A black elastic band is all it is; a two inch strip of material sewn into a circle. I keep it in my top dresser drawer next to my police chaplain’s ID. All police officers and firefighters have them. In May, designated as National Police and Firefighter month, the elastic band is stretched over the pocket badge in memory of and in tribute to police officers and firefighters who have fallen in the line of duty. During that month, memorial services and ceremonies serve as reminders of the dangers. The black band is also warn in the immediate aftermath of a line of duty death. Police and Fire Chiefs order their troops to put them on their badges as a sign of respect and solidarity.
Early Monday afternoon, St. Louis County Police Chief, Jerry Lee, issued the order that the memorial ribbons were to be warn in honor of fallen Maplewood firefighter, Ryan Hummert. Less than thirty minutes after the order had been given, I saw dozens of badges with black bands at the scene in Maplewood. My ribbon was back in my top dresser drawer. I wondered if someone was passing them out to all of the officers working in the crime scene. One officer informed me that he always kept his memorial ribbon close.
In that instant, those black elastic bands put everything into perspective. The cliché was proven true: Every day, when firefighters and police officers report to work, there is the real possibility that they may not return home to their families, friends, and loved ones. They know this better than anyone. Take a moment and reflect on what it would be like to work an occupation where your colleagues always carry a memorial symbol which might be used in tribute to you.
Thank you for your service, Ryan Hummert. Rest in Peace. May God comfort your family and colleagues.
(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)
Mark Shook is Rabbi Emeritus at Temple Israel.