Sunday’s Wisdom #394: Protecting Those We Care About

“What can be more important than protecting the people you care about?”
– Sonic, Sonic the Hedgehog

When Sonic says this, he is talking to a new friend of his, Tom Wachowski, and what he’s really asking is, what can be so important to a person that they choose to stop being there for the people they love, and who love them in return?

Tom is the sheriff of a small town where almost nothing happens. He spends his days looking after a very peaceful community, helping his friends and neighbors. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but he wants to do more, to serve more, to help more. He wants to be there for people in life or death emergencies and save them. So he’s moving to a big city, leaving behind almost everyone who knows and loves him.

Sonic takes issue with that, largely because he was forced out of his home. The only one who cared about him died in his defense. He was powerless to stop it. Thus, when he sees a man about to willingly leave so many people who love and rely on him – arguably the greatest treasure a man can have, and which Sonic has been forced to live without for some time – it upsets him a great deal. Sure, there’s a lot more people in the city, and those people need help, too, but they already have officers of their own. And they aren’t nearly the same close-knit family that Tom has in his small town.

From how I see the movie, that sense of genuine caring is actually what gives Tom his greatest strength and drive. I doubt he’d fit in so well with city cops, who almost always have a certain distance to maintain between them and the people they serve. It’s part of how they do their jobs, facing down the very worst filth of humanity as well as the worst tragedies that the world can offer. But they do have their own families, their own people that they care about, who are the reason they serve in such dangerous careers, to try and protect those closest to them by protecting as much of the world as they reach. That is why officers, firemen, soldiers, paramedics, and others do what they do, putting in the hours of very long shifts, sacrificing time with their loved ones in order to protect them.

What can truly compare to that as a priority?

The glory of fame, fortune, and wild success? The praise of a massive populace that doesn’t really know us? The biggest house and the newest car? Dignity? Desire? Ego? Anger? No, none of that, I think. And yet, how many people in the world walk away from the best thing in their lives for the sake of something less than?

Perhaps, though, this quote is ringing with me right now because of a recent experience of mine.

My nephew, a young man of great promise, made a big mistake. Then he compounded that mistake, and worse. I’ll spare the details, but suffice to say that I had several days to be angry and resentful before he came within arm’s reach of me again. At that moment… something simply broke within him. It broke open, like a chain coming apart, as he truly admitted to some of his problems, and wept for it.

Despite how angry as I was, all I felt was an absolute need to be there for him. Where my ego and temper would have driven me to shout a lecture at him, instead I found myself sitting next to him, putting my arm around him, and listening to him. Because he needed it. He does not open up his vulnerabilities to me, or any of us, very often, and I had to protect and support him in this moment when he finally did so.

Nothing else mattered. Not my ego. Not my righteous anger. Not even how much he needs to change, for his own sake. Just how much I loved him, and how much he needed to feel loved. I had to protect him. That mattered more than any of my ideals, which, we have seen far too many instances where ideals were taken too far, overriding everything compassionate and decent, forgetting the necessity of love.

It wasn’t pulling him out of a burning building, or striking down an enemy, or saving him from a life or death situation. But it was still protection. I protected him even from myself, from my anger. And perhaps I protected some part of him from self-destruction, from self-hatred.

What could possibly be more important than that?

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