CLOSE TO HOME – Guard Your Heart
By Re. Walter Kelly
By Re. Walter Kelly
The Toronto Police Service (TPS) is blessed with exceptional equipment, training and officer mentoring. It has the Employee Family Assistance Program, the Shepell Family Assistant Services, peer support, psych services, great wages and benefits – but I’m most proud of the chaplaincy program, which cares for spiritual and religious needs.
After more than 11 years as the TPS head Chaplain, I haven’t seen it all but have walked with officers through the good, bad and very ugly. I have been with officers and their families as they buried a child, been charged with murder, investigated by the S.I.U. and by-passed in the promotion process.
I have celebrated their weddings, promotions, baptism of their children and the blessing of their homes. I have been there when a child was found and had the honour of being part of every ceremonial event that a service could have for its members. I have been on more than 350 ride-alongs, seeing shooting victims, drug busts and grow ops.
I’ve been on scene at sudden deaths, suicides, domestics, fires, break-ins, accidents and high risk take downs. I have officiated at the funeral of an officer killed on duty and supported the RCMP in Edmonton and Moncton when they buried their own. I have read the ‘press’ opinions and know their impact on our officers.
I know first hand the incredible pressures faced by our front line officers and their families, and have seen that pressure destroy individuals, marriages and families. Many became bitter and struggle with the meaning of it all. Some get hooked on alcohol, drugs and gambling.
Some, I’m sorry to say, have seen their lives as valueless and their worth meaningless, wrongly concluding that it would be better to take their own lives than to deal with their pain, losses and disappointment.
I believe that caring for the spiritual needs of our members goes right to an individual’s core. When the core is healthy and good it will impact the rest of the person’s life. Spiritual beliefs and values impact every other area of a person’s life. Those with faith traditions and beliefs have values already learned… how to treat others. Their beliefs impact their moral and ethical behavior.
The problem in Toronto is that it only takes a few shifts before new recruits see and experience the dark side of the city. Every time I speak to a new recruit class I base my talk on this text:
There is so much that we cannot control, but we can control our hearts. We can learn how to keep them from getting polluted, damaged or hard. We must also learn how to share our deepest feelings – the good and the bad – with someone who cares about us. That could be our spouse, our partner, a parent or friend.
We have heard the saying; ‘to thy self be true’. When we are honest about what we have seen, heard, read and experienced with someone who loves us, we keep our heart healthy. There is no shame in admitting that something has impacted you.
I also believe praying about something that’s bothering us is of great help. God wants us to be healthy and strong from the inside out. When we can do this with our spouse, partner or friend, our relationships will be better, our marriages stronger and we will have a better family life.
An officer told me after one very bad shift that all he wanted was to be held tightly by his wife… and she did. He was encouraged, loved and prepared to face another shift… all because he honestly shared with his wife. He looked after his own heart. You can be sure his marriage is still intact and others are glad to serve alongside him.
I’m sure that, like me, you know someone who is bitter, caustic, unhappy and miserable. It didn’t happen on graduation day and my guess is that things aren’t good at home. It likely happened over a period of time. Their heart got colder, harder and surrounded by a strong wall.
We have a personal responsibility to guard our own hearts. It’s not always easy – but policing is not always easy. We choose to do the right thing and that’s the very best armour and protection that we can have.
The Rev. Walter Kelly recently retired as the TPS Coordinator of Chaplaincy Services. He and his wife Lynda live in Toronto.