This past weekend in a small town southeast of Seattle, Josh Powell killed himself and his two young sons. The news crawled along the bottom of the television screen during the pre-Super bowl coverage on a dark red banner. This story has monopolized the news in the Pacific Northwest off and on since Powell’s wife disappeared in Utah in 2009. Being a cop, I don’t tend to react as strongly as many people do to this kind of news because it’s so much a part of the culture of policing. We constantly encounter people at the worst moment of their life and there is often pressure to maintain a certain stoicism in the face of abject tragedy.
It is often a challenge to maintain one’s humanity while investigating horrible things, while looking at death, grief and violence perpetuated by the people who are supposed to love you unconditionally. Many of us create a coat of armor, a rigid exterior that we hope is un-penetrable but we suspect is deeply flawed. We have that suspicion because even as hard as we try to not let it affect us, we can’t control that subconscious troll that creeps into our dreams in the darkest moments of night. It is impossible to see these kinds of things without being profoundly changed.
As I sat in the comfort of my home on Sunday, I thought of the first responders arriving at the Powell house fully engulfed after a violent explosion. And I couldn’t help but think of the day they thought they had ahead of them – football at the fire station, answering a few aid calls, making dinner for the crew. And I thought about the neighbors and the families and of course, about the two children killed and how life can change in a flash of fiery rage when one man’s delusion consumed something so innocent and loved so no one else could have it.
And I tried to have compassion for that man because that’s what I’m striving for with my practice. And although I didn’t quite make it there because I think this would qualify as advanced compassion, in my humble opinion, I have committed myself to try.