TIME DOES funny things to men and memory. It creates cracks in the pavement and lines under eyes; it grays the strands of our hair and softens what were once the sharp edges of our minds. Time steals and robs and carries away grief and pain; it settles and soothes and makes us sit up and ask, "Why?" or forget to ask altogether.
Thirty years ago, a young policeman lost his life on a Philadelphia sidewalk. At 3:52 a.m. on Dec. 9, 1981, the message was loud, brutal and jarring - a violent slap in the face to the city. The citizens of this city woke up to another bad day, which then turned into another bad 30 years.
Thirty years is a long time. Perspective starts to change; it can't help but change. Any act loses its immediacy after 30 years - no matter how horrible it was. So, three decades removed from the events of Dec. 9, 1981, where are we?
Daniel Faulkner is long gone. There is a plaque in the ground where he fell, commemorating his service and calling attention to all who pass by, though it's hard to grab the attention of people whose ears are filled with buds and whose thumbs are busily iPhone-ing and BlackBerry-ing. There is a scantly visited tombstone in a cemetery in Broomall. There is a widow still trying to put the pieces of her life back together, still working tirelessly to uphold the memory of her husband with whom she never had the chance to have children, or very many anniversaries, or laughs, or memories. And there is a convicted cop-killer in jail, where he belongs. This is where we are.
I used to think that justice for Daniel Faulkner meant that his murderer would be escorted into a chamber, strapped to a gurney to face a state-mandated execution. I don't necessarily believe that anymore. Maybe justice for Daniel Faulkner has nothing at all to do with the man convicted of taking his life. Maybe justice for Daniel Faulkner doesn't have anything to do with courts or important-looking men who wear black robes, or with speeches or books or websites or talking heads or bleeding hearts. Maybe it's not about slogans or T-shirts or processions or buttons or pins.
Maybe it has to do with us.
Maybe if we do something quiet, and personal, and true, we can create justice for Daniel Faulkner. Maybe all of us, taking a moment today to pause, to stop what we are doing, and spend a moment - just one little moment - to spare a thought for Daniel Faulkner can honor his memory in a better way.
Maybe if we take a minute to remember that, in 1976, a young man decided to pin a badge to a polyester jacket and become a cop, we can honor his strength and his memory. He could have done something else with his life, maybe something less dangerous - something that paid better, for sure - something with better hours and less aggravation. But he didn't. And as he stood there, looking smart and handsome in his dress uniform and as he raised his white-gloved hand to swear his oath to this Police Department and this city, maybe if we remember that this act of selflessness sealed his fate. Maybe if we can take a moment to be grateful for his five years of service, we can say that we did our job, 30 years later, because he certainly did his.