This is not a political post. The one thing I dislike about politics is that people are divided, placed into different groups and sometimes pitted against each other. If you’ve read my posts for very long, you understand that I advocate bringing people together despite their differences, learning to communicate in a way that brings about unity. So, with that said, I’d like to tell you a story about a man who has made a difference in my life.
My family and I went to the Reagan Library yesterday, and though we’d been there before, I was surprised to learn a few things.
When I was born 47 years ago, Ronald Reagan was finishing up the last few months of his successful campaign for Governor of California. From that point on, he was someone from a distance who overshadowed my life.
Reagan was my first vote for President at 18 – even though I had no idea what he stood for politically. He was respected and handsome and was doing a great job already, so I voted for him.
Then, a few years later, I was in the country of Hungary, on my way to Romania for the summer. My friend and I had gone into a bathroom on a pitstop near the train. The bathroom attendant was a short old woman in a tunic and scarf. Lines were etched on her face and she was missing several teeth. She heard my friend and I talking, and asked, “Polis?” “No,” I replied. “American.” At that point she said a few things in her own language, approached me and took me by the arms. “Awwww….” she smiled and looked up into my eyes. “Reagan….” she giggled. “REAGAN!!!”
I nodded, not understanding what the heck was going on. We returned to the train, and journeyed into a dark place… Romania.
It was very different back then, in Eastern Europe. It was as if World War II was still a luminous shadow upon the land – communism had beaten the people down for decades, and there was military and government control over the people. They had no freedom, no choices, no voice, and no hope.
In Romania, the militia were armed with Uzis on every corner, striking fear in all of those around. The Romanian government was starving it’s people – we witnessed fights in bread lines, and their meat was unrecognizable; there were stores only foreigners could buy food from. At night, the people were only aloud one small light in their homes, and the length of that was rationed. Although the Romanian people were very proud of their medical care, we saw horribly diseased people. I saw one man whose legs were missing from high thigh. He “walked” on them, using wooden blocks to protect his hands, and his suit pants dragged behind. We were told of failed escape attempts, where people were shot as they ran for the razor-wire fences. If you were a person of faith, you were considered an enemy of the state. We talked with people who were beaten, starved and imprisoned for years because they dared to meet together to worship God and receive teaching from the Bible. We heard stories of the cruelty of the Dictator and his wife, and saw from a distance the palace he was building for himself – stealing the country’s food supply and selling it to other countries to pay for it. It was later shown that even bathroom fixtures were gilded in gold. The royal couple were absolutely hated, yet the factory workers were forced to clap, sing and wave flags when they showed up with cameras. We saw these staged rallies on television often during our stay.
These images jarred me out of my young careless stupor of what the world held outside American borders. As I saw the oppression of the people and was witness to the sobbing prayers of people crying for relief, I began to feel their pain.
That trip forever changed me. I came back extremely thankful I was an American.
What I didn’t know is that at the same time I was traveling to Eastern Europe, President Reagan, angry after Gorbachev pulled a fast one in their peace talks, challenged him in a speech near the Berlin Wall. “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” It was a challenge from a brave man who dared to speak of things that shouldn’t be, and against the recommendations of his Cabinet. He’d been given the opportunity by God to speak – and he didn’t back down. It was the beginning of the end of communism in Eastern Europe.
That little old lady in the bathroom in Hungary had been given HOPE, and she was celebrating it with a 20-year-old American who didn’t yet have a clue.
Two years later, on Christmas Day 1989, I watched on television as the people of Romania, with help from their own militia, captured Dictator Ceaucescu and his wife, and executed them. The Berlin Wall was torn down several weeks earlier by the German people. Families were reunited after decades of living on opposite sides of the wall. Though Reagan had already concluded his presidency, the movement he set in motion had come to the people.
This is a great inspiration to me. To see injustices cease; to see people rising in freedom and hope, was deeply meaningful. It made me believe that anything was possible.
Yesterday I sat in a garden in the Simi Valley, gazing upon a section of the Berlin Wall that was given to Ronald Reagan as a gift. I took a picture of my kids next to it – an image that speaks to me of the victories over oppression. Having dwelt in the shadows of this oppression for two months, it is deeply satisfying.
So, why am I writing this in a blog to police families? What does the inspiration of Ronald Reagan have to do with those in uniform?
We as police families have been given key positions in our communities. Our spouses – and by extension, us – have the ability to affect change. Through the work that is done every day, every night, they keep the peace, making sure that anarchy does not reign in America. Peace officers have the opportunity to take criminals off the streets, speak a word in a crucial moment, open the eyes of careless citizens, and even to show kindness to those who are rarely shown kindness. Even a little of each of these can give people hope, improving the lives of Americans. It’s an amazing responsibility we have as crucial parts of America’s communities.
With that responsibility comes sacrifice. And those of us who support officers from home can name those sacrifices and tell stories about those sacrifices, and sometimes even resent those sacrifices. Ronald Reagan was one who understood the responsibility of his position, and with the love of his wife, courageously set forth to change the world.
May we do the same.