"I've learned that you shouldn't go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back."– Maya Angelou
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"License and registration."
Words none of us want to hear on the side of a road when police lights are flashing behind us and an officer standing next to us with a flashlight in our face especially when you are at high risk of being late for a meeting. And yet these words, spoken late last week, would begin an unlikely friendship. Let me explain.
It was 4:19 in the morning and the highway was completely desolate. My mother used to say that nothing good happens after midnight. If that's true, this officer probably thought that most certainly nothing good happened at 4:19.
So it will come as no surprise that in the middle of Illinois – with rain falling in the middle of the night – the officer's first question to me was, "Where are you going in such a hurry? "
I shared that I was a speaker and had a breakfast meeting in Nashville. It may seem crazy, but to me it's far more important that I can be at home for dinner, help with nightly activities and tuck my kids in than it is to get a good night's sleep.
He gruffly responded that he clocked me going seven over the speed limit and changing lanes without using a signal. He told me to sit tight and he'd return in a minute.
Waiting… and waiting
With the rain falling harder, I rolled up my window and waited for him to come back with the inevitable ticket.
Typically, it takes a couple minutes for the officer to return. After five minutes I became a bit impatient. After 10 minutes, the impatience turned to anxiety. I began worrying about those unpaid parking tickets from college. I wondered if I had forgotten to pay some tax bill. I feared surveillance footage been recently discovered of me stealing three dollars from my brother's wallet when I was seven!
In all sincerity, I worried that some distant offense was on my record, had thrown up a red flag and was forcing this guy to bring me into the station.
After 17 minutes, a long time to wait when you have a meeting to be on time for, an eternity to wait when it's the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere and police lights behind you, he finally re-approached my car.
This time, there was no flashlight in his left hand and his right hand wasn't hovering near his firearm. This time he calmly approached, looked me in the eye, smiled, and said, "Well, brother, while waiting for your record to upload, I verified your story of being a speaker. I watched your video." There was a pause as he searched for the right words. Then added, "What a journey you've been on and what a story you have. John, you've inspired me to not write you a ticket."
And with that, he handed me back my license and registration.
I asked if it would be all right if I stepped out of the car and gave him a book from the trunk. He told me he can't accept any gifts and instead suggested instead that I go the speed limit, use my signal and keep up the great work… then adding, "Just keep doing good. Pass that one forward."
I got out of the car, gave him a hug and thanked him for his service. It makes me smile that there is a dashcam video somewhere of an officer working in the middle of the night, patrolling a dark, desolate highway, keeping his community safe, then hugging some traveler in the pouring rain.
Unfortunately, the majority of great stories our public servants do every day go unnoticed, unreported and overlooked. [Click here to tweet, and help me spread the word.]
Help me to pay it forward
My friends, to celebrate the phenomenal work our first responders do every day and to live into a promise to pass it forward, I need your help: Please email me the name of a police officer or first responder you want to celebrate. Although the officer could not accept a gift for me, I want to send along a copy of my forthcoming book IN AWE to 100 of his brothers and sisters. It's one way I can recognize their terrific work, their profound impact and thank them for keeping us safe.
Email info@JohnOLearyInspires.com with your first responder’s name, mailing address and any other tribute you may want to include. I look forward to celebrating and thanking them, with your help.
This is your day. Live Inspired.