It was something I hadn’t seen in ages: an unimpeded view of the sunrise. In a simple sense, it always reminded me of brightly lit watercolors seeping with subtlety across a gauzy-purplish palette that, at some magical moment I always seemed to miss, was suddenly brought to life. And in the seconds that I was just starting to process that thought—boom!—there’s the deep-orange sun climbing with deceptive speed into the sky, making all the accomplishments in the history of mankind pale in comparison (with the obvious exception of the coronation of Barack Obama; I’m no racist, pal).
I had been off of third shifts for a while now, just long enough to get back to a normal sleep schedule, and apparently long enough to have forgotten something I took for granted after the fourth, fifth, or ninth year on midnight shift: seeing the sun at the end of the day, the final underscoring of how backwards our job was as compared to most.
Such a fan of this event was I that on some nights I would ease my patrol car down a boat ramp just north of the Chickamauga Dam right down to the water’s edge so my view would contain as few man-made structures as possible. Seeing the sun creep above a ridge across from me while the temperature differences in the lake water and the air above it created a fine smoky mist was as close to a primordial view as I was going to get on this salary, so I always treasured it. God help the drunk that stumbled into me on these mornings while I attended my church. It never happened, but I considered the “if’s” of that potentially innocent transgression more than once.
I get why primitive man and bicyclists considered our sun a deity; it really does seem to be alive during those moments that a trick of the light refracting through our atmosphere allows it to seem 10 times larger than normal, yet still (reasonably) safe to stare at directly. It’s like a magnanimous gesture on its part, allowing eye contact for a few seconds before it resumes its supreme position above our heads in silence, like a passive parent whose patience you dare not try. Then, after those few minutes have passed, so does the feeling of awe and it’s just back to looking for your shades and making sure the aluminum foil on your bedroom window isn’t compromised so you can up your chances of a few hours of sleep before the normal world again demands your presence.
But why all this discussion about the plasma ball in the sky? Heh. I actually had to stop myself to ask, but the answer is simple.
Cops have lots of unanswered questions, unfinished stories to deal with that stay tucked away in the recesses of their minds (those that still have them). The ones that have the attention span of a hamster do quite well, but those of us with a tendency to intensely scrutinize things (OK, “obsess”), well … I can’t speak for all, but I think I am drawn to the sunrise because it wordlessly provides a tool that they never tell you about in the academy: perspective.
You see, that same sun has risen and set countless times over this rapidly shrinking world of ours. It has cast its light over wastelands of ice millennia before there was an atmosphere to speak of, over giant reptiles and primitive humanoids wearing clothes made from animal skins, and for quite some time, over nothing at all. And one day, its light won’t be shining on us, either, despite our sense of self-importance as a species. We’re all temporary. And therefore so are our concerns.
Those problems, those unanswered questions, they all fade when framed up against the proverbial big picture. And sometimes, that’s all you need. (Well, that and a cigar.)
Take it from an expert: Perspective is mandatory training in the game of life.
Alex Teach is a full-time police officer of nearly 20 years experience. The opinions expressed are his own. Follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/alex.teach.