Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Never Be Mean

On a blue sky day, the first of autumn, I’ve just returned from a funeral honoring a man I did not know. The funeral was for my friend’s father. And despite my never having met the deceased, I feel like I learned a lot about him today. It seems he had a lot to teach.

Richard Miller, a police officer who served the City for 30 years and was a decorated war veteran, died at 81 with his family by his side. Listening to the stories that his son, Tony, told-- Richard Miller was definitely a man with a lot of wisdom, a lot of experience, and a lot of lessons to share-- assuming we’re all smart enough to listen.

As Tony eulogized his father, he spoke of certain tattoos that his dad had-- one with his own name, Richard, on his arm; another of a skull and crossbones on his hand. The latter tattoo was one he and his buddy got together when they were teenagers, 15 or 16, just before going off to fight in the war. Tony spoke of his father’s service-- as a veteran, as a police officer. And when Tony followed in his footsteps and decided to become an officer himself, he told us he asked his dad for advice. Richard Miller’s answer was simply, “Never be mean to people.”

When you think of a lifetime of public service, of having seen war abroad and hard times at home, of living through hate and change, and a million different forces colliding together, you expect that advice might be about how to be safe, how to stay safe. But Richard Miller’s advice was not about safety, it was about how to keep peace. And it was about how to help build a better world, one where ultimately we don’t have some of the dangers, the hatred, and the violence we now see so regularly.

Today I sat there in that funeral parlor, listening as Tony spoke about his father, and I kept thinking about that simple sentence of advice, “Never be mean to people.”

Judging by the stories today and the outpouring of love, I assume Richard Miller was a man who followed his own advice and was never mean to people. It was clear that he had a rich life filled with the admiration and respect of those who knew him.

But this is what I do know: so often the true mark of a man is not what he does, but what he encourages others to do. I did not know Richard Miller personally, but I do know his son, Tony. Whenever I think about all the terrible things that happen in this city-- about crime and violence and murders-- I think of Tony. I picture him working the case and it makes me feel better. I’ve never seen him lose his cool or change his voice, or be anything less than attentive. There’s a sense that he really cares, not because it’s his job, but because people matter to him. It seems to me that’s what a life of service really means-- not just fixing the problems, but listening to how they started, and helping the people involved. So while I don’t know the effect of Richard Miller’s actions on the rest of the world, I certainly see them in his son, and as a city, we’re lucky to have benefitted from their service.

Such a simple idea, Never be mean. But what a difference it could make. And as I sat there, I thought of all the other people who serve us daily, whom we also never get to meet. I might not get the chance to thank them all in person, but I can try to heed Richard Miller’s advice to his son all those years ago. Despite not knowing Richard Miller when I walked in today, I left feeling the loss of this man, and felt privileged to have experienced his impact.

Rest in peace.


Zed Naught said...

That is beautiful.
Can't wait to see Tony.

Natalie said...

I am Richard Millers granddaughter Natalie Miller Tonys daughter
,and thank you for writing that it was beautiful it made me cry.

Thomas Crone said...

Was just told of Tony's loss and of this piece. It is very nice, very well-stated.