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Hi All

Today’s blog post is irrelevant to exercise science. However, I find that mental illness and suicide continues to be a major issue in the United States. I don’t have a solution. I just have a story, a voice from a stranger, who I was fortunate to meet a few years ago.

I’d like to share a conversation I had with a customer whom was a regular and a favorite when I used to work at Philz Coffee in Pasadena. I used to be a barista here before working at Breakthru and at AFNA. As a matter of fact, working at Philz was what brought me to Breakthru, and then ultimately AFNA.

A little backstory: In 2017, I made a New Years Resolution to put myself in uncomfortable positions as often as possible. It was meant as a challenge for myself because I was (and still am) a very introverted person. At Philz coffee, I had the opportunity to put myself in uncomfortable positions by talking to as many strangers as possible, beyond the superficial, “hey how’s it going” type conversations.

One of our regulars was a police captain from a precinct near UCLA, who recently got a promotion and was given the task at training some of the newer sergeants and officers. After a grueling week of sleepless nights, he would treat his squad to coffee with us in Pasadena. Little by little, I talked to him more and more and got to know him a bit better. On a particularly slow day, I asked him what his best memory of being an officer was. He shared with me a story I will never forget.

It was one of the best days of my life. Best day on the Force, easily. I’ll never forget the 3rd of December. It didn’t feel like winter–It’s LA, you know–but it still had the fresh, crisp smell that cold winter air has. The sun was starting to set under the mountain range and darkness crept early this time of the year. It was getting close to punch out, and I was relieved to think that training week was finishing up. A few 14’s and a few 16’s will do that to ya. At least the paycheck will look nice with all the OT.

We were just on our way when we got the radio call.  It was urgent, apparently someone saw a teenager standing on top of a building. Possibly suicidal. 

I don’t know who was in charge anymore, it was like someone else had programed my thoughts and actions. It was like a fourteen hour day never existed and I had enough energy to wrestle a bull. My partner and I showed up on the scene within minutes. I don’t remember how we got there, I don’t know, it all happened so fast. It was surreal to think about the whole situation, I don’t think I processed everything about it until the day after when I was home. So we get there and it’s almost like something — someone– just takes over. 

‘You gotta stop thinking like this, man!” I yelled. ‘Give me a second man, just hold on!’ I remember running into the building and up the stairs, all the damn stairs, but I guess that’s what training is for. I don’t know how long it took me to get up top? Maybe a minute? Maybe 5? It felt like forever but at the same time it happened so quick. 

‘Come on man let’s think about this first. Talk to me, or I’ll talk to you first,’ I said. I had no game plan. This stuff isn’t in the training book, you know. You kinda just go with it. ‘Listen man, you have a mom and dad out there who don’t even know you’re up here. They love you so much. I know shits flying in and out the door these days, I know it ain’t easy, man. You can’t give up now man, there will always be the bad days but soon enough the good days rolls around. That’s life. That’s life’s way of giving you a roller coaster.’ I don’t remember what exactly I said, but he seemed to be waiting for something else. 

We gotta stay back and not move too much, don’t want to scare him or anything. Also, if he does do something irrational, I have to be in a position where he doesn’t accidentally take me down or pull me with him. So I just kept talking to him. I don’t know how long  I was up there–emergency time is different from real time. Plus, after the 70 hour week I didn’t know what the difference was between 20 minutes and 2 hours. Eventually I got into him and talked him down. Talked him into seeing the light, not the end-of-the-tunnel light, but the love life type light. It was enough to step down. I talked to him all the way into my arms, holding him tightly, I will never forget as he sobbed onto my shoulders. I will never forget the kids grip as he held onto my back, crying and thanking me. He kept crying and saying sorry and kept crying again and kept saying thank you. It was an intense moment, just us two up there. Deep within the noise of downtown, we stood quietly, holding each other silently as the kid kept crying. I can’t remember how long it lasted, but eventually we walked down. I had radioed down asking the rest of the guys to make their way away because I didn’t want him to feel embarrassed or anything. I took him into my car and we just drove for a bit, and then we called up his momma. It was a hard call, but I knew the alternative would be much much worse. 

So about a week afterwards I was presented with an award. It was some kind of hero’s reward I think. It definitely felt awesome to get that kind of recognition, but I didn’t really care about the reward. It didn’t need to be a big deal like that. I kept thinking about how the kid was doing. Being his age is one of the hardest moments of life, and sometimes we get into thinking all the wrong things for all the wrong reasons. And if you’re out here in the world thinking you’re alone. . . it’s not easy man. But it did feel good knowing I helped someone out of that option. I never forget about it. It’s still very surreal. And it’s taught me something really meaningful, looking back on everything.

It taught me how important it is to really enjoy every moment possible, like thinking about the beauty of right now. Right here. It’s always taken for granted until we have those brief moments of gratitude and we remember to enjoy every moment. But I’ve made it a practice to always live in the now and it’s made life a lot more meaningful. It’s important to think that way as an officer, since you never know what anyone else is dealing with. They might be having the worst day of their life, maybe they lost a  family member. Maybe they lost a job. Maybe something bad happened and they’re struggling dealing with it. I don’t know. 

I didn’t learn to think that way at first though. I found out that 2 years later, he ended up killing himself. When I found out I felt sick. My knees buckled. I cried. I wasn’t there for him that time, and it hurt so bad to find out. It felt like I lost a family member. I could’ve been there, maybe he needed serious help. Maybe we could’ve done something, and it made me angry and sad just thinking about what he was going through. It’s not fair. Maybe he needed to talk to someone. Maybe he needed help. I don’t know.

It took some time for me to learn this lesson. . .why he was brought to Earth, why he had to die the way he died. It taught me to see the beautiful bright light in the darkest black cave. You see, I failed to think about the fact that I helped him down the first time and bought a few more years with his family. Maybe he was able to still enjoy life in it’s day to day beauty, sometimes up and sometimes down, like I was telling him up there. At least I hope so. I don’t know what he was going through. But I kept thinking about what I could’ve done differently and blaming myself for what happened. It’s taken a long time to realize it now, but it’s really beautiful and really tragic at the same time. It’s influenced me to live my life each day enjoying even the stupid bullshit that happens, because it’s all a part of life. And with the stupid bullshit we deal with, there are always hidden gems that make everything worthwhile. Like coming to Philz Coffee, for example. My precinct is all the way out by UCLA, but you guys keep making my day better and I keep coming back. 

So when people ask me what the best day on the Force was, I always tell them this: It was meeting that guy.

He changed my life. He helped me understand something very difficult: time is precious. Nothing is forever. The good days and the bad days don’t last forever. He taught me how to live in the moment and to be grateful for each moment. Because even if it’s a shitty moment, I’m still alive, and I still get to experience that moment. Eventually it will get better. It always does.

He changed my life. In fact he was my hero. I just don’t understand why I the one with the award.