_"The reason we stopped you is because we had a report of some kind of a disturbance nearby and you fit the description of the suspects." That was cop number two speaking and as he spoke he took hold of my friends shirt and half-dragged him a couple of feet down the curb and then "planted" him with a contemptful shove. The drum-and-bugle-corps in my head stopped playing, the fireworks ceased, all was silence.
I'm not, by nature, anti-law-enforcement; The alternative to living in a nation of laws is, hmm, well, anarchy, I guess. But few things offend a mans fundamental sense of right-and-wrong, few things attack the integrity of a people, few things interrupt and confound the general welfare and feelings of security of a nation than the actions of those who wrongfully represent authority. How can men be swayed from violence and disorder when those who lead them are immune to the effects of the very laws they impose and those who are entrusted with the peoples safety and well-being abuse both the people and the laws they swear to uphold? Even more basic is the anger felt by most people when they witness the weak and harmless individual being set-upon by the strong. Beyond that, the big cops sudden rough-handling of such a sweet little drunk got me to thinking, maybe I read that cop completely wrong when I credited him with a sense of humor, maybe it wasn't Sartre that leaped to mind a minute-ago, maybe it was Machiavelli...or the Marquis de Sade or that bully in 6th grade who was the terror of the play-ground. Intending to bring an end to this distasteful situation I raised a finger to indicate a desire to speak but as my mouth creaked open the cop turned and glanced in my direction and my jaw locked, there would be no talking to this guy, I could see it in his eyes; The Freedom James had spoken of a moment before suddenly seemed far away, a thing of fable and myth, a scared rabbit that fled at a glance from this man, this cop.
As for James, well, he hadn't fought the officer or resisted him in any way but I could see that he resented being dragged against his will like that and what he said next confirmed my suspicion : "I didn't give you permission to touch me. Am I under arrest?" He was slurring but only slightly, he actually seemed surprisingly coherent as he continued: "And what do you mean by: "some kind of disturbance", don't you know what the disturbance was?" James inunciated each word carefully, in an almost exaggerated fashion and while the cop was still formulating an answer to those several questions he charged in with more: "Because if you don't even know what the disturbance was how could you possibly know anything about suspects? Anyway, suspects are suspected of something, something specific, something definite. I don't think you can be charged with causing "some kind" of a disturbance, can you? Too vague. Besides, if your information is so flaky that you can't even define the nature of the disturbance then the chances are pretty good that any information concerning those involved is probably equally as flaky...maybe more."
I got a strange feeling in my gut when my little red-headed friend said that. Giving police-officers a lot of guff was not something I recommended to anyone and in this particular situation, with us clearly drunk and all, well, I was having my doubts about Jim's judgement. He did seem pretty smart though, well-spoken in a gruff kind of way. I glanced over at him and he was turned half-around glaring up at the two officers who were, in turn, staring down at him with their hands on their hips. James beard bristled and steam was rising from his head; his bad eye was seeping but his good one was bright and penetrating. The only thing that distinguished him from an Old Testament prophet was the nature of his thirst...theirs being for water. I blinked and looked at the cops.
The officer who had been first on the scene seemed fairly calm, he was even chuckling a little, his partner on the other hand, though trying to hide it behind a forced smile, was pissed. I noticed with a bit of a start that his right hand was not actually on his hip in the regularly understood sense but was, instead, draped over the butt of his side-arm, gunslinger-style. Now please don't get me wrong, I'm not implying that he was going to shoot James or that he was even thinking about it I'm just saying that he was getting awfully friendly with that 9mm and if he carressed it much more it was going to go-off or something and if it did James would have been it's likely target. Well, maybe target isn't the right word, maybe victim is the word I'm looking for... accidental shooting victim, Jesus. I began to slowly wiggle sideways along the curb away from James and, hopefully, away from even the slightest possibility of being accidentally shot in the back-of-the-head by a stray round fired execution-style by a remorseful, berserk cop. Thankfully, I was saved from the agony of exposing my roasted hindquarters to any unneeded friction by the disgusting sound of Jim clearing his throat and spitting and the disturbing realization that cop number two was looking at me now and his hand was still shamelessly flirting with that big pistol.
God is never far from us, I'm certain of that. If he seems distant sometimes it is only because He is so quiet. Perhaps the explosive nature of His first creative act was enough noise for Him (for all we know His ears are still ringing) and He now prefers the perfect silence that His omnipotence affords Him. As for the Angels singing and blowing horns all day long and shouting like a stadium full of foot-ball fans everytime a sinner comes to Christ, c'mon, if those nearly divine beings haven't moved beyond such trivial outpourings of emotion then I'll just stay down here in the mud and worship God from afar and in a language He probably appreciates: silence. I bring up God because He seemed to have grown impatient with events and decided to move them to their conclusion. He did this by allowing three conditions to exist simultaneously and in practically the same space. The first condition was Jim's continued clear-headedness despite the enormous amount of alcohol we'd consumed that day and the fact that he chose to return to his original thought just then and restated it in the form of a challenge. He said: "Listen, we are not your suspects, we are too drunk to be suspected of anything more complicated than a coma and you know it. If you wish to take us to jail for drunk-in-public let's go, otherwise go about your buisness, it is not lawful in this country to detain its citizens for any-old half-baked reason, especially one that is, by your own words, "some kind of a disturbance", as opposed to an actual one. Shall I refresh your memories as to what country we're in and the sacrifices offered up by our ancestors so that we would never have to suffer the indignity of being wrongfully restrained, searched orimprisoned? Need I shame you by reciting the document that announced our bid for freedom to the world?" He stood.
Cop #1 took a cautious step backwards and cop #2 took a belligerent step forward and yelled: "Sit down or I'll cuff you, and shut-up before I..." He was cut short by the scream of brakes and then the gut-wrenching sound of a collision. The second condition had leaped into existence just a block away in the form of an automobile-accident, a car slamming into a light-pole. The forward rush of time and events came to a full stop with the sound of tearing metal and shattering glass and everything seemed to hang suspended, trapped for an indeterminable period before the sheer weight of the car as it strained against the light-pole and the pure desire of the sun to move across the sky and the combined weight of every past occurrence piling up behind us exerted enough force to break us free and drive us out of this static "then" into the boiling, active present. Within that frozen moment though, that elongated "before" that we sometimes encounter in the gap between cause-and-effect, I sensed Gods hand moving things around like pieces on a chess-board. It is precisely this phenomenon, this subtle restructuring of reality to suit His higher purpose, that makes me chase after God as if He were a beautiful woman. Of course, and this is the truly beautiful aspect of it, God doesn't actually "DO" anything or "CHANGE" anything in order that His will be done. He simply remains faithful to His own Purpose and we, if we are in agreement with that purpose and do our level best to toe the ineffable line-in-the-sand that divides Divine Purpose from everything else, why, we then enjoy the miraculous convergence of times and events which Carl Jung, a genuine searcher-after-the-truth, must have been referring to when he spoke of synchronicity; A moving, living series of affirmations which carry us towards spiritual completion and, ultimately, union with God. Like an unseen river, unimpeded by the physical world, too deep for the proddings of the rational mind, unpolluted by doubt or fear (except fear of Him, of His terrible love) the waters flow, the crystalline waters of Gods Divine Will.
Condition number three seemed to have arrived during that immeasurable interval that lay between the sound of the crash and its fading away, while everyone else was distracted. All I know is that the first police-officer, the more decent of the two in my estimation, spoke into his radio and then rushed to his car and, tires smoking for half a block, spun out and away and up the street to the scene of the accident. As I turned to watched him run to his car I noticed a small knot of people standing against the building behind me. They seemed to be focused on us, on what was happening with me and James and the cops. They were all fairly young and seemed to be the patrons of a nearby bar who had come outside to smoke, I guess the sight of the cops rousting a couple of bums was worthy entertainment but as I looked at them a girl in a short, black dress stepped forward and said, very loudly: "Hey, there's a real emergency goin' on up the street, leave them alone, they're not doin' anything wrong!" Good girl. Maybe an unruly mob will rescue us and spirit us away, or so I was hoping. I smiled and looked to see how the cop was reacting. He stood like a centurion, his hand still on his pistol. He probably wouldn't have argued with the girl over the relative importance of the two situations, the car accident being a major concern and me and James a minor irritation by comparison but he felt the weight of duty bearing down on him and, in his own manner, blunt and aggressive as it may have been, felt married to that duty. He glanced sharply at the girl but said nothing to her, instead he turned back to James who stood defiantly in his shadow and said: "Sit down for the last time and don't move. I'll need your names, got any I.D.?
Someone in the group in front of the bar, not the girl but a male this time, yelled something about a speech and the others said, "Yeah, speech, speech!" I gathered they were talking about Jim's offer to recite one of our nations historical documents to illustrate our rights of free-passage and liberty and stuff and again I heard the strains of music and the press of history and the call to arms that galvanized our ancestors to action and to victory. "Speech!".
I felt dizzy. I needed a drink. I was hungry. my mouth was dry. I'd been staring down between my feet at a cigarette-butt someone had flipped into the street and it was a healthy one, less than half-smoked, I picked it up and fished my lighter out, lit it and looked back at the cop. He was still looming over James and hadn't even twitched when I lit the smoke. I took a drag and listened to the music, far away but getting closer. "Speech!". The cop was in a dilemma, kind of like the guy in the short-story, I think it was called: "To shoot an elephant" by H.G. Wells or maybe Kipling or, well, it was about a British official in India who had to deal with a stampeding elephant and a crowd of locals insistent on him shooting it, necessary or not. He didn't think it necessary to shoot the poor beast but the crowd did. He shot the poor beast. I think Pontius Pilate found himself similarly yoked to a crowd who, by their very numbers, by their cumulative wills, by their almost pathological insistence upon having things their way were able to wrest the baton of power out of his hands for at least the time it took to condemn an innocent man to death. "Speech!"
The cop removed his hands from his hips and took a step backwards, motioned to James, indicated the spot where he stood, seeping eye and all, it was to be his podium, his stage. "Go ahead. What, the Constitution? Huh?" He smiled but it was a smile full of teeth and venom. "You recite the whole thing, word-for-word, and I'll let you and your friend go home to sleep it off." He gestured in my direction and I dropped the butt and ground it out beneath my boot just to be safe, fact is though, he didn't even look at me, he had his hands full with James. The spectators moved in closer and it seemed as if their numbers had grown, maybe doubled, I think the bartender had even joined the mob. Crowds naturally multiply I suppose. The music was close now, drums and brass carried in the cold hands of ghosts; The ghosts of our past wearing the tattered uniforms that made their mothers so proud, uniforms that drove the girls crazy, uniforms that could not stop the withering musket-fire of the enemy...the uniforms they were buried in. James looked at his feet and then at the cop. "Actually, it's the Declaration of Independence I was referring to...that was the document that announced our intentions to the world."
The cop nodded, "Okay." Was all he said. The crowd shuffled and coughed, moved in closer. Someone got between me and James so I got up off the curb and shouldered my way gently to a spot that afforded me a view, James saw me and saluted. I saluted him and he began._
"When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another..."He spoke clearly and stood very straight as he spoke. He did not give a flawless recitation but he corrected himself without shame and forged on, driving several points home by the tone of his voice and his emphasis on particular sections and phrases. His voice rose in volume to something just shy of yelling when he arrived at these famous, if seldom repeated, words:"...Deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."_ To add further emphasis he pointed dead into the face of the officer as he blared those words and then, after a pause, took a deep breath and continued in a lower, steady, almost conversational manner: "...He has refused His assent to laws..."
"...He has refused to pass other laws..."
"...He has dissolved..."
"...He has endeavored..."
"...He has made..."
"...He has kept among us..."
_The big cop stood with his arms crossed over his chest, sometimes seeming impatient, at other times seeming bored, once, maybe twice seeming almost interested; He did not interrupt.
James, as he spoke, turned half to the crowd and it was apparent to everyone present that this impromptu speech wasn't being motivated by Jim's desire to stay out of jail but by something higher, something, perhaps, so lofty and so obscured by time and circumstance and history that it was only upon a makeshift stage like this sidewalk, and only on random days like this one, and only before an unprepared audience such as those who stood around me now with tears in their eyes and cigarettes drooping in their mouths, it was only with all these elements in place that the message could be delivered to this generation, a generation desperately in need of it. Yes, they wept. Of course they were drunk but so what? I was drunk as well, so was James...the only sober person in attendance was the cop and he really didn't matter. He was a bit-player. A bit-player who had played his part well and was nearly done.
As I stood listening to my friend someone touched my shoulder: it was a lady, past middle-age, grey, thin, she had put her head upon my shoulder and was weeping. I couldn't...I didn't move. James seemed strange to me then as he continued to speak, he seemed to inhabit more space than he could possibly fill and I realized that I was afraid of what was happening here, that it would always burden me somehow; That I would struggle through the remainder of my life knowing that the things I believe in are real and that because they are real I owe a debt I can't possibly pay, a debt I'd always ignored because I never felt it with the urgency I feel now. I've been walking , no, strolling along a path that God intended I should run and I'm only finding out now, near the end of the race...can I catch-up? I will ask Jim tonight, when this is over. He was approaching the end, his voice was gentle now, but full of emotion: "...For protecting them by mock trial..."
"...For imposing taxes..."
"...For transporting us beyond seas..."
"... for taking away our charters..."
"...He has abdicated government here..."
"...He has constrained..."
"...He has plundered..."
"...He has exited..."
"...He has transported..." James was speaking with great solemnity as he approached the end, his eyes brimmed with tears but his voice was unbroken:...with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor. No-one said a word, no-one moved, the big policeman stood like a statue carved out of blue marble. He looked at James in a peculiar way and then looked directly at me where I stood among the onlookers. He turned back to James and nodded: "Okay, you're free to go," he said it easily, without a hint of anger, "stay out of trouble." he added, then turned on his heel and walked to his car, got in, drove away and it was done.
Freedom has never felt the same since that night, it has never felt like a gift or a right or anything you'd ever think to ask for. It feels like a really hard, grueling job that you don't want to do but have to. It feels like something you owe to others. It feels like a responsibility you are compelled to accept because if you don't accept it maybe no-one will and then something precious will be lost...