I recently had the honor to speak at the Bay County Sheriff's Office Memorial Ceremony on May 20th 2015 to honor fallen officers who have died in the line of duty. Here is the speech:
When Resilience is Tested To the Limit
It is an honor to be here this morning for such an important and difficult ceremony. Honoring those who have gone before us is something that is both important for those that are gone and important for those that remain here. I lost my father at an early age; and during my career in the Navy, I have seen far too much death to friends taken from this earth before their time. Trying to make sense of why these brave souls were lost is something that I think about often. I am sure that many people sitting here today also think about the senseless violence that has plagued our law enforcement community lately. Cities such as New York, Baltimore, and even Panama City come to mind. Why did these brave men and women have to die? I can’t answer that for sure. Now I could stand here and tell you that they died “doing what they love to do”. Or that “they are in a better place.” And, while these last statements are probably true, I am not going to even attempt to comfort you with those words. However, Sheriff Frank McKeithen would not have picked me to be a speaker if he thought I had nothing profound to say, so here goes…
SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team One was located on Ford Island in the middle of Pearl Harbor, HI. I remember checking into the command as a young Lieutenant and seeing first hand the powerful history that had taken place on that fateful day of December 7th, 1941. Buildings with bullet holes left in them as a reminder. Hangars where you could imagine all the old fighters and other equipment that had been destroyed in the attack. There were many memorials around the island, but the one that sticks out the most was the Arizona Memorial. The Arizona Memorial is the actual battleship that was destroyed and sank where it was moored right next to Ford Island. The memorial is a simple one; A white structure constructed over the top of the ship with the names of the 1177 souls that died inscribed on the wall. As a leader in my newly checked in team, I knew that I had to do something for them. I had to honor them. But what? As December 7th quickly approached I knew what I had to do. I approached my commanding officer and told him that we, as an entire team, had to run to the memorial which was on the same island as the team, and do one push up for every soul that had died, 1177. And that is what we did. On the morning of December 7th the entire team ran to the memorial and our Master at Arms (the SEAL that led Physical Training) led us into doing the push ups, 1177 of them. This took a good hour to accomplish and I am not going to lie to you, they hurt. But it didn't matter. The team had a purpose. The least thing that we could do was to feel the pain that was nothing compared to the pain that was felt that day. Returning to the team that day we all felt as if we had done our part to honor the dead and remember them in our own, strange, SEAL way.
So let’s get back to today, this morning. How do we, as stewards of the memories of those who have gone before us; honor them in such a way that makes us feel better and brings us peace? There is process that is called “being in the zone” that I teach in my resilience classes. It is the power of harnessing your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual dimensions to achieve a fully purposed and fulfilling life. When we remember the fallen, we must apply this “in the zone” principle to make ourselves feel better and bring meaning to their deaths, and lives. By remembering them physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, we can come to a better peace. Ironically, that is exactly what we did on that December 7th day when we remembered those that had died on the Arizona.
Remembering them physically is simple. Get a picture or something that reminds us of them. LT Micky Vestal has his late dad’s service revolver hanging up in his office in a case. That is a physical daily reminder of his dad and that works. Having something physical, like Micky’s father’s revolver, or a picture, connects us with the dead and reminds us physically of them.
Remembering them mentally is a little more complicated but doable. Remember something about them that they used to say or do in your mind. Remind yourself periodically (perhaps on their birthday) of that incident so that it never goes away or fades. This is often done naturally when we get together with family or friends to remember old stories of the loved one that has passed. I remember many things about my father, but remembering him sitting at his desk as I would go to school and come back from school gives me comfort. It makes me feel like he is still there in my mind. Remember them in your mind and they will never be gone.
From an emotional perspective, we must reach out to others that have lost loved ones and comfort them. Just being there makes all the difference in the world. Emotionally being there for someone else is the first step in healing yourself. When you give of yourself through emotion, you receive satisfaction and peace that is indescribable. Try it and see for yourself.
Finally, remember them spiritually. Know that you will see them again someday. This can bring great comfort and even joy. We are all spiritually connected on this earth and we will be spiritually connected for all time. My dad’s spirit lives on in a place that is familiar to me. He lives on in me. In the actions that I do; in the family that surrounds me; in the way I live my life. It is the decisions that you make that will shape your perspective and build your circle of friends and family. There’s a song by the country music group, Lone Star that hits home with exactly what I’m trying to get across. The song is called, “I’m already there” and the lyrics are ones that everyone who has lost a loved one can relate to. They read,
I'm already there
Don't make a sound
I'm the beat in your heart
I'm the moonlight shining down
I'm the whisper in the wind
And I'll be there until the end
Can you feel the love that we share
Oh I'm already there
If you forget everything I have said today remember this: The ones that have gone before us, even though they may have been taken prematurely, would want you to live your life to the fullest. Take good care of yourselves. Develop yourselves and learn new things everyday. Be grateful for the things that you have in your lives and don’t focus too much on the negative energy that is prevalent in our lives. Do onto others as you would have done to you. Laugh a lot. Forgive quickly. Play just as hard as you work, and be a light to someone who needs you. In short, earn your lives everyday and teach others to do the same. Our loved ones that have gone before us, whether they be soldiers, teachers, our children, fathers, mothers, or our fellow police officers; would want you to do that. They would want you to live your lives to the fullest and live life like it were your last day.
Dr. Ed Naggiar is the founder of Human Performance Consulting, and the Resilience Instructor for the Bay Country Sheriff's Department in Bay County, Florida