Have you ever told an old friend, co-worker or supervisor what you really thought of him or her? Sometimes we wait until it’s too late.
One of my important police mentors, who guided me through the early days in homicide, became a lifelong friend, long into retirement. Sergeant Ray Beck was a class act, dignified, suave, articulate and smart. He loved his job, I loved working with him.
Fast-forward to 2002. Living North Carolina, I hadn’t seen Ray Beck for several years. I knew he had battled on and off with cancer issues. One morning, the phone rang, it was Ray Beck calling from Miami. He struggled to speak, voice raspy, shallow breathing. “Marshall. (pause-cough) Just wanted you to know (pause) you were like (pause) a son to me.” (pause)
“Ray? What’s wrong?”
In a near whisper, he said, “I…I…(pause-cough)…love you.”
Stunned, I choked up. Then burst into tears. I would have headed to Miami the next day but it was too late. Ray had passed. I never relayed the same message back.
Ray Beck was the consummate mentor, having taught me another lesson from his death bed. Today, I have no qualms about sharing my true feelings with special people.
How are we to know when we’ve unknowingly touched another life…until they come from nowhere to express admiration you never knew existed.
Such was the case four years ago when – out of the blue –a former homicide investigator who worked under my command thirty-seven years ago, sent an e-mail expressing his affection and respect. It was astonishing, to say the least.
“Joe ” was a new detective to homicide then, one of the “trainees” who showed a lot of promise. I didn’t know him well. We had no social relationship. We never worked on a case together or knew each other’s family. He was one of a crew of forty detectives.
Joe knew that I had written a complimentary piece about a deceased medical examiner which inspired him to write the following:
“…While we are the subject of telling others what we think of them while they are alive, I take this opportunity to tell you that, like Dr. Davis, you were admired, respected and loved by those of us who worked for you and had the special privilege to learn from you.
“When I came to homicide at the age of 26, I foolishly considered myself a very good and competent police officer. Under your command, I realized that I was not even close to reaching my potential. You were not the typical police supervisor. Instead of barking orders, which you could easily have done because of your rank and command position, you chose to challenge our and tested our problem-solving skills with intelligent questions.
“Just when we thought we had all the answers, you played devil’s advocate and exposed weaknesses in our cases that could be exposed by defense attorneys, judges, scientists, expert witnesses, the news media and many others. That’s why so many of the guys who came with me to homicide and worked under your leadership went on to enjoy long and successful careers in that elite bureau or as ranking officers in the department. Others like me took advantage of that knowledge and launched successful careers in the private sector.
“You taught us without embarrassing us or making us feel inferior. You didn’t belittle us on our inevitable rookie mistakes and used them only as learning experiences. Your leadership made us feel confident and motivated. So, while we are both alive and well, and while neither of us has any immediate plans to leave this planet, I want you to know that you played a significant role in the early years of my career, helping me achieve a level of professionalism and proficiency that would probably have escaped me if our paths had not crossed.
“Even after all these days. THANK YOU.”
No, Joe. It is I who admires you for your thoughtfulness for taking the time to express your feelings from the heart. You have humbled me beyond description. Because of you, I will more often share my thoughts and feelings to others, while I am still able. You have reinforced a message I received long ago from an old-time mentor. You’ve helped to teach the teacher. Thank you, Joe.
Those who deserve such feelings need to know, while there is still time.
What are we waiting for?