|Tower of London Armour Collection-Photo by Tom Hendrickson|
Modern Day Chivalry
Early in my career as a police officer, on one beautiful June or July night, I was on a routine patrol in a police squad car with my partner. We were cruising with the headlights off looking for a burglar who may have been working in our district. The car windows were open, and we were enjoying the fresh evening air while we patrolled.
Suddenly, I heard a woman screaming and shrieking. I said to my partner, “Eddie, shut off the engine”. While sitting in the silence we waited to hear more. After a few moments we could determine that the screams were coming from just a little distance ahead of where we were and off to the right. Eddie moved the squad car forward and thru the houses until I could see a light on from a second-floor window. We got out of the squad and ran between some houses through a yard and arrived at the house with the light on.
The screams were continuing, so as we approached the house we drew our guns, and began checking the surrounding area. I looked up to the window with a light on I observed a large naked woman with her arms flailing above her head, screaming “save me, help me somebody”. Eddie, my partner, said to me “kid, here’s your chance to save a damsel in distress”.
As we inched closer to the house, I saw a movement out of the corner of my eye, and I turned my flashlight to see the object. A small girl, about five or six years old, opened the door and stepped outside. She was wearing a white nightgown and holding a blanket and calmly pointed inside the house and said, “she’s upstairs”.
My partner and I entered the house cautiously, I with my gun in hand. I then ran up the stairs and searched until I came to the lit bedroom. I looked thru the doorway and observed the large naked woman standing on the bed. When she saw me, she yelled “help me Officer” and then she pointed toward the floor.
I looked at the floor and saw two aquariums tipped on their sides with the lids lying next to them. I could see a snake coiled up under a small piece of furniture and a small white mouse scurried past me. Realizing that there was no human threat, I put my gun back in the holster.
I again looked at the large naked woman standing on the bed and before I could react or ask a question she said, “catch me” and she jumped off the bed. As I was not prepared, she and I toppled onto the floor with her on top of me.
Eddie helped the woman up, found a bathrobe for her to put on and lead her down the stairs to safety. I was left on the floor with a snake somewhere in the room.
As I got to my feet, the little girl suddenly appeared and, asked me if I could help put the aquariums back on their stand. As I did that, she had retrieved the snake and put him back in his home. She continued searching for the mice as I headed downstairs. Eddie had calmed the poor woman and we asked her what had happened. She said that she had just gotten out of the shower and was trying to put on her undergarment when she lost her balance and knocked over the stand that held the aquariums containing the snake and mice. They were her daughter’s pets, but she kept them in her room, and was deathly afraid of both.
Once she was calm, we readied to leave, and she thanked us for helping her. As we were walking back to our squad car, I saw the Patrol Supervisor standing next to the car. He asked what had happened. Eddie replied, “the kid saved the damsel in distress, but he didn’t shoot the dragon”. “Let’s go have coffee, and I’ll tell you all about it.”
That was my first attempt at rescuing a damsel in distress, but I can say it was not what I had in mind when I joined the police department, nor was it what I had expected based on the Walt Disney movies of Snow White or Sleeping Beauty that I had watched as a kid.
I would suspect that when you think of chivalry today your imagination conjures up the images of a knight in shining armor, slaying a fire breathing dragon to save a damsel in distress. Those images were never really the reality, but were a wonderful product of myths, fiction and fairy tales.
Chivalry evolved from a code of conduct that originated in western Europe in the 12th century. The code of conduct dealt with the steel, blood and mud of the knights and noblemen on the battlefield, where the qualities of honor, loyalty, courage, prowess, and generosity were demanded. It evolved over the next two hundred to three hundred years, by influence of Arthurian ideals and the church. The evolution of the chivalric code shows an increased effort to create a more well-rounded or ideal knight. This effort combined the qualities of being courageous in war, loyal to his noble, pleasant and courteous in his leisure, with knightly Christian values. Chivalry became to represent a code of behavior and ethics that all knights were expected to live by.
As a cop, it was my responsibility to enforce all the laws and ordinances. Some violations required me to follow the prescriptive police department rules and policies, however many violations did not. In those circumstances it was left up to officer discretion on how to apply the law. Enforcing the law under adverse conditions can sometimes require judgement like King Solomon in the bible. There were many times when I had to draw from my own personal morality that I had developed through my lifetime. I always felt I had a good moral base for making judgements as I had great parents, I had the Christian teachings I had learned as well as the lessons of Freemasonry to draw upon. I also had a chivalry ethos with slight adaptations to meet the modern age. I treated each person I met with respect and dignity as well as being courteous, and it helped me gained the trust and respect of the community, and of the criminals too.
While we do not fight battles in the same manner as the knights when chivalry was evolving, no horse, no shining armor, and no swords, chivalry is more important than ever in the 21st century and especially given the Pandemic the world is experiencing today. Our country is experiencing a situation where there are no code books or hard and fast polices to follow. Many individuals are having to make moral judgements with no prior experience to guide them.
But back to my experience as a street cop. After the aquarium experience, the following Spring I moved from patrol car to being assigned to walk a beat. The community I was assigned had numerous issues: high crime, high chemical dependency, abandoned homes and boarded up businesses. There was a large park with a field of empty booze bottles and a playground littered with broken glass.
The residents were racially diverse and lived-in high-density housing with concentrated poverty. There were also a lot of families who were working poor and their daily worries were about economic survival as well as their physical survival.
A policeman walking a beat is a return to old fashioned policing. The shift is spent walking the same neighborhood everyday rain or shine. This allows you to know every citizen, some not so law abiding. This process creates a close relationship, where the cop becomes part of the neighborhood and the community, and the cop becomes affectionately known as “our cop”.
You must have the strength, skill, and stamina to not just walk the beat for eight hours, but for running and apprehending criminal suspects or handling emergencies multiple times a day. I have always considered my time on the beat as challenging, but one of the most rewarding experiences of my career.
In the mornings I would stand at the bus stop where the school children would gather while waiting for the bus to arrive. There were many bus stops in my assigned beat, but this one was one of the more hazardous. The sidewalk was littered with needles from drug addicts, empty baggies that no longer contained drugs and empty bottles of alcohol left from the night before. Gang members and drug sellers frequented the area to make early morning sales to people going to work.
One morning, one of the children called me Mr. Knight. I replied that name was Tom. He said, “my mama says that you’re our Blue Knight cuz you make sure we’re safe”. Another child chimed in and asked “Tom, where’s your horse?” I replied, “He’s over there” and I pointed to my squad car parked down the street.
As I was briefing my commander at the end of the week, I mentioned my activities and I told him about being called a knight. After I finished, he chucked and said, “Tom, the kids are right. Do you know why all cops in the America wear their badges or shields on the left side of their uniform? It’s because the knight would carry his shield with his left hand, and his sword in his right hand.”
Another item I carried as a cop was a large blue bandana. While not standard issue, it became something that I ended up purchasing by the dozen. At first, I intended it to use it to wipe the sweat from my face or to wipe my glasses off in the rain. However, I found a multitude of uses for a blue bandana. I would give it to a woman who was crying after a domestic assault or a woman sitting on a bus bench who was crying and distraught for not having enough money to buy food and pay the rent. I would use it to stop the bleeding of a victim until my back up squad could arrive or the ambulance. Once, one was used to hold a wedding bouquet together for a couple to be married in the park. Who knew a blue bandana had so many uses?
But the blue bandana is less important to the story than the action it symbolized. To offer something of comfort in a moment of despair, to offer something freely when someone is most vulnerable, to offer that person the experience that they are seen along with a sense of dignity, those are actions that I believe we need more of today. To recognize all human beings, especially during dark circumstances, I believe this is all chivalry, just not the fairy tale version.
As a cop, in most situations, you attend to the matter or incident at hand, but never know how things ended up for the individual. But every once and awhile I would get a small package in the mail at the police station, and inside would be that blue bandana neatly folded with a note of gratitude or thanks. Those notes were exceptionally valuable to me as an officer.
I use these stories to show that chivalry is a mindset that we embody. Today, there is not the fairy tale version of the damsel in distress, no horse or sword, but the mindset is always applicable. I had Grandmothers and a mother that were strong in many ways, but they were models of compassion and understanding. I never had the opinion that women were the weaker sex, but everyone, male or female can value chivalry.
I believe that chivalry and the values it represents are very much alive in this era of gender equality, but chivalry has evolved to a mindset that everyone can act on.
I took up long distance running while I was a cop. I suffered an injury while running and I was hobbling and walking with a cane for some time. I was using public transportation to commute to work. One day, I hobbled quickly to catch a train before it left the platform. Once I boarded, I noticed that all the seats were taken, and people were standing in the isle. The train was very full. As I stood there a woman sitting in front of me stood up. As she stood up, I noted she was very pregnant. She then offered me her seat. I told her that I could not take her seat because of her condition. She smiled and said, “I think you need it more than I do, don’t worry I’m pretty fit”. I took the seat with thanks. I realized during the ride, that she was right, it was not about gender or condition, but about human kindness and courtesy. I greatly appreciated her gesture. Holding an umbrella over someone while stopped at pedestrian crossing during a heavy rain storm is not a matter or strength, gender equality, although maybe some extra height helps. It is about courtesy, compassion, understanding, helping those that cannot help themselves at that moment in time.
On a cool summer Friday evening in Aurora, Colorado, four hundred people gathered at a movie theater to see the summer blockbuster “The Dark Knight Rises”. About thirty minutes into the movie a lone gunman wearing a gas mask and tactical equipment entered the movie auditorium through a side door. He detonated multiple gas canisters containing gas or smoke before firing seventy-six rounds into the movie goers resulting in twelve deaths and fifty-eight wounded.
Four men died after pushing down their girlfriends to the floor and used their body to shield them from the bullets. One father died while he shielded his two teen age daughters. All the women survived.
There were many other acts of bravery committed by ordinary people that night. Some carried wounded strangers to safety, some performed CPR, some provided comfort to the mortally wounded, and a woman took off her belt, and fashioned it into a tourniquet and applied it to the leg of a man who was bleeding profusely and screaming in pain.
I would argue that the actions by these ordinary people were not only chivalrous but also heroic.
They found the courage to help other people in a time of great need. They did so, with total disregard to their own safety in a very hazardous environment when they could have escaped the shooting and bloodshed. Some stayed and defended someone else, and willing sacrificed their lives in order that someone else may live.
Reporters interviewed some of these courageous people and asked them why they stayed and helped. Many said that they saw other people helping the wounded and thought that they should help too. Courage can be contagious. You might be surprised how many will offer to help or commit their own act of bravery if they observe someone else doing similar acts.
As Sir Knights we practice moral chivalry. We are concerned about the principles of right and wrong, and we hold ourselves to a high standard of proper conduct. Our moral code calls us to ever be ready to defend the weak, the helpless, the innocent and oppressed.
Chivalry is not dead, it has just evolved, or perhaps been modified to fit our lives today. As a society everyone can be part of the evolution to carry on good works. If we all have the spirit of chivalry and apply it to our daily lives, to have the courage to take action when the time and circumstance presents itself, we can all live the ideals of chivalry every day, and the world would be a better place.
This article appears in the November 2020 Knights Templar Magazine