A thank you to those who don't hear it enough
I didn't know Scott Patrick.
But I've had a hard time shaking him from my thoughts the past week.
Patrick was the Mendota Heights, Minn., police officer who was killed last week after making a routine traffic stop in West St. Paul. His funeral was Wednesday, attended by about 5,000 people -- nearly 4,000 of them fellow police officers from Minnesota and elsewhere.
As a longtime newspaper journalist, reporting on and reading about death is, sadly, nothing new. So, why did Patrick's death impact me so?
There are several reasons, I gather. As I learned later that day, July 30, the day he was killed, Patrick was the brother of a longtime colleague of mine in Grand Forks, Mike Brue. I felt for my friend's incomprehensible loss. Scores of Mike's friends reached out to him as you do nowadays, posting condolences to Facebook. Over the next few days, many of us shared media reports about Patrick's death, the impact he left on family and friends, his fellow officers and his community.
It was a response to one of those posts that kept Patrick in my mind, and would hit me again after the events that transpired a few days later.
In his response to a link of a newspaper story, a high school friend of mine, himself the son of a longtime East Grand Forks, Minn., police officer, said that while it was right to honor Patrick's life, he wondered why society waits to do so until a tragedy occurs.
That struck me. Why does it take something like a senseless act of violence for us to really stop and take time to appreciate police officers? And why limit it to law enforcement, I wondered: what about soldiers, firefighters, emergency medical personnel? Why don't we do more to honor and thank them while they are with us rather than when they are gone?
Several days passed and the issue receded from top of mind, as things often do. Then came the Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival.
The Pioneer's dragon boat team had just finished its first race. After the team picture, I huddled with them as we watched the next leg of races come toward the finish line. This was for the Media Cup, and we wanted to top as many competitors as we could.
But as we watched the four boats come toward the last buoys, something happened. One of the boats slowed, nearly stopping before the last marker. That's strange, we thought. Why are they slowing down? The boat's drummer seemed to be waving his arms. Was he imploring the team on? Was he signaling some message to those on shore?
My team, like many other spectators, then watched in stunned silence over the next 10 minutes or so as emergency personnel rushed to the aid of a paddler, who we later found out had suffered some type of cardiac event. As we watched the volunteer medical staff, the EMTs and the paramedics attend to the man, I wondered about the nature of their jobs. That magnitude of life saving. And the life was saved that day.
Later that night, reflecting on those events, Patrick, as well as others, came back to me. Police officer. Soldier. Firefighter. Paramedic. Emergency room doctor. Sure, most are just jobs. But yet, jobs unlike so many. Theirs are to protect us from harm, oftentimes putting themselves in harm's way. Theirs are to save our lives, to heal us. That's powerful stuff. The commitment they make, the sacrifices they and their families endure, all to protect or help others. For many, their career is more than "just a job." It truly is a calling, a feeling this is what they were meant to do with their lives.
I lamented our society's lack of respect for those careers and the people who are called to them. We should say thank you more often, let them know that we are grateful they are there.
"Look in the mirror," was my next thought, which I'm pretty sure made an auditory slap across my ample forehead.
You see, I more than most, should know the significance of those job choices. Not because I'm a newspaper editor, but because I am a husband. My wife, Betsy, trained as both an EMT and as a firefighter. She served on the local Manvel, N.D., volunteer fire department in both capacities for many years. I know what it's like when the pager goes off at 3 a.m., and your loved one is up and out the door like a shot. What is she speeding toward? Will she be safe? I can tell you those questions escalate, they do not abate, as the minutes and hours tick off the clock.
Betsy has told me stories about some of the things she's seen on the job, others she won't talk about. Even with me.
But I know I never thanked her enough. I do that now. Thank you, Betsy.
I thank you, too, Scott Patrick, for your service. I intend to thank many others.
Cory is editor of The Pioneer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.