of someone else that has the ability to assist you… Then you do it together but you are still the main cog in the machine… If you are not fully involved as best you are able, no one else can make it work for you without you!
Peace Keepers, you do an amazing job everyday… But we are losing too many of us! We need to start paying attention to one another and our surroundings. Suicide rates are still going higher in the military… We may not ever know how high it is in law enforcement… All of those who die did not have to die… Maybe someone made a mistake and that created the situation that caused death. I know this because I check to find the the facts in each death if I can… I do find that some could have been prevented. One of my first instructors in this field of peace keeping said that every death is preventable… That caused me to seek answers and I have found that many of them could have been prevented by proper use of available knowledge… Some of them would have happened no matter what. Do the best you can. We will never be able to control the no matter whats unless we stop going to the needs of the people… And we can never do that… We must still go!
In all of your going and doing, take the best possible care of you as you do your job. Be successful. be safe… Go home safely at the end of your tour.
“BE CAREFUL OUT THERE!” ALWAYS be alert, watchful, suspicious and wary. Take the very best care of you as you care for and about others. See to the strength and well being of your spirit as well as all the rest of yourself. Your spirit must be strong for you to be successful. All of this is by your own choice… He has made provision for you but it is up to you to learn it, take it and put it to use for the best results possible.
Call or write if I may be of any service… Or if you just want to encourage me… Feedback encourages all who write… It helps to know we are reaching someone who reads the message.
Donna has a fractured left foot and ankle. She is in an Orthopedic Boot and must stay off of it for two weeks and then be re-checked. Otherwise she is doing extremely well considering where she was just three months ago!
Donnie is still working but the truck is still not repaired.
I am doing fine and still improving. I had a very demanding day one day this week and learned that I am not as well strengthened stamina and endurance as I had thought and hoped, but that I am getting there.
Thank you for the responses, the care, concern and prayers. The prayers are still working for us!
As it has always been… So it still is!!!
“VICTORIOUS WARRIORS WIN FIRST…
AND THEN GO TO WAR,
WHILE DEFEATED WARRIORS GO TO WAR FIRST…
AND THEN SEEK TO WIN.” Sun tzu
Training and practice are everything!
Without them, the best results are not obtained!
ONLY LIVE PEACE KEEPERS SEE THE VICTORY!!!
THEY SEE IT ONLY BECAUSE OTHERS HAVE MADE
THEIR ETERNAL PAYMENTS OF SWEAT, BLOOD,
TEARS AND LIFE FOR THAT VICTORY!
WITH THE DEEPEST OF APPRECIATION AND RESPECT…
BE BLESSED (A CONDITION TO BE ENVIED)…
BE SUCCESSFUL… BE SAFE…
[My injunction to be safe means doing all you know to do as you do your job... it means doing the best you can with what you have where you are using all your faculties to get the job done well and with good results conquering evil and keeping or restoring peace... it does not mean to avoid duty and honor... it does not mean to cower or allow anything to hinder you in the process of duty according to rules, law and ethics... it means that if the demand takes your earthly life you destroy as much evil as possible in the process. That is my definition of being safe... doing the best you can and leaving the rest to God or whomever else is responsible... being best employed for the sake and protection of all the things and people that we hold dear.]
I represent, write for… and give the credit to:
God the Father (my Commander-in-Chief),
Jesus Christ the Son (the Eternal Captain of my life) and
the Holy Spirit of God (my Eternal Teacher, Keeper and Guide).
In Christ I live… with Him and for you I serve…
And I rejoice that you are there whether you are Christian or not…
For God, Country and the Peace Keeper…
D. R. (Don) Staton, Chaplain to Peace Keepers,
Surviving Peace Keeper,
Virginia State Police Alumni,
RETIRED Police Officer,
RETIRED Police Instructor,
RETIRED Chaplain Administrator,
Community Service Officer (Traffic Safety),
Virginia Beach Police Dept.
3709 Beacon Lane, Virginia Beach, VA 23452
All rights reserved. This Message:
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May not be duplicated in print nor publications without permission….
May not be used in any manner for personal financial gain nor profit
Except for quoted material attributed to a specific source, all material in CHAPLAIN CORNER is my personal opinion gained from 49 years of working with people in peace keeping and is not to be construed to represent the policies and opinions of any department with whom I have served or am serving.
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