Every now and then I get afflicted with bouts of nostalgia that compel me to sift through closets full of old photo albums. Most of the pictures I find are just embarrassing — how fat I was as a baby, the hideous plaid bell-bottoms my parents made me wear to kindergarten, and, of course, the rockin’ mullet I sported throughout high school. But recently I found a picture of my cousin and me, posing on the steps of the shore house our families stayed in together when we were kids.
We’re both leaning against the railing, with my cousin at the bottom, braced against the planter that marks the railing’s end. I’m behind him, on a step above, and we both have Star Trek phasers in our hands, pointed at the photographer (who I assume is my dad, because he always had a camera at the ready). We’re probably 7 or 8 years old.
The picture is telling because it sums up our personalities perfectly. My cousin, who has been a cop for the last 19 years, has a stone-cold look in his eye, the kind of look that projects both composure under pressure and confidence in one’s abilities. His arm with the phaser in his hand is resting on his other arm, as if he had just been through target training at the academy. In fact, looking at this photograph, you would think he was born to be a police officer.
I’m not taking things seriously at all. I have a smirk on my face, my phaser hand outstretched lackadaisically and my free hand held up to my face as if I’m about to brush the sun-bleached blond hair out of my eyes. Looking at this photograph, you’d conclude I couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn. That’s probably still true — I’ve never shot a real gun.
Though my cousin and I were nearly inseparable when we were kids, we drifted apart in the subsequent 30 or so years. There was no real reason for it, just the fact that life gets in the way, as the cliche goes. We reconnected on Facebook, though, a few years ago, and we “talk” just about every day through comments on each other’s status, links, and pictures. I’m sorry to say the pictures we share on Facebook aren’t any less embarrassing than the ones I’ve found rummaging through old photo albums.
But that picture of my cousin and me with our little Star Trek phasers has taken on a new importance lately. I’m a fairly bleeding-heart liberal and something of a contrarian, so when I see news reports of what looks to me like excessive force being used by police or about the killing of unarmed black men or other abuses of power by those who are supposed to protect and serve, it gets my hackles up.
My cousin is also extremely liberal, and we agree on almost every political and social issue. But there has been an unacknowledged tension on Facebook as I post stories calling for increased scrutiny of the police and reform of policing practices while my cousin posts links to articles about cops who are killed in the line of duty and the funerals of fallen brothers he attends.
Politics can ruin relationships. And while I’ll always have an outsider’s view of law enforcement, I know my cousin is out there every day, risking his life to keep the community safe. I know he’s one of the good guys, and through him I know how precarious a cop’s mission is, how life-and-death decisions sometimes have to be made in the blink of an eye. When I look at that childhood snapshot of us, I’m reminded that he does every day what I could probably never do.
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