July 1st, 1985 was a long time ago. 33 years, 251 days ago to be precise. Some folks would look at that amount of time as a "lifetime" ago then immediately wonder where all that time went. Many of us are apt to describe time as "seeming just yesterday in some ways, yet forever in others".
As time passes friends, family and colleagues move in and out of your life for various reasons until that ultimate day arrives when they are simply just gone. Some you see coming. Some you don't. When you see it coming you have time to prepare. When you don't......
I have often heard folks refer to funeral services as "celebrations of life". The cynic in me asks "celebrations for who"? Yes, we have all experienced funerals for our loved ones and friends that seemed more to be expressions of relief for the suffering and pain that is no longer there for the departed. Goodbyes have been said and often times the dying gains courage in their final moments allowing the family to move on and grieve peacefully. Sudden deaths are different. They often leave behind questions of "why" and give the family very little time to cope until all the ceremonies are over.
Today, July 1st, 1985 dominated my thoughts. This is the date that I first walked into the Greensboro Police Department as an official employee; the first day of the 59th Police Basic Introductory Course. Police Academy. Rookie School. I knew ONE guy. I was the only ONE he knew. A room full of strangers from different walks of life, different locations and different experiences about to embark on a 16 week odyssey filled with anxiety, stress and in some cases physical torture. The department we joined was considered the best this side of the Mississippi River at that time. We were 26 of literally hundreds of applicants to gain a seat in the class. We were an older class with ages ranging from 20-39 with the median age somewhere in the mid 20's. It didn't take us very long to realize we were also all each other had. We bonded quickly I believe. And we had a lot of fun together. It was very appropriate that we graduated 16 weeks later on Halloween.
26 entered. 25 graduated. One still works there. 15 retired from GPD. One retired from another agency. Four have now passed on from this earth. One unexpectedly this week.
I attended the funeral for JJ today. During our careers I interacted with him hundreds of times. Our careers never afforded us the chance to work with each other on the same squad after rookie school. Yet I always felt a part of his career simply because of those 16 weeks toiling and finding our way through the academy and the bond we classmates formed that never seemed to go away. I listened to the stories told about his career and life and none of it seemed foreign though I was not with him to personally experience those episodes. I listened as the service unfolded and looked around the room at those faces that were in attendance, some of whom were in the 59th with us that did not stay through retirement. It seemed different from any service I have attended before.
I mentioned to my former classmates that 1985 seemed a little more recent today; in fact a lot "closer". Was it seeing all those former classmates? Was it seeing other officers I worked with and respected, some for the first time in many years? Was it watching JJ's son who was 5 years old when we started rookie school and has followed in his father's foot steps at GPD eulogize his father, his best friend so eloquently and bravely? Was it watching the officers march in together in uniform who still work at GPD and remembering that I used to wear that uniform?
You never know where inspiration comes from when you like to write. 5 minutes into JJ's service today I knew I wanted to write this blog. By the end of the service I thought I knew why. By the time I got home the reasons were perfectly clear.
Throughout my career at the Greensboro Police Department I experienced the roller coaster ride of emotions and experiences like every one else. My early years I couldn't wait to go back to work. As the "grind" wore on that idealism began to erode. I always believed that the profession of law enforcement was a calling. The job didn't cause stress; the bureaucracy did. The last few years of our careers at the Greensboro Police Department for the "old 59th" were difficult indeed. It made for some "jaded" edges for many different reasons. In short, we couldn't wait to retire, to get out!
I have confided in many of my friends from outside of law enforcement that I had begun to finally appreciate my career and the job I did more as I became farther removed from it. Today healed me even when I didn't believe I needed healing. Today I remembered that I did have pride that I wore the uniform when I saw those current officers file in. Today I remembered vividly the camaraderie, sense of team and friendships. Today I remembered what it felt like to be a young officer and how proud I was to be a part of the Greensboro Police Department. Today I made peace with the journey that was my career and laid down the last little bit of residual animosity.
JJ was my classmate, friend and contemporary. His passing hits very close to home. I will miss him but I will always be grateful. The life he lived and the reputation he made brought all of those officers, memories and friends back into my life today. They were there because of the level of respect and admiration JJ had attained professionally and as a person. As strange as it may sound I healed a little today and in some ways came full circle because of this event. The circumstances that brought these folks together today were certainly not "ideal". Of all the wonderful things I will remember him for, I will remember him the most for the personal effect I gained from his service today and the profound presence his life continues to have on his family and friends. A life well lived; an eternal home and a permanent place in our hearts well deserved.
Thank you for your friendship. Thank you for your legacy. Thank you for the way you lived your life. Thank you for reminding me what a proud fraternity law enforcement really is.
"The good old fightin' 59th"!
Godspeed JJ Sturm!