Friday, February 18, 2011

The Wall

I never had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of Derek Hotsinpiller. I shall likely never have the honor of meeting any member of his family. I pray that I never have to walk a step in his mother's shoes. I do more than that. I pray that I never arrive home one day to find a pair of her shoes in my closet and in my size waiting for me to put on.

Yet because of the path walked by that brave young man and its similarity to the path that another brave young man who I love with all of my heart walks every day, empathy for Mrs. Hotsinpiller and the rest of the family comes easily. It comes easily not only for Margaret and for me but for every member of every family who has ever stood where we stood on a little piece of sacred ground in southeastern Georgia. For every family member who has stood there and watched proudly as a son or daughter, husband or wife, mother or father who they love with all of their heart has taken an oath as a member of the oldest Federal law enforcement agency in this country, there is a bond that connects us to the Hotsinpillers. It is a bond that connects each of us to all of the rest of us. It is an unbreakable bond.

A young man - only 24 years young in fact - Deputy U.S. Marshal Derek Hotsinpiller was killed in the line of duty on Wednesday morning in the little town of Elkin, West Virginia. He was the son of one police officer and the brother of another. According to a news account I read of him on-line, Derek's dad died of a heart attack in December 2001. Mothers should not have to bury their sons. They most certainly should not have to bury their twenty-four year-old sons. Not ever.

As defined by Ambrose Redmoon, "Courage is not the absence of fear but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear." It is not a code by which all of us are capable of living our lives. I for one have never earned my living in a trade that provides me - as a standard part of my day-to-day uniform - a weapon capable of taking the life of another if necessary and a vest capable of saving my life if needed should someone attempt to take it. I do not have the stones to earn my living in such a manner. There are those who can. I have the distinct honor and pleasure of not merely knowing but loving the hell of out one who does. And through him and because of him I have had the distinct privilege of making the acquaintance of other men and women who do so as well. I have known his whole life that Margaret raised a remarkable young man. The past three years I have come to appreciate the fact that she was indeed not the only one to do so.

Winston Churchill said, "We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm." That is far as it goes. Sir Winston did not complete the dance. He did not speak of those of us who learn to never sleep soundly at night because those "rough men" at the ready are ours. Our sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters. And while we love them and are proud of them for what they do, we never, ever allow to disappear from our minds completely the danger inherent in what it is they do.

In Glynco, Georgia upon a patch of hallowed ground soon another name shall be added to a monument that everyone associated with it wishes did not need to exist. But because there is violence in the world and because far too often the price paid for keeping the rest of us safe is paid not by us but by one of those "rough men" upon whom we rely, soon the name of a heroic young man named Derek Hotsinpiller will have to be joined with those whose contributions to this nation stretch back as far as two centuries.

"Without heroes we are all plain people and don't know how far we can go." So wrote the author Bernard Malamud. People such as Derek Hotsinpiller exist to remind us. On Monday his mother shall bury him. She shall bury her 24 year-old son. No mother should ever have to do that. She shall cover ground I hope like hell I never have to walk and shall do so in shoes I hope I never have to wear. To Mrs. Hotsinpiller and to this young man's family, empathy seems like so little yet it is all we have to give to you. In view of what you have given to us, the inequity in the trade-off is almost numbing.

For all the rest of us who hold a membership in this special fraternity, here is to hoping that the warm weather that has visited us in the State of Concrete Gardens the past several days sticks around for a while. It will enable us to do something all of us hope to do for a long, long time.....

....walk barefoot.


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