It turned out the night I learned my brother died, in fact, at almost exactly the same time I learned my brother died, the two-year-old son of a Sergeant who works at the very same jail I am employed at, in fact, a Sergeant who had been my supervisor when I worked on the day shift, the two-year-old son of this Sergeant was drowning in a bathtub. The child died. The details of the terrible event are unknown, although from jail gossip it is considered certain no *foul play* is (or was) suspected.
It is a terrible event. A parent’s *worst nightmare,* as is said. Upon hearing the news, I had tremendous, and, I believe, genuine sympathy for the Sergeant. I prayed for the Sergeant and his family (a wife and three other children). Yet as I felt this sympathy, which I believed to be genuine, and as I prayed for this Sergeant and his family, I was always aware I had never really liked this Sergeant. I had found him to be an overly *fussy* supervisor--a little too eager to run a *tight ship,* in, I suspected, an attempt to gain favor from his supervisor, a deranged Lieutenant who *lives in a jail of his own.*
An example of this Sergeant’s fussiness: as part of my jail clerk’s duties, I have to write tickets to released inmates who cannot pay their twelve dollar jail booking fee. I would fill out the ticket completely and accurately, yet this Sergeant would complain my handwriting could be neater. Consider the work environment: telephones are ringing off the hook, jail gate intercoms are buzzing constantly, you have a belligerent perpetrator of domestic violence in your face unhappy at the dumb booking questions you must ask (“do you believe that other people know your thoughts and can read your mind?), you have a backlog of other new arrests waiting to be booked, releasable inmates are whining “what’s taking so long?”, arrogant lawyers are demanding their inmate clients be brought down for interviews, and here is this Sergeant interrupting the barely functioning process to nitpick about handwriting. Go back into your fucking office and stop bothering me--those were my near-daily sentiments concerning this Sergeant.
And as each day passes, I have less sympathy for this Sergeant, and he is no longer named in my prayers.
God, of course, knew my true heart at the first moment I heard of this Sergeant’s tragedy. God knew those first moments of sympathy, the first prayer, when I had heard the awful news, those first *seeds* of sympathy and prayer, were akin to the seeds from our Lord’s famous parable: the seeds which fell upon the stony places, where they had not much earth, and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth, and when the sun was up, the seeds were scorched, and because they had no root, they withered away.
My sympathy and my prayers for this Sergeant had no root, and they withered away.
The human soul, at the least, my human soul, can be a stony place. . .
What a horrible *thing*--to have your child drown in a bathtub! Besides the cruel death itself, impossible enough to deal with, imagine all the recriminations (whether voiced or not), the guilt, the never-ending *if only. . .* A remaining lifetime shadowed by a grievous death.
I suppose in a week or so this Sergeant will return to work. Return to work with all the so-called *emotional baggage* of a truly dreadful death of a child. Returning to work would be bad enough in an ordinary job--but to return to work in a JAIL? Which is, after all, nothing more than BABY-SITTING society’s worst children. This Sergeant now has to baby-sit our worst brats, those of us who haven’t grown up enough to sufficiently conceal our wickedness. JAIL is a depressing place to work--24 hour DAYCARE for madmen, drunks, deviates, the violent and the rapacious. While this Sergeant considers the atrocious fate of his small son, he must listen to grown men throwing temper tantrums over missed sack lunches and being allowed only one free phone call. . .
To be depressed and then have to work in a depressing place--this thought revives my sympathy for this Sergeant. . .for a moment or two. . .then I remember his grating personality, his absurd obsession for a fastidious jail house.
I know I won’t be able to say a caring word to this Sergeant when he returns to work. I will not be able to manage anything more than a slight nod of the head and a “morning, Sergeant.”
The only self-justification I can manage for my hard heart is wrenched from our Lord’s command:
Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them. . .
If I were in this Sergeant’s place, I would not want my sympathy. . .
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