As we enjoy Christmas with our families and friends and loved ones, I wanted to lift up a message I shared with my church family a while ago. It helps to put in perspective being Thankful. I hope this touches your heart in some way.
Do you have a Dehydrated Heart? Do you know someone who does? Have you ever had the opportunity to minister to someone with a Dehydrated Heart? You may be thinking, what do I mean? Have you ever felt profoundly alone during a hard time in your life? You felt like no one really wanted to help you, be bothered with you, or that no one really cared? Have you ever known anyone who appears to be broken, to have lost all their joy, their eternal peace, their hope, their sense of self, that eternal instinct to fight to survive? Has that person ever been you? You may have lost your faith or holding on to it by a thread. Sadly, often times it is hard to find help when we are struggling for a number of reasons.
Do you possess the compassion expressed in the persona of Christ, and also described similarly in other faiths? All of us at certain times in our lives need a place where we will be cared for and safe from our own vulnerabilities. Let me share with you a few experiences in my life that have profoundly changed me. I am currently a retired Detroit police officer. My career included investigations, plenty of arrests, foot and car chases, barricaded gunman, saving a life, etc. However, the thing that changed me most was being a daily witness of the best and worst of mankind.
Sometimes you are on the scene of the most heinous of crimes, the most horrific of scenes due to an accident or a disaster. Other times, you may be witnessing someone doing something warm and compassionate for someone. The job had its ups and its downs. Nothing made you feel better than when you saved a life, rescued someone, helped someone in need, played with children, visited with seniors etc. It is important to know that when someone is in need you may only get one opportunity, one brief moment to make a difference.
I used to patrol the Cass Corridor in Detroit in the 80’s. This was a very diverse community where you saw small merchants, students from one of the best high schools in the city, college students from the nearby university, and people commuting back and forth from the nearby medical center and cultural center areas. But, also intermingled in this area was high drugs, prostitution and homelessness. One of the regulars was a guy that everyone called “White Tom.” White Tom was a homeless wino who would often be found in the alley of two apartment buildings leaning against one with a drink in his hand. Many of the homeless would be back there because the two buildings were close together and rather secure for them.
Tom was usually leaning on the corner of the first building. He always was reading a newspaper or book or magazine. He did not bother anyone and did not get in trouble. He just seemed to have given up on his life. He wore tattered clothing layered and had a scruffy appearance with long hair and a beard. His face was rugged and red-faced from consumption of alcohol (usually cheap wine) daily and he carried with him several books. When you spoke with him he was very articulate. Even when he was drunk. I would often wonder, “What happened to Tom? What is his story? Why was he here?” So, one day I asked him, “What happened to you, Tom? Why are you here? I can tell that you are very intelligent, very educated.” He looked at me and dug into his pocket, shaking. He pulled out a wallet wrapped several times with rubber bands and carefully unwrapped the rubber bands from around the wallet and then slowly pulled out a wallet size photo of a family. It was Tom, clean Tom, with a lady and I believe two beautiful children. He looked at me with those usually narrowed bloodshot eyes, widened, and a tear came down his cheek. He said, “They were killed in a fire, and I just didn’t care anymore.” Tom had a Dehydrated Heart. This is why you can’t look at a person and judge them. You never know their story or what they are going through. I was shocked and hurt for Tom. This changed me forever.
I said to him, “Tom, I am so sorry. Your family would not want to see you like this. They would want you to live for them. Let me take you for help.” My partner and I reached for Tom and he just cried and shrugged us off. We left Tom there. Thinking about it all night, both my partner and I, it was the first thing we talked about the next morning. So when we hit the street, we went looking for Tom, but he was gone. We never saw Tom there again. We searched the area. We worried, and I think we both silently felt we that failed Tom. I know I did. I learned a few things then. Don’t judge and act now. It may be the only chance you get. Until this day, I wonder what happened to Tom.
Then there was FiFi. She was one of the prostitutes in the area who I was constantly running off the corner. She was a beautiful young lady. In her twenties, she had a golden brown, smooth round face, with just a modest amount of make-up and a Dolly Parton figure. She only worked Thursdays, Fridays and an occasional Saturday. She had specific “dates” which is what the girls called it. I would pull up to and say, “FiFi, I told you you can’t work when I work.” She’d respond, “Awww, go to lunch. I’ll be gone in an hour. I got two four-hundreds and I will be gone.” I would say, “This is your warning, FiFi. You know you are going to jail if I catch you out here again.” She’d say, “I gotta be doing something wrong when you catch me, though.” See, FiFi was smart. She had such a warm and friendly personality, well-spoken and not on drugs; at least not yet. Again, just like with Tom I asked FiFi why was she out on these streets. I know many of the girls are runaways from home because of sexual abuse. Initially alone and naive they are usually taken in by some pimp, introduced to drugs and now on the street for the pimp and their drug addiction.
However, FiFi’s story was unique. She was married, to a letter carrier (a postman), lived in a nice home and had two or three beautiful daughters. When talking to FiFi I found out she got pregnant with her first daughter at 16 by her husband when he was in his late twenties or early 30’s. He convinced her that she needed to prostitute to help the family and help the girls go to private school. He would park and guard her while she was out there. She professed to me, “I don’t go all the way. I only do BJ’s”. I was back from a five year lay-off and in my late twenties or early thirties, myself, so I wondered, “Damn, she’s getting $400 for a BJ?” I also was astonished that she believed with all her heart that her husband loved her, that what she was doing was justified because of the reason she was doing it, and that it was only temporary. Once again, I pleaded with FiFi to get off the streets. I told her that no man who really loved you would put you on the street to prostitute while he sits in a Cadillac on guard. “My God! What kind of mess is that,” I thought. He just was another version of a pimp.
FiFi managed to work around and not get arrested most times because she was only out there briefly and only twice a week. She had it down to a science. I warned FiFi that she would end up on drugs or worse, and get gobbled up like everyone else and I could not convince her otherwise. FiFi seemed to like when I lectured her, though. It was so strange. She would say, “Why you care? Why you trying to save me” I would just say, “I’m not giving up on you, FiFi.” She would tell me that I should wear makeup. She thought I had a pretty face. One time, she even bought me a makeup bag full of makeup. She seemed so excited to have a gift for me. I said, “FiFi, I can’t take this from you. I’ll get in trouble.” She actually understood. FiFi said, “At least let me teach you what to do and how to wear it. She said, “I swear I didn’t steal it. I brought the receipt so you would know that I was telling the truth.” I laughed and actually let her teach me. A couple of weeks later, there was a package for me at the base with my name on it. It was given to me after roll call by station security. It was mailed to the base. It was the Georgio makeup bag filled with the makeup. I did not see FiFi anymore after that. I was transferred to the Court Section. A couple years at the courts, and I see an apparent drug-addicted prostitute coming out of lockup to be arraigned. It was FiFi! I could not believe it.
After court I spoke to FiFi and asked what happened. She said, “Just like you said, “I was convinced to hit the pipe and got addicted. Then when I got so strung out. My husband divorced me and took the kids.” She cried in my arms. She just groaned and said, “You told me, you warned me. You were right, now I have nothing!” I begged her to get help. I told her she can go to rehab. It is not too late. She promised that she would. Shortly after this day, FiFi was thrown out of an apartment building window and killed. I still keep FiFi’s makeup bag. FiFi had a Dehydrated Heart. Actually, it was long before the drug addiction. Again, I felt like I missed an opportunity. I failed. But, I hope wherever her little girls are today, they know their mother loved them with all her heart.
In between all of that was the plane crash, Flight 255. My unit was mobilized to that location for security cleanup and retrieval. When it happened, all of our cars were called to meet at a location where we were given our orders as a unit. We were sent because our unit was city-wide with about 40 officers that could be available immediately day and night. We had three squads on three different shifts and we were assigned there for days. First, stopping gawkers and keeping people out of the scene. Then assigned to pick up any body part with jewelry, a birthmark, or clothing that could help loved ones identify the deceased. You could smell the death in the air. The burned body smell was in your hair, clothing, and everything, but, those retrievals were critical to identifying families’ loved ones.
The scene was horrific. Yet, amongst all that death there was a miracle; one survivor, a baby Jessica. When officers heard the cries, we all started running towards the plane and telling others. The big bosses stopped us from getting very close, but, the news was coming from the plane. A baby, a girl, she’s alive. Amongst all that tragedy, a life. I always wondered what happened to that precious life. When they did the movie about the crash, I was happy because I finally got to know what happened to Jessica. It gave many other officers closure like it did for me. There is still a God. There are still miracles happening every day.
Lastly, one other incident. One of my very first cases was a domestic violence case. A man had split open the head of his own nine month old baby trying to attack his wife. He was not remotely remorseful and called his wife from jail to intimidate her and convince her that it was her fault and not to prosecute. I had to talk her through the entire prosecution. She was afraid of him, afraid she could not make it without his income, and afraid he would get out and kill her. She lacked self-esteem. I promised her that he would go to jail for a very time, and that she can stand strong. It was not easy for her but she did it. He was convicted and a few years later I ran into her in a restaurant. She was a waitress. I heard this voice say my name over and over again. I turned around and it was her. My first big case. She looked great! She had lost weight and she seemed more confident. She hugged and loudly said, “This lady saved my life!” It made me feel good. I knew what I done was worth it.
These are the moments that overshadow the bad memories. I sort of always knew after a career of these experiences that I could not give up on mankind. We all have to help when we can, where we can, and however we can. You won’t always have victories but that is alright. This isn’t about me. It is about all of us being a community, all of us caring and not being so quick to judge. All of us have dehydrated hearts at times, and it is only with love that our hearts are replenished. It is about each of us one moment, one day, one person at a time loving greater, serving greater, and being Greater!!! Merry Christmas!!!!!
By: Robbin C. Rivers