Even the worst incidents have the ability bring forth a positive perspective. On Aug. 10, I responded to a water emergency. Driving there felt like it took forever, knowing that once I arrived there would be very little I could do as far as actually searching for a father and his young daughter ("Park Point drowning victims identified, firefighter recovering," Aug. 11).
On arrival, I immediately took out my binoculars and looked toward the water. I didn't see anything but large waves and whitecaps. Frustrating. I looked back then and saw a very young officer talking to a young girl. The wind was blowing her hair in different directions. She used one hand to brush her hair from her face and the other to wipe away her tears. All the while she had this panicked look on her face.
It was one of those moments where you know that what's needed is her mom to comfort and hold her. It was that moment when I finally relaxed, because I knew exactly what to do.
I approached her and asked her what her name was.
"Iris," she said, and then she told me her dad's and sister's names. When she told me their names, sadness took over her face. All I could do was put my arm around her and escort her away from the beach. I feared the inevitable, the moment of finding her dad and sister and her having to see that. I didn't want her to have that memory.
We left the beach and sat in my squad car, which was positioned away from all the emergency vehicles, news cameras, and people. Iris sat next to me and told me stories about her dad and sister in between answering phone calls and text messages. Iris had her dad's cell phone and kept in contact with her mom. I promised her mom, Maggie, I would stay with her daughter until she could arrive from Hudson, Wis. I promised I wouldn't tell Iris if the searchers weren't able to find her dad and sister alive.
I could feel the pain and heartache in Maggie's voice - and the love she had for Iris. It's something we don't always get to hear or feel in our line of work. There was this genuinely wonderful person on the other end of the phone, one of those parents we welcome and love to interact with.
I spent about four to four and a half hours with Iris. We talked about several different things as Iris' emotions went up and down like a roller coaster. During this time, I got to know her pretty well and felt as though I had known her for a while. Iris allowed me to comfort her in the place of her mom. She didn't see me as just a cop doing my job; she saw me as a person. It had been a long time since I felt the fulfillment of why I wanted to be a cop in the first place, the fulfillment of making a difference in someone's life and having the opportunity to give of yourself in a time when someone needs you the most.
Being able to comfort Iris during the worst event of her life gave me hope again - hope in humanity and hope in myself at a time when I doubted my abilities and wondered if I was cut out for this career. Trying to fit kindness, caring, and compassion into being a cop isn't always easy. It's not a typical mold for a cop. And, when that's your makeup, it's hard to hide it.
I thought I was supposed to be on vacation that week. But I got a call at 6 a.m. wondering where I was. My calendar and the calendar at work didn't jibe. So I hustled to work all frazzled and discombobulated. The week was busy. Aug. 10 was day four, and the water emergency was the last call of my day. I was meant to be there for Iris, and she was meant to show me why I wanted to be a cop.
I was relieved when Maggie arrived at the hospital. I could finally just let down. Keeping all the emotions in was difficult for me. My heart ached for Iris and her family. Before I left the hospital, Maggie gave me a hug and thanked me. It was one of the most sincere thank-yous I have ever received. Iris gave me a big hug, too, a long heartfelt one where she squeezed tight. I had an overwhelming feeling of fulfillment. There is no place I would have rather been that day and during that timeframe than sitting next to Iris.
It is these moments in life where we grow and learn who we are, how we give of ourselves to others, and why we choose to have careers where selflessness is a key component to our effectiveness.
Officer Angela Robertson is a member of the Duluth Police Department. This is from a letter she wrote to Chief Mike Tusken in response to a note he had sent her following the drownings in Duluth on Aug. 10. This is published with permission.