Lunch rooms have a cool kids' table.
Before school children can spell popularity, they understand. Cafeteria tables seat eight or ten or twelve people but not all tables are made equally. Long after digestion, motility and evacuation, the milieu of munching matters.
Where and with whom lunch is eaten is as important as what is eaten. Children understand, as adults and seniors understand, the difference between asking and being asked to sit with the cool kids. Asking to sit is an involuntary twitch. If you ask, you're probably not cool; being asked is a better bet. Navigating a cool kids' table can ruin your appetite.
If you're unaware of the satisfaction of sitting with cool kids, it's probably because you're cool. Police departments have cool kids.
Some of the cool kids want nothing to do with a chaplain. Others are polite, conversing smoothly. A few engage in discussions on the life of faith or mention a serious matter before requesting prayer. Sometimes a cool kid gets injured.
Injuries relegate officers to light duty: phone calls, emails, web searches and paperwork. Everyone enters the building together to start the shift. Light duty officers watch everyone leave in uniforms and vehicles before returning to a desk. Absorbing the ease with which friends walk past, on the way to work, can be difficult.
No one is mean or thoughtless but each person has a job to do. Cool cops offer "Hang in there" or "pulling for you" before hasty departures. Misfortune could visit any of them and gazing on clinical evidence of their job's risks can be uncomfortable. As the shift leaves, light duty officers are left behind to follow doctor's orders in plain clothes.
Light duty is fertile ground for ministry because people feel forgotten. Chaplains visit the light duty area regularly to check on injured officers. As trust is established, stories start flowing; getting folks talking seems to help. Days become weeks and healing slowly proceeds. Feeling heard can be good medicine and the more chaplains listen, the more cops talk.
"Watching people do the job without me is tough. Sitting on the sideline was more of a head game than I expected. Emotions, frustrations and the slow pace of accessing medical care is a bitter brew. Work stress impacts the home life."
A quick reminder of priest penitent privilege opens a therapeutic door for them to get things off their chests. Prayer, hot coffee and lunch on the chaplain help.
"Thanks for listening, chaplain."
Eventually they return to work but the time away often changes them. Rough edges are smoothed and light duty lessons enhance performance. They are often better officers because injuries remind that, "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit." (Psalm 34:18)
Until the Coolest Kid of All returns in glory, chaplains will cheer injured officers, in His name.