No more than 20 minutes after checking in with my field supervisor on my very first day as an intern with the local police gang unit a years ago, I heard a call come over the radio in the Vice office. Just five minutes after that, I was giving short-cut directions to an address I knew all too well - the after school program where I'd been working for the past two years. Next thing I knew, I was on the scene of an execution-style murder on the grass only 30 yards from where I parked my car everyday looking at my first dead body.
The victim? The mother of two of my children from my program.
The suspect? Their father.
Less than an hour before, he had chased her down the block after a domestic dispute, shoved her to her knees, shot her at point blank in the back of the head, then drove straight to the police station, laid his gun on the table, and turned himself in. Then they called all detectives on board.
What happened the rest of the day was a bit of a blur- perhaps because it was a bit of an out of body experience as I felt like I was living my own episode of CSI or Law and Order. I don't think it was until we were sitting in the conference room later in the day that I really began to put the pieces together that I actually knew this family. In fact, I knew them fairly well - just the week before all this, little Josh and I had been working on his ABCs together before I handed his backpack over to his mother. The scary thing, though? Was that I couldn't make myself truly connect with this nightmare. And that, had never happened me before.
In general, and for as long as I can remember, I have felt everything. I see everything. I experience everything.
I remember feeling scared. But not for the reason that you might think. I was scared because I figured there was something wrong with me. I had just witnessed a dead-on-arrival murder scene where a family I had known for a couple of years had been involved on both the victim and suspect level, and on a more disconnected, elementary level I had also seen my first dead body (and a messy one on my very first morning of work, for that matter), and I felt nothing. I don't believe I was in shock. I was convinced I must be sick. Really morbidly sick.
It didn't take me long to figure out, though, that I was being protected from the situation. Under normal circumstances, this would have torn me apart. But because at the time I was truly discovering, and I still believe, that God is calling me into a field where I will be required to see and experience the very best and very worst of people, I believe He put his hand over me to guard my heart.
Now, just a few years later, I'm sitting here in my little apartment in Bulgaria two eventful years into my Peace Corps experience, and I am so very tired. Exhausted, really. I have loved and appreciated almost every moment of my service (oddly enough, even the [literally] bone-shattering ones), and if I thought I had the emotional stamina after two years here to invest a little longer, than you better believe that I'd extend my time here in a heartbeat. I may be disillusioned about some American expectations (24 hour Walmart!), I'm definitely not expecting my life in America to be "easy." It certainly wasn't when I worked for a camp in Maryland, or the after school program in NC, or leading groups in urban ministry in NYC, but throughout every trial or hiccup or emotional incident, I had been closer and supported by the people that invested in me and kept me going. The people that reminded me that yes, things happen, but Jesus has his hand in it all and he WILL redeem the situation.
When my campus supervisor came to talk to me about my internship with the police department, she asked me if I thought I'd be interested in making a career in the police work. At that point, the prospect was fun and exciting, but I did have a feeling that it wouldn't stick (I loved certain aspects of a the job thrilled me - carrying/pulling a weapon did NOT). I did tell her, though, that I took the internship for the insight and experience with the "worst case" scenario. We then talked about my fear that one of two things was sure to happen - either I'd continue to feel every case to my very core so deeply that I'd burn out prematurely, or I'd grow numb and immune to the things that had always penetrated me to my very core. That is a scary thought. Seeing families dig through the dumpsters all day every day makes my heart break. So does knowing my kids don't come to school when its cold because they don't have the proper footwear. So does being asked every week for money so that the baba can buy her grandson breakfast. So does watching another get married. But I wouldn't trade all of that. Feeling things - experiencing them - is what allows me empathize in a constructive way. Or at least try.
Leaving Samokov is going to be one of the hardest things I ever have to do. I'm ready to go home and be home - to be near my support system and start building my future more tangibly - but I dread the day I have to say goodbye to my life and loved ones here, but what waits for me back home is what has kept me going for two years, and will keep me strong and on my game for these last few (when did that happen?) months. I just hope, that as draining and it is and as much as it hurts, that I never lose the heartache.