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Easter Eyes and the U.S. Park Police
He is Risen, I Had Fallen (After Being Hit by a Scooter)
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I was crossing Independence Avenue near the Tidal Basin on Easter and then, suddenly, I was sitting in the middle of the street, looking up at several police officers.
“Are you okay?” one asked.
“I don’t know,” I said, looking around.
“Are you hurt?” another woman asked.
“I don’t know,” I said again, looking at the hundreds of people on the sidewalk, staring at me with surprised expressions. I wanted to do something so the people would stop staring at me.
“Can you get up?” another asked. The street was empty except for the officers.
“I don’t know,” I repeated. It hurt to look up at them to answer. The sun was bright.
“Do you need an ambulance?” an officer asked. I had an intense headache on the sides and the back. But I wanted to get out of this situation, not make it worse.
“Oh no,” I said. “I think -- I’m -- “
I don’t know how long I sat there in the middle of the street. But next I remember I was standing and someone handed me the sunglasses I lost last summer driving back to DC from Houston.
I looked at them in my hand.
“Those are mine,” a man with a big black helmet said, taking the sunglasses.
“Are you hurt?” he asked. I didn’t know who he was or why he wanted my sunglasses - or how I got his sunglasses- so I don't think I answered him. I guess he left after that. (They weren’t my lost sunglasses and weren’t even the same shape, in retrospect.)
“I just need to sit down a sec,” I told the officers, looking around for where to go so I could get away.
One officer with a pretty, kind face walked with me. I sat on a curb that faced into the Mall, so I was away from everyone on the crosswalk.
“Do you need an ambulance?” she asked again.
“I’m fine, I think I just need to sit here a minute,” I replied.
“Is that everything you have with you?” the uniformed officer asked, pointing to my phone and earphones next to me on the sidewalk.
“I think so,” I said, staring at the items. I actually didn’t know.
“What happened?” I asked her. We were alone so I could focus better.
“You missed the light and walked straight across and got hit by a scooter,” she said, pointing at the intersection behind me. There were barriers set up all along the streets, so everyone was forced to cross at the crosswalks.
“A scooter?” I asked, looking around to figure out what that meant. I pointed to some people walking with those rented scooters with the green necks. “A scooter, like that thing?”
“More like a skateboard with four wheels. Like a hoverboard thing,” she said. I still don’t know what she meant, but that is what the man with the helmet was riding.
“You didn’t see the green light and walked straight. So he hit you directly from the side, like a T-bone,” she explained. “When he hit you, you pulled up your shoulder to your ear, and then you fell down, on your backside.”
I looked behind me at Independence Avenue -- masses of people were on both sides of the street and the cherry blossoms behind them -- and saw that the section he was coming down was slightly downhill. I had clearly ignored all the people waiting to cross at the same time and mindlessly just gone myself.
“How did you get here?” she asked. She pointed down at my airpods and phone. “It looks like you ran or walked?”
“Yes, right, right. I ran to the Jefferson. Then I wanted to walk around to see the Cherry Blossoms,”`I said.
“So how far are you from home?” she asked.
“Well it was three miles to the Jefferson,” I said, then looking over my shoulder. “I guess that means I’m either two or four miles from home.” I usually know the miles around the Mall exactly because I run them so often, but I didn’t know where I was at that point. Nothing looked familiar.
“What’s your address?” she asked, taking out a small notebook and pen.
I looked at the blank page. I looked at her. “I can’t remember my -- oh, it’s 1, 5 - wait, no, it’s 1, 3...” I looked up from the notepad. “I think I have a concussion,” I said. She nodded.
“Am I out of it?” I asked. She nodded again.
“How are you going to get home?” she asked.
“Oh, I’ll, uh, take an uber.” That sounded like the right answer. I just wanted to get out of this embarrassing situation. I’d just run home after I was out of her view.
“There’s no traffic down here. And it’s packed all over downtown,” the officer noted.
“That’s okay, I’ll just walk to a place and then call an uber and then -- I’ll -- you know… My jaw really hurts,” I said, while trying to massage it.
“It’s like you have whiplash,” she explained. I’ve never had whiplash, but the term seemed to fit perfectly to explain what hurt. “You need to stay awake if you go home. I’m going to call you every hour to make sure you are awake since you’re refusing medical attention.”
“You don’t have to do that. I'm really fine,'' I said, feeling embarrassed and ridiculous for keeping a police officer busy this long over a headache and sore side. Nothing was broken.
“Well I can’t make you get medical attention if you refuse, but …. “
“Refuse?” Am I refusing?” That word sounded like I was being difficult, and I hadn’t realized it. I looked at her intently. “Tell me the truth, would it give you peace of mind if I got an ambulance to check? Will that make you not worry that I’m going to go home and die on my couch?”
She stopped herseful from smiling. She nodded yes.
“Okay then, call the ambulance,” I said.
Since all the streets were closed, it took awhile for DC Fire and EMT to get around all the pedestrians so we talked. I could hear the siren in the distance.
I told her I was sorry she had to work on Easter. “Did you get this morning off? Or is your shift ending soon?” I asked.
“Nah,” she said. “I got here at 6:30 this morning and I’ll leave around 7 tonight. Easter just snuck up on us this year, didn’t it? It’s usually late March or late April it seems. I agreed to do overtime yesterday and then it was Easter.”
“You worked all week and then you’re working the weekend and straight through again?” I asked.
I’d done shift work for much of my career in journalism - weekends, holidays - so I knew the hardest part was when it gets looped around so you do 12 days in a row. But she said she’ll be fine.
“I watched church on TV today, I know it doesn’t count,” I told her, out of nowhere, like a confession.
“It counts!” she exclaimed. “That’s how everyone's going to church now.”
“It doesn’t count! It doesn't! And I could’ve gone in person. There are plenty of churches open now,” I insisted.
She has probably heard attempted murderers give less impassioned confessions.
“But my church in Houston had a great sermon,” I said, somewhat relieved to have a good reason for skipping in-person worship.
I looked around again. “I can’t believe all these people,” I said. “It’s like pre pandemic but with masks.”
“We weren’t expecting all this on Easter. We thought people would stay home but they all are looking at the cherry blossoms again,” she said.
She looked down on the sidewalk. “You really shouldn’t have earphones on when you’re crossing a street,” she said.
“I didn’t look at the light at all,” I said, getting to the real confession that had been bothering me since she kept saying that I missed the light. “It didn’t matter if it had been red or green. I just didn’t look up or care if people were standing on the sides.”
She listened as I kept over sharing. “I’ve been running on the Mall during the pandemic and no one is ever here. And there’s never traffic. So I’ve just been crossing wherever I want. It’s really just been like a free-for-all for runners down here. But I guess we’re back to normal now. And I have to stop at the lights again.”
Relieved of my guilt for causing this whole drama, I asked her name.
“Roselyn,” she said. I felt special that she used her first name with me.
“Are you Capitol Police?” I asked. I hadn’t looked at her badge or closely at the uniform or I would’ve known, but she didn’t say that.
“Park Police,” she said. I asked how long she had been on the force and why she joined. She told me about her career. We talked about the riots in the summer and the Capitol and how the last year has changed the public views law enforcement agencies in DC. We talked about the horrifying event on Friday in which a Capitol Police officer was killed.
“They just can’t catch a break,” she said, sadly. We both looked toward the Capitol end of the mall, though it wasn’t in sight. “Every day, you just never know what will happen.”
“Well for you, you really don’t know,” I said. “You come out here and some man drives into you and comes at you with a knife. Your family lives with that every day. Everyone in law enforcement.”
“Oh no, it’s not just us, it’s everyone,” she said, humbly . “It could be going to the grocery store in Colorado. Just walking down the street and you get hit, like you.”
I was still embarrassed to be included in that list after getting hit by a scooter so I looked away, back to the intersection. Then I remembered what I was thinking about right before I got hit.
I was trying to look at the day through “Easter eyes'' -- which I had heard in the morning sermon. The Rev. Russell Levenson of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church preached on God’s will for us to have life and also “spiritual life.” He explained that it was there, but we didn’t see it unless we chose to look for it.
“Our story speaks of those who consciously choose to embrace Christ and live out His commandments will be given a deeper and more full life. They will be given a life of joy and purpose and direction,” he said (full sermon here.)
Russ then described what spiritual life looks like for those who can see it. “Kindness and joy and peace and charity and service and love. We see that in the lives of others. We recognize that as a deeper, more meaningful life, maybe we crave that. These are signs of spiritual life.”
This hit me. I constantly crave a deeper and more meaningful life. I question everything I do, say, think and feel. I try to see more clearly so I can use logic to explain my behavior and improve.
So when Russ spoke of this “spiritual life” that is all around that gives us purpose and direction, I knew I was missing it. I took notes on how Russ said to recognize it.
“If we let Him -- Jesus gives us Easter eyes,” said my pastor. “So everywhere we look, we see life all around us, even when life comes to an end.”
A couple hours later, as I walked around the Tidal Basin, taking pictures of the cherry blossoms, I asked God to show me something I had never seen before with my new Easter eyes.
Then I got hit by a scooter -- that I never saw -- and knocked to the ground.
Still sitting on the curb on the Mall, I turned back and used my Easter eyes to see Sgt. Roselyn Norment.
“Kindness and joy and peace and charity and service and love. We see that in the lives of others.”
This officer had gotten me up off the ground and insisted on helping me, a charitable act far beyond her duties. And Sgt. Norment serves all of us who visit the parks - protecting us, defending the monuments and the property, showing kindness to visitors.
This is the spiritual life I would have missed if I had snuck away from her or pretended to have a ride home.
The ambulance arrived with blaring the lights and sirens and the crowds formed again, looking to see what was wrong with me. I put my running cap back on and had a mask tucked into my running tights to cover my face.
The EMTs took me to the back. They checked me out, took my vitals and gave me ice packs for my headache and neck. They asked if I wanted to go to the hospital for a CT, which I declined. They were both kind and told me to call later if anything changed.
The EMTs walked me back to Sgt. Norment for the details to add to her report. I felt badly again that, by taking care of me, I had created more paperwork for her.
She gestured to a second police car parked behind hers. “I’ve got you a chauffeur and a ride home,” she said, smiling. A young officer had arrived on the scene. Now there were two marked cars and an ambulance with lights flashing, so a crowd had formed.
A little boy in a blue surgical mask and glasses ran to Officer Mastrianni.
“He just wants to say hi to you,” his father said.
The officer bent down and gave the boy a high five, which made him jump a little in joy. They took a photo. The officer pointed to the boy’s “Chevrolet” t-shirt and said, “I drive a Chevy too.”
Another younger boy had yelled, “Policeman!” We all looked in his direction, and the child turned around in his stroller and gave a thumbs up to the Officer Mastrianni. We all laughed and gave a thumbs up back at him. The parents looked happy.
My head and jaw were still hurting a lot and now my whole right side was getting sore. I was ready to go home, and I was glad for the ride.
I thanked Roselyn and shook her hand. She told me she would call me later — which she did — and said to call for help if any of my symptoms worsened.
I was still too out of sorts to realize I was riding in the front seat of a police car, something i’ve never done before. Officer Mastrianni had to drive carefully to avoid people walking and running into the streets, just like I had just done. We talked about DC coming back to normal, the crowds, how fast the scooters go (he estimated 12-15mph) and the protests in the city over the last year.
The officer pulled up in front of my building. There were lots of people outside coming and going. “They are going to think you got arrested in DC,” he joked. I had forgotten I was riding in a police car. I put my mask on and pulled my hat lower.
I thanked him for the kindness and the ride home.
“Just take care of yourself,” he said.
I saw the officer with my new Easter eyes.
“Kindness and joy and peace and charity and service and love. We see that in the lives of others.”
The spiritual life is so much more beautiful than the earthly one.
UPDATE: After I wrote and posted this story, I found out that Sgt. Normant is the U.S. Park Police Public Information Officer and handles all media inquires. I talked to her, and she was just as surprised to find out that I’m a journalist. To quote Albert Einstein, “Coincidence is God's way of remaining anonymous.”
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