I walk in the forest and I see the trees around me with not a leaf on their branches at this time of year. They crunch under my feet as dry as the twigs that once held them, making that the only sound I hear outside of that of my increasingly harsher breaths ...
It is winter.
Saplings cast branches low enough that I must push them from my face lest they catch my eye or cheek, but I am otherwise focused on walking up the steep grade that is the hill upon which my home rests.
People do not often consider the fact that Chattanooga rests in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. These foothills rarely possess the sheer cliffs of their cousins to the west, but their grades and inclines are as severe.
Personally, I hate them for the views they obstruct rather than those they present, but they are my home all the same ... and they have taught me.
The limbs I push out of my way are pliant yet resilient, while some of the older trees are as tough as iron, taller and thicker than the rest.
They are much akin to people, like the public I serve. I walk amongst them, ignoring most, but helping the ones in need that might be weighed down by some other force or peril.
I have seen this forest many times, yet I have rarely seen its trees.
I have seen death many times and in many ways. It’s forms are varied and sometimes defy category. I see those forms in the neatly packaged instances that I am called upon to view, to investigate and judge—but not to take home with me.
Last weekend it hit home in a way that has never struck me in the years I’ve served these mountains, these people. Death struck at my father’s house, and despite the signs and my ever present pessimism, I never saw it coming.
This wasn’t a horrific instance I was called into and forced to communicate with the freshly bereaved; I was the victim. I was the one who would seek answers after officials left the house. I was the one left to cry, instead of the one giving reassuring pats on the backs to the grieving. I was the one left with the aftermath instead of the one with the next call for service.
How is it that people prepare for such events, much less survive them? It’s terrible, but it’s real. And so am I.
Every object found, every familiar sound heard, every familiar smell drove it back home, but it was never the same. My dad, like so many others, was simply not supposed to be gone, as were the fathers of those I served in unnumbered calls before.
I just know that as I walk this forest, amongst its strongest saplings and youthful trees, now and again I come upon a giant one, a Sequoia amongst the oaks, and I drink in its magnificence as I both approach and observe it from afar. For I know that no matter how mighty the tree, one day it too must fall, and it will do so with a mighty crash that will shake the earth.
Such a tree has crashed for me, and its trembling will reverberate for quite some time in my life. I will adjust, as all young saplings do. But the forest will not be the same.
Light shall be cast differently and nature will adjust where it nests and holds its stores. The world around it will move on and survive, but the falling of that tree and the earth it pierces with its branches will leave a crater that shall not soon be filled in.
In the absence of its shadow I, too, shall flourish and grow into a giant in my own right, if I am lucky. But I will never forget that I am but a seed of a once even greater specimen from whom my roots now take nourishment. And I, too, shall one day fall to make room for more. But until then, I shall weep and mourn the loss of a giant until we are both one again, nourishing yet another young seed that shall grow in the spaces we once occupied for such a brief time.
(I love you, Dad. You were … Profound.)
Alex Teach is a police officer of nearly 20 years experience. The opinions expressed are his own. Follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/alex.teach.