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Published: Tuesday, 2/27/2007

Notes From a Funeral

TUESDAY

8 AM

(Just noticed this topic over on swampbubbles.com. Well, sort of on this topic -- much of the discussion there seems to be about media coverage in general of Detective Keith Dressel's death, not just his funeral, which was my topic earlier this morning.)

5:30 AM

I started writing today s column Sunday evening, sitting on the living room couch while pecking away on my laptop. I finished the rough draft yesterday afternoon, after I went to the funeral of Detective Keith Dressel -- while still on the couch, watching various TV channels' live-stream video on my laptop.

Normally, I d be inclined to say that live coverage of anyone s funeral especially for five-plus nonstop hours is overboard. But there must have been an awful lot of people yesterday who felt as I did: Much as we might have liked to pay our respects in person, it seemed pretty clear that the last thing Bedford Township needed was one more mourner with no personal or occupational connection to the ritual.

Keith Dressel s funeral was best left to his family, friends, and fellow officers even as, I suspect, many in the community yearned for the catharsis of expressing sympathy and sharing grief.

No, you don t need to know someone personally to feel the weight of that person s loss. In the case of a public servant who died in the line of duty, all we re really left with are fleeting glimpses of tragedy.

A widow with two children. The grieving parents of a man too young to precede them. Grown men and women in uniform, wiping away tears with the backs of their hands.

We respond to the family s great and needless loss. But I think, too, we respond to the momentary darkening of our own lives by the shadow of human mortality as it passes overhead.

There but for the grace of God

Right after Detective Dressel s fatal shooting, I got an e-mail from a former colleague, a reporter, who said:

I was at the bar last night and there were about 20-30 cops there to commiserate about the shooting. I asked one who I knew if it was getting worse out on the street. Nothing like 1990, he said. But the gang task force has been disbanded again (Jack, not Carty, did the honors) and there are fewer gang investigations. He also said something telling: We've just been lucky. He said he'd been lucky; someone once pulled a gun on him, pulled the trigger -- and nothing happened. Gun jammed. "Just been lucky." He was quite emotional, and a little drunk.

It reminded him, my reporter friend wrote, of a story by the legendary Studs Terkel about allied World War II bomber pilots flying over Germany:

They were getting shot down in droves at one point of the war, hellacious losses that had everyone nervous. He wrote about several men who admitted to relief when they saw others get shot down. First prayers, and then relief. They figured someone had to go, and it meant they were less likely to be the one that day. I wonder if Toledo cops aren't feeling a little of that today. "Just been lucky."

Police work is very likely to be hands-down more dangerous than your job. Certainly mine. But we are all of us -- simply by virtue of being alive -- still vulnerable in the same way, if not by the same odds. Where Keith Dressel stumbled across someone with a gun on a foggy street in the middle of the night, you or I or someone we dearly love could just as possibly drive through the intersection on a green light while slamming into someone else who blew through a red light from the other side.

Or some such scenario.

And if for no other reason than this -- our shared humanity -- televising the funeral rites for a murdered police officer was appropriate. Not much brings people together anymore. But just as Keith Dressel s pointless death was on the mind of many people, so did his funeral give a community the opportunity to distribute, as evenly as possibly, our shared sense of loss for the survivors, yes, and also for ourselves, for our losses already sustained and the ones that loom.



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