It’s difficult to write about anything not related to the unbelievable tragedy that befell our country Wednesday. It’s hard to think about anything else. Not just because I’ve been a peace officer for almost a quarter of a century or a first responder for close to four decades. But as a citizen, as a parent, as a member of our community and the larger community of the United States.
What hits the hardest, and what we should hope will stay with us all, is the unbelievable fragility of our peaceful democracy and of our way of life. This little glimmer of light in the history of the human presence on the world hasn’t been around very long — less than 250 years. But we have taken it for granted.
We think that our version of democracy is impenetrable, impermeable and constant. That we can ignore it, work selfishly for ourselves without thought for the greater good, or even actively work against the principals to which we all, in theory, subscribe.
But that’s not the case. To have the freedoms we hold as inalienable rights takes effort. Peaceful democracy is a fragile thing. It needs to be nurtured continually. We all have to buy into the concept at the macro and the micro level.
Newer models of governance involve collaborative decision-making. Even in the various public safety groups, which have an obvious need for a strict chain of command, we’ve found ways to be more democratic. We stress the importance of following the chain of command for some things like emergency response, while assigning strategic planning and longer-term tasks to groups who establish their own leadership models that exist outside of our ranking system. We stress the need for fairness and equality of treatment to all of the public we serve.
The beach is the great leveler. Everyone comes to the beach. When you’re wet and sandy, it’s hard to tell who is rich or poor, successful or destitute. It’s a place where, at least for a time, you can shed the trappings of your social status, lay in a chair or in the shallow water and just ... be.
And all of us that serve the public on the beach — the lifeguards, police, EMS, firefighters, vendors, park staff, maintenance workers, parking attendants, etc. — have a responsibility to treat everyone with equal dignity and respect, no matter who or what they are. The responsibility to serve and to protect. And the responsibility to nurture the delicate democratic ecosystem that exists between the nearshore water and the human world.
This concept of the sanctity and democracy of this space is not something that we who regularly inhabit it discuss directly. But in every coastal place I’ve had the privilege to visit, it exists — at least at some level.
And maybe that’s how we preserve our democracy. Maybe we work to maintain its ideals in our living and work spaces wherever they may be. Maybe those ripples we create will radiate out and ensure that something like what happened on Wednesday doesn’t repeat for a long, long time.