The word “hero” gets used a lot. Most of the time it is both accurate and appropriate. But when I hear it I’m often reminded of something my dad told me. He was a military veteran who had seen action during WWII and the Korean War. He said many of the most heroic deeds were accomplished by people who received no recognition at all. He also said if medals were somehow awarded consistently and fairly, they would be filling unmarked graves in the most remote corners and in the deepest seas of the world; where windblown sands, tangled jungles, and deep ocean currents obscure memories of true bravery.
In a world undeniably influenced by cowardice and irrational behavior, we lost a true clear-eyed hero this last week. Simultaneously, I suffered the loss of one of my closest friends…to cancer. To say again that it is a hideous disease is an understatement, especially this time. Not only did it take one of the few intimate buddies I have been blessed with over the years, but it did so in a dreadful manner. And it happened quietly to one of the finest men I have ever known.
Bill Meers and I had a lot of things in common. We shared a fanatical love of our families, pride in our children, and looked forward to a future spent with our grandchildren. We each retired from a police agency we honored and shared camaraderie with people we mutually respected…and trusted. We looked back on our careers with a sense of satisfaction that we did the best we could and upheld a commitment to professionalism that we inherited from those who served before us. We shared concerns for the future of law enforcement and committed a significant amount of our careers to training personnel. We were a part of something bigger and better than we were by ourselves, something that empowered us to pragmatically serve our society for the greater good. Although it took a toll on us, and took precious time away from our loved ones, it was work that paid dividends in gratification that our time wasn’t wasted or lost in futility—not all the time, anyway.
Bill was a man’s man and a cop’s cop. He wasn’t perfect and had his detractors, just like the rest of us. But he was a true man of principle who lived by his beliefs and used them to guide everything he did—both in his personal and professional life. He originally drew on the ethics he had been raised with from a father who was a career Marine officer and a mother who was a veteran hospital nurse. But his worldview was experiential. In other words, he based it on what he saw and knew first hand. He didn’t rely on what others told him or what he could pull out of a book. That and his unmitigated independence were things we had in common and helped sustain a friendship over many years. Thomas Merton, the famous Trappist monk who was an American Catholic writer, theologian and mystic, said one of his greatest fears was the power of groupthink and loss of independent rational thought that he felt had led civilization to the brink of nuclear annihilation. I’m quite sure he would have been a fan of Sergeant Meers. To his friends and coworkers, “Billy” served as a credible example of integrity, loyalty and honesty. He did it right, and I’m sure God was watching.
Among so many other things, Bill and I spent hours sharing the ebb and flow in our religious faith. We laughed at ourselves often when we got into theological discussions based on our humble understandings of the Bible, our experiences, and our suspicions. It was those suspicions, and the natural irreverent pessimism from working with the darker side of humanity, that caused the “ebbs,” while the “flows” were suckled by our undeterred belief in God’s existence from the ample evidence of what occurred in his absence. Just before he received the diagnosis that would change his life profoundly, and ultimately end it, I saw Bill go through a conversion that revitalized his relationship with Jesus Christ. It was the most sincere and deep reconnection with our Savior that I ever witnessed. It was spontaneous. It was organic. It was genuine. And just like everything else in his life, it was legitimately solid. It inspired his family and friends. And it sustained him through the misery, fear, and suffering of his final months. I have little doubt that it serves him unshakably still.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
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