It comes as no surprise, I'm sure, to learn that police, investigators, and emergency personnel all routinely encounter a sort of darkness that most of get through our day just fine without. It's the kind of darkness that people wear close to their skin or wrap around their heart, that never sees the light of day. Police, investigators, and emergency personnel don't work in the light of day. (Metaphorically.)
You can reign in your crazy fantasies here, too. I'm not even talking about serial killers and shotgun murderers, child rapists, or people with the kind of secret sexual lifestyle that inspires television crime drama. That stuff is there, and it's plenty dark. It can also be a bit of distraction. There's plenty of other darkness. There's the man who knows his smoking is killing him, and just sort of hopes every trip to the emergency room might be his last one. There's the lady whose Alzheimer's is so advanced that she can't stop shoplifting and only giggles like a two year-old when she's caught. There's the guy who always wondered what it would be like to smoke marijuana and happened to smoke some pretty foul grass on a foggy, icy night when he was already tired, and no one knows if it helped him into the lake or not; they just know he ended up in the lake. There's the girl who is so bored and discontent with her life that she wanders through the park, daydreaming with her eyes closed, not paying attention to where she's walking or who else is around her. That's all darkness, too.
What makes makes darkness a challenge for people like police, investigators, and emergency personnel is that there is in, in the end, nothing they can do about it. Whatever they do, it's too late to stop the something from happening. Perhaps they can stop it from happening again, but they are are the mop up crew for society's spiritual and moral waste water. Once it's spilled, you can clean it up, but that doesn't undo the spill, not really.
Not only that, but normal human coping mechanisms are not options for these folks. Laws, codes of conduct, oaths of service... These things bind such personnel. The darkness they encounter, they cannot talk about. They can't go fishing with a buddy and talk about it, even if someone wanted to hear it, even if someone could stand to hear it.
So what do they do?
They drink, a lot.
They tell cynical, tasteless jokes. A lot.
Sometimes they stretch the boundaries of their oaths, and they talk to one another. Sometimes they violate their codes, and they just go ahead and talk to their wives or their friends. Sometimes they find a counselor who is qualified, willing, and distanced enough to sit back and listen and is bound by an oath of her own.
That's probably the healthiest option, but it's not always as easy as it sounds to find such a person, let alone to feel the kind of trust necessary to expose them to the private darkness the cop is carrying around.
Most often, cops wear the darkness like a sheath over the badge. It's a sign of toughness. It's a sign of pride. It's a sign of shared, gasping futility. It's a way of saying, "I take this crap into my head so that you never have to, and nothing you can ever do will thank me enough for that."
We've been talking recently in my anthropology class about cognition and perception, about meaning and expression. The world that you know is shaped by meanings that you have internalized. Those meanings develop (in part) as the world passes through your perception (seeing it) and then your conception (organizing it, making sense of it). It's one thing to know that the darkness is out there. It changes your whole world when you come face to face with the darkness. It breaks your world when you have no way to organize and make sense of it.