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Saturday, August 16, 2008

On Rememberance and the Celebration of Life

Just over two years ago, I started this blog out of a sense of disempowerment, a sense of frustration. I had a real sense that something was very wrong in our community. Our government was at times out of line and when a government is out of line it tramples on the rights of individuals everywhere. Not just those individuals whose rights the government's actions directly impact, but all citizens and residents.

From the holocaust we learn the price to be paid for inaction, as the Pastor Martin Niemoller learned all too late. One by one each group that the Nazis came for was greeted with inaction and indifference by the rest of the population. The realization of doom lays in the last lines of the Pastor's sequence: "Then they came for me--and there was no one left to speak out for me."

Thankfully, we do not live in Nazi Germany, or anything that resembles it, but this is a universal message, not a particularized one. The price of democracy is eternal vigilance. The ideal of the watchdog is to alert the public when things are unseemly and flat out wrong.

I became a watch dog because no one it seemed was paying attention. I became a reporter (not a journalist but one who reports on events), because no one was reporting. I am tough on government and government officials because I hold them to a higher standard, I believe we deserve better than what we have, and moreover, I believe we can do better than what we are doing.

Along the way though, I learned a few things about humanity and myself. None driven home any more forcefully than it was yesterday.

Yesterday I attended the memorial service for Police Detective Paul Narr. I have gone to many places and talked to many people in various states of suffering and anguish during my two year tenure writing this blog. I thought I was prepared for just about anything. There have been times when I have literally had to cry because the emotions were so overwhelming. For example, covering the death of a 17 year old farm worker hit me especially hard.

It was nothing compared to yesterday. One grows up admiring police officers as the symbol of law and order, the tough guys who protect us from the bad people. They keep us safe while we sleep. Even for someone who has unfortunately had to call the police department to task at times for their treatment of certain groups of people, there is still an air of romanticism.

Standing in the back and watching as one-by-one these big, strong, and tough guys lay their emotions bare for all to see was especially difficult to watch. The subtext was even worse. We are all mortals and we will all one day perish from this place. We all know and accept that to varying degrees and with varying degrees of difficulty.

I think we all know that Police Officers accept the risk on a more daily basis than the rest of the population. Even in a place like Davis, there is a risk when you are on the front line attempting to confront and at times incarcerate people who have broken various laws.

When we see an act like that which happened to Sheriff's Deputy Jose Diaz--we tend to get angry and shake at the senselessness of it all.

When a heart attack befalls one of us, again, we wonder what could have been done to prevent it, but at the same time, I think there is a sense that these things happen.

When a young man of 41, who by all appearances was loved and adored by his family, friends, and colleagues, chooses to end his own life, it stuns us. We do not know what to say or how to react.

One of Detective Narr's colleagues suggested that the Detective was having a tough time. However the general, if unspoken sentiment seems to be from talking to many, that whatever problems he was having, he hid them well. And that makes this all the more shocking to his family, friends, and the community.

I did not know Paul Narr, I saw him a number of times passing on the street, I think I shook his hand a few times and exchanged pleasantries. He was always very cordial and even friendly. But here was a man who was born and raised in Davis, not much older than myself, with a young family, and for reasons that most of us will never understand something happened that convinced him he could go on no further.

It was that subtext that drove the events of yesterday. From all appearances he was a very unique character and a very loved person. I cannot possibly do him justice by repeating some of the anecdotes of those around him, but it goes without saying that he was one of a kind and around the Davis Police Department and this community he will be very much missed.

The final lesson was laid out by Reverend Glen Snyder, whose wife, Pat, is the assistant to the police chief. He read a very powerful passage that I cannot do justice to. But the suggestion in it is powerful, it suggests we all attend a funeral or memorial service every year. The reason is that when you listen to a memorial service, you hear the things that people remember about the departed.

It's not about money or solely about achievement, it's about their humanity and their character. The love for their friends and family. Those are what you are remembered for long after you have been professionally forgotten.

And so this weekend as we go about our lives and enjoy the remaining days of summer, enjoy your families, enjoy your friends, and enjoy your time together because for all of us, it will all be way too short. That is the lesson I learned above all else yesterday.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting