Three years is a long time.
Since 2009, I have watched my youngest teenager add a foot in height, seen our economy rise from the ashes and struggled to make sense of the politics behind our embittered national election.
Reading the paper this morning, I recalled another horrific milestone now three years in our rearview mirror. On November 29, in 2009, four Lakewood police officers were shot and killed in a Lakewood coffee shop.
We all know the brutally tragic story of Sergeant Mark Renninger and Officers Mark Richards, Tina Griswold and Ronald Owens. I remember hearing the news, the numbness spreading through my body, the angry look in the eyes of my fellow cops, the misery at the funeral.
But three years is a long time.
This morning at 8am, there was a gathering at the Lakewood Police Department to kick off the department’s Fallen Officers’ Food Drive. It was also a memorial of sorts, attended by Gov.-elect Jay Inslee, our county prosecutor, Mark Lindquist and other local officials.
I caught the tail end of it only because I came across the article twenty minutes before the event started. After reading it, I looked at my watch, got up and walked out the door. I realized later it was the exact frame of mind I had when I stumbled out the door three years ago. Both times I wound up at the Lakewood Police Department.
Back then a good friend of mine was a patrol officer in Lakewood, and we spent several hours talking, driving around town and meeting people. There cops from every jurisdiction in the region, all of whom were caught in the same gravitational vortex as me- a bearhug by Chief Farrar.
In the present, the station looked little different from 2009, aside from the absence of the block-long collection of flower bouquets. The few familiar faces I saw were a bit older, their hair a bit grayer (much like myself). Also missing were the long lines of tear-streaked faces, the trembling hands, the heaving sighs of grief. As I said, three years is a long time.
The speakers were brief and eloquent. The news crews were respectful. The Seattle Police Pipe and Drum band was exceptional. It was solemn, almost wistful.
Then I caught sight of one of the ubiquitous posters of the Fallen Four, their faces captured one last time in tribute. These four good, skilled, well-loved people missed the last three years as they will miss the rest of the indeterminate years stolen from them. That precious time was also stolen from their families, some of whom must endure the mental image of “what if” scenarios in an endless loop.
For those of us only lightly touched by the events of three years ago, we move on. Another year, another reminder of a tragic event. For those whose heart was broken, who must summon the courage simply to endure yet another November 29, time moves at a different pace.
Three years might seem like the briefest of moments. Or it may seem like a lifetime.
Renninger, Griswold, Richards and Owens. Gone but not forgotten.