NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

June 21, 2013

Appreciating those who face danger every day

Health and Well-Being
Dr. Jim Manganiello

---- — When I first heard about the Boston Marathon bombings, I underestimated the heartache that would burst into so many people’s lives. My brain has grown so sickened by the constant flow of media-hyped bad news that screams at us 24/7 that it shuts down. My brain now filters news like a spam guard, to protect my heart from feeling helpless in the face of endless “news” reports of tragedy and mayhem.

When I learned that a young child and two adults died in the bombing, and that more than 260 people were injured, including numbers of people who underwent catastrophic amputations — I turned the filters off. I let the news and the pain in.

Upon learning of the heroic efforts of both police and firefighters on the scene, I felt deep appreciation for those who risk harm and death while protecting us from extreme danger.

Fifteen firefighters from Beverly and Cambridge, who were volunteering their services at the marathon, snapped into heroic action just moments after the bombing. Beverly fire Chief Paul Cotter commended the firefighters for helping and comforting victims in the midst of a chaotic and terrifying situation.

The death of MIT police officer Sean Collier, along with the serious injury of MBTA officer Richard Donahue in a shootout with the bombers, made me more aware of what most of us take for granted: When ordinary people instinctively run away from risk of harm and death, police and firefighters run toward it. They run toward bullets and into fires for us. And they do this on a moment’s notice.

My wife, Wanda, and I decided to go into Boston to pay tribute to victims by visiting the marathon memorial in Copley Square. It was a very intense experience. The memorial site was filled with photos of those killed and injured, as well as written signs expressing love, respect, prayers and deep sorrow. Many hundreds of sneakers were left on the ground along with a moving display of stuffed animals. Most profound was the state of mind that was in the atmosphere at the memorial site. It dropped us into a deeply moving level of awareness where, amid great silence and frequent sobbing, those present became connected to each other and to those killed and harmed.

This was the kind of event that used to be a part of dealing with tragedy and collective sorrow. Too often today, we have no release for the heavy burden of tragedy and loss we carry in our hearts.

While walking, we came upon an area devoted to Collier.

Collier, the 26-year-old father of a 6-month-old child, responded to a 10:20 p.m. call about a disturbance. As he called for backup, he was shot dead by the two gunmen. His death should make us all more appreciative of the high risk and uncertainty that police officers routinely face.

I interviewed Groveland police Chief Robert Kirmelewicz for this article, and he put it all too well when he noted: “Officers risk life and limb every time that they go out on patrol, no matter where they work. Current events show that anything can happen, anywhere and at any time.”

Collier unfortunately found himself in the cross hairs of this “anywhere and anytime.” He didn’t have a chance. The bombers took him by surprise and fired six bullets into his body while his gun was still in its holster. As Kirmelewicz commented further: “This was a police officer that went to work that night to protect the public, and he lost his life in the line of duty. His job was to make sure that people got to go home to their families at the end of his tour of duty, but sadly, he did not have that same opportunity.”

After the murder of Collier, Donahue was severely wounded in a shootout with the two bombers. He and other police officers pursuing the two men were not only at risk from gunfire, but also from bombs like those exploded at the marathon.

I later wondered what it would feel like pursuing two men willing to die, men trying to kill me. The feelings that came up triggered a wave of deep appreciation in me for police courage. Who else would drive 90 mph toward us and face a hail of bullets and bombs to protect people?

Officers deserve greater appreciation. We resent them too often because they have power over us. Kirmelewicz put it this way: “The public loves to hate the police until they become victims of crimes, and then police officers are given the appreciation and respect that they deserve.”

It’s not that we should idealize police. No one is perfect, and it’s clear that some police officers abuse their power at times. And at times, it can be hard to know exactly where to draw the line between respecting authority and standing up for yourself. But at the end of the day, the majority of police officers must endure outrageous risks with great courage for little reward. And for this, police deserve our appreciation, for they seem to possess a “Knightly Devotion” gene that most of us just don’t have.

Studies show that police work leaves men and women vulnerable to significant job stress-related illnesses: http://dld.bz/cEket. And our lack of appreciation for their willingness to risk life and limb when protecting us from the darker side of life adds to police job stress.

I’d like to close this article by remembering those killed and harmed during and after the marathon bombings. And, in addition, just one of many other police officers who died in the line of duty. After 26 years of service, and just days before his retirement in April 2012, Greenland, N.H., police Chief Michael Maloney was killed during a drug raid he didn’t have to participate in. He left a wife and children.

Every community should honor its police annually, and doing so is long overdue. Let’s give police and firefighters our gratitude. Appreciation goes a long way.

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Dr. Jim Manganiello is a clinical psychologist and diplomate-level medical psychotherapist based in Groveland and West Boxford. He is also an author and teacher focusing on stress, personal growth, meditation and “inner fitness.” His book “Unshakable Certainty” is available on Amazon. Email him at drmanganiello@comcast.net or visit www.drjimmanganiello.com.