Once again this year I present a column I wrote for National Review Online back in 2001. For me at Christmastime, this one still says it all, and no matter how I might try I don’t think I could top it. Merry Christmas.
A Cop’s Christmas
For reviving the spirit, there is little in life that can rival standing among a thousand people singing “Adeste Fidelis” in church on Christmas morning. And while I don’t presume to know the minds of my fellow worshipers, I feel safe in saying there was no one in church that morning whose spirit was more in need of reviving than my own, for few professions can rival mine for glimpses into the darkness that sometimes dwells in the souls of men. In the days and indeed the very hours leading up to Christmas, I waded through the anguished aftermaths of two murders, two suicides, an attempted suicide, and a variety of other lesser tragedies, the accumulated sadness of which left me reeling and in doubt as to the wisdom in my choice of careers.
To get one’s intellectual arms around the meaning of that song and the event it commemorates is a challenge even under the best of circumstances, but as I dressed for church Christmas morning I couldn’t rid my mind’s eye of those haunting images: the faces of people who, only moments before I came upon them, were calmly going about their lives unaware of the horror about to befall them, or, as with the suicides, were all too aware of it. I was tempted to go back to bed. Christmas, it seemed to me in that moment, was for the birds.
There have been many such moments in my years as a policeman, but even in the bleakest of them I’ve tried to remember that it has been the blessed combination of faith, family, and friends that has sustained me. So, albeit reluctantly, off to church I went.
I was distracted when I first arrived, looking around at all those people who hadn’t been in church since last Easter and would not be again until the next. Even as the church was filling to capacity and beyond I felt an urge to get up and go home. Then the choir began to sing “Adeste Fidelis,” and then the congregation joined in, and finally even I, falteringly at first, began to sing in praise of that Baby born in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago.
The Gospel that day was from Luke – my favorite description of the Nativity, with all its angels and shepherds and heavenly hosts. By the time the Mass ended and we had sung “Silent Night” and “Joy to the World” and a few others, the woes of the previous days had receded into a more proper perspective, one that allowed me to return to work and face the certainty that those awful images will never completely fade from memory, and that new ones just as awful surely will join them before I take off my gun and badge for the last time.
I know too many good and decent people of other faiths – or of no faith at all – to be absolutely certain that we Christians have the final word on God and salvation and the meaning of life. And I know that every civilization throughout history has had its creation myth. But I was raised to believe – and still do believe – that God sent us His only Son to be born as Man in a humble birth, to walk among us, to teach us, and finally to endure injustice, cruelty, and death before rising again, all to show that we, too, with His help, can endure injustice, cruelty, and even death.
If that’s a myth, it’s a pretty good one. I’m sticking with it.