From the Corner #3

The view from the corner. #3

In 2001 I was assigned to the 020 Precinct on the upper west side of Manhattan.  I was part of the Anti-Crime Unit, working plain clothes in the precinct and was going to be eligible for transfer to an investigative unit in a few months to start working towards a promotion to Detective.  One night in June of that year, during a foot pursuit I blew out 2 discs in my lower back.  Spinal surgery followed, then rehab and physical therapy.  Then the Towers fell.  We all went back to work, and after a few months my back let go once again.  Another more invasive spinal surgery, therapy and then rehab again, this time to get the use of my leg back so I could at least walk.  After this surgery, the department retired me on a full disability pension.  All it took was one misstep during a foot pursuit and any dreams I had once had about becoming a Detective for the NYPD went up in smoke.  In one moment my job, my career, a large part of how I saw myself had vanished.

Retiring so young is supposed to be a good thing, but in reality it is incredibly difficult.  All the time you spent working are now empty hours to be somehow filled and I filled those hours with bad options.  Before I retired work kept me out of the house for days on end.  Now retired, I was underfoot all the time.  Years of bad decisions and worse choices alienated the few friends I had outside the NYPD, eventually distancing me from my family, and ultimately destroyed my marriage.

I wound up here in Lakeland, got myself a little apartment and tried to put things back on track, but had an incredibly hard time doing it.  This was the very first time in my life I had lived alone, had no idea how to go about meeting people and fell into the cycle of feeling sorrier and sorrier for myself.  Looking back, those months were without a doubt some of the darkest times I have ever lived through.  Self pity, then self doubt, then finally self loathing.  It was when I was pretty much at my lowest that I stumbled across the Elks Lodge and basically invited myself in.

That was the change.

I was let in, allowed to play darts, and met a few people.  I was invited back, and met more people.  A couple, the Dassingers, took pity on me and showed me ropes of the Lodge, introducing me to key Members, all of whom I count as some of my best friends to this day.  I was sponsored and joined within a month.  Brian and Julie Dassinger kept extending their friendship towards me.  Hearing that I was planning on spending that Thanksgiving alone, they insisted, VERY forcefully, that I join them for dinner.  Again at Christmas they gave me a place to go and feel welcomed.  From that moment on, I have always known I have a home in the Lodge.

As I have gone through the years here in Lakeland, I have stumbled a few times, as we all do, and made mistakes.  There were a few dark times, though none as dark as when I first got to Florida, but it was my friends at the Lodge who were always there.  Even friends whom I had distanced myself from were there with open arms when I returned.  At one point, I asked one of them why they took me back in so readily after I had wandered away for so long.  “Because we are family, and that’s what family does.”

That is my story; how I found my way into the Elk family.  How I was taken in and even though I stumbled and made mistakes, was taken back in with open arms and love.  Some of you reading this have similar stories, some even darker and more bleak than mine.  Others will stumble some time in the future and hopefully find that what I said here is the truth.  Hopefully the majority of you will never have to go through those dark times to find the light at the end of the tunnel.

So why, dear readers, am I dragging you along on my little journey of self realization?  The reason is simple.  It is because we are family and sometimes we need to be reminded of that.  This person doesn’t like that one?  This group won an election instead of that group?  Dinner was late?  Drink was made too slow?  All things that seem important in the moment, but in the long view, all petty BS.  We are a group of individuals who all that took the oath to join the Lodge and CHOSE to be family to one another.  Family may break each others shoes from time to time, may dislike one another, but when things are dark; when you need one another, family is always there for you.

Using myself as an example, were it not for the Dassingers going out of their way to be kind and inviting to me, I may not be an Elk at all.  I may not have stayed in Florida and I certainly would not be the person I am today.  Every person I was introduced to at the Lodge went our of their way to be nice, but it was that initial meeting of THAT couple that made me comfortable in the Lodge.  Be that person to someone.  When you see that new face sitting at the bar looking around and praying that someone will strike up a conversation with them, BE that person who says hello.  Be that persons stepping stone into the wider Lodge.  I can personally attest that the little attention I was given made a HUGE difference in how I felt at the Lodge, and in my life as a whole.

If someone kind of drops off your personal radar and comes back, be that friend who welcomes them back with open arms and no expectations.  Again, from personal experience I can tell you how hard it is to walk up to friends you have forsaken and ask to be let back in, and that there are few feeling better than being welcomed back.

Way back in the day, when I was putting on my uniform, the plan for the shift was to leave work with the same number of holes in my body as there were when I started.  We all have to learn to not sweat the small stuff.  See the difference between what we THINK is a big deal at the moment and what really IS a big deal.  We might not all like one another every minute of every day, but we all love one another.  We have to.  We’re family.

Bartender, a Rock for me, with lime of course, and this time buy a round for the bar.  It may not be 11 o’clock, but let’s all raise a drink to our absent member. Chuid eile i síocháin Rick, chuid eile i síocháin.

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