The best laid plans and all that.
Earlier today, I was given a date for Medical Retirement from the Metropolitan Police. My last day as a serving officer will be Wednesday 28th February 2018.
That wasn’t how it was supposed to be.
I joined the Met in September 1992 – a clueless 22 year old embarking on the adventure of a lifetime. Over the years, I fell hopelessly in love with the Job. And with the men and women who do it. Like most of my generation, I fully intended to see out each one of my 30 years. Perhaps longer. I even had a half-baked idea that I might try to make it to Chief Constable one day.
Then life happened.
In April 2013, at the age of 43, I broke. I was off work for more than 7 months – a once capable man reduced entirely to rubble. Almost five years later, I’m a whole lot better than I was, but I realise that I’ve done myself some permanent damage along the way. I’m no longer strong enough to deal with the exhaustion and the strain. I can no longer manage the inevitable stress. And I appear to be completely unable to cope with trauma of any kind – certainly not the kind of trauma encountered endlessly on the policing frontline.
That’s the painful privilege of this job – to venture repeatedly into the hurting places; to be there when lives are saved; to be there when they hang in the balance; to be there in the scattered mess of blood and bandages; to be there when lives are lost; to be there when news is broken; to be there when the shattered faces of loved ones crumple in grief. To be there on the inside of the fluttering blue and white tape.
Not now though. I’m no longer able to stand in those places. And I’m in awe of those who are. Time and again, I find myself stirred by the breathtaking courage and compassion of my colleagues. They have always been – and they remain – the everyday heroes and heroines who police our streets. I will miss them more than I can say.
I will miss it all.
But there have been endless silver linings.
The extraordinary love of my wife; the unexpected hours and days spent with our three beautiful girls; the faithfulness of friends and the kindness of strangers; time and space to think and breathe and to learn how to rest in a world that is moving far too fast; the discovery of writing and of the healing to be found in telling stories; the opportunity to stand up and speak up for the things that have to matter more; the discovery of a thing called grace.
Life might, of necessity be slower these days – but it is also somehow deeper, richer and kinder.
Whatever happens now, I will always love this extraordinary job. I will always love the extraordinary people who do it. I will always celebrate their humanity and heroism. And I will always feel pride of the finest kind.
Because I was a boy in blue.