On Monday morning I woke to find a number of posts on my Facebook feed regarding a police officer based in my home town. He had passed away the previous day suddenly, aged 52.
The few posts I first saw quickly turned into post after post, tribute pages were set up, donation sites linked, talk of a memorial walk started and were soon confirmed. The volume and strength of feeling was immense.
You may think that there were so many comments because he was a police officer and was know for catching lots of criminals, breaking massive drug rings or saving lots of lives but that wasn't really the case. He had indeed won an award for rescuing an old lady from a house fire, but even this wasn't really mentioned. Maybe people were just jumping on the grief bandwagon, the latest cause to be a part of, but that wan't true either.
No, he was being honoured and remembered and loved because he smiled. He smiled at everyone, from every background, every age, his oldest friends to complete strangers. He was a community police officer, "a bobby on the beat" and he was as much a part of the town as the buildings around him. He would chat to everyone, always engaging and interested, no-one beneath him. He took time to listen to people's concerns, he made sure that children knew him and trusted him as someone to talk to, be protected by.
The fact that he often had to deal with angry, aggressive people never stopped him from treating people with respect, I read that when he was arresting someone he made sure to agree to personally delivery the present that this man had on him to the intended recipient, that was the sort of person he was.
People seem to fear death, it's finality, the possibility of things being left unsaid, of not making your mark on the world.
Just by going about his daily business he made a mark on hundreds and hundreds of people. It wasn't that it was because of his job, or even in spite of his job. Just because it was so intrinsically part of him, he lived his life without even realising the impact he had.
There are very few people in my life that I truly revere, perhaps a few individuals who have battled trauma or illness and have survived, become better people. I revere him, not for his rescue or his job, but for the man he was.
The man who smiled at everyone, chatted to anyone, made time for people.
The walk is on Saturday and I won't be able to make it. But as my tribute to him I will make sure that I smile and chat to a stranger every day. I have no idea of people's stories, of what they are dealing with but neither did he. His smile and words helped so many people, maybe for that brief moment in time, maybe for longer. The least I can do is to try and do the same.