It’s a pain that few can fully comprehend, but one that officer Gary Sommers re-lived on Sunday after news broke that off-duty officer Jacai Colson had been shot during a firefight near a police station. While the death of any officer is tragic, Colson’s case was especially so. The off-duty cop, who was wearing street clothes at the time, was shot by another officer who mistook him as one of the attackers. So when Sommers received a call asking him to get in touch with the officer that had fired the fatal shot, he didn’t hesitate.
You see, Sommers could understand the officer’s pain better than most. Twenty-seven years ago, while part of a special operations team conducting drug raids, he shot and killed his best friend and fellow squad member, Mark Murphy, after the latter veered into his line of fire. In doing so, he became one of sixty-five officers to mistakenly kill a fellow cop between 1987 and 2014.
Whether it’s crossfire, mistaken identities, or firearm mishaps, the accidental nature of the shooting is typically inconsequential to the officer who pulled the trigger. As police psychologist Michael Finegan describes, rather than what they knew at the time, these public defenders “judge their behavior on the knowledge they currently have . . . And when they do that, they experience profound remorse and blame themselves.”
In such situations, the only thing that often brings any semblance of eventual relief is talking about it with another officer who has been in the same position. So when Sommers reached out to the officer who had killed Colson, he did so knowing that, while it probably wouldn’t do much immediate good, it was important for them to meet. As Sommers reflected on their discussion with the Washington Post‘s Terrence McCoy, he said of the other cop, “He is a strong-willed, good officer. I think he’ll do well.” He then paused before adding, “I hope he will.”
Sometimes hope is all you have in such situations. Grief is a very personal emotion that everyone deals with in a unique way. While sharing how we have suffered something similar can help, we cannot heal another’s pain, and thinking we can will likely do more harm than good. Officer Sommers knows that better than most, which helps make him such a potentially effective counselor to others that have experienced a similar tragedy.
All of us have aspects of our past that make us uniquely equipped to help others who are going through something similar. As 2 Corinthians 1:4 makes clear, God “comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
A. B. Simpson echoes that truth in saying, “You will have no test of faith that will not fit you to be a blessing if you are obedient to the Lord. I never had a trial but when I got out of the deep river I found some poor pilgrim on the bank that I was able to help by that very experience.”
Jesus guaranteed that we would have trouble in this life (John 16:33). Sometimes that trouble is of our own making and sometimes it’s not. Either way, part of God’s redemption often involves helping us to use those experiences to help others that are stuck in a similar pain. That doesn’t mean we will bring about immediate healing or that simply hearing another’s story is a perfect salve. But God knows better than anyone, the hurting person included, what is needed for that individual to begin the path to recovery.
So pray and ask the Lord to help you remain attentive to the hurts of those he brings into your path today. This side of heaven we may never fully understand the healing potential of our past pain. But God does, and if he calls you to play a part in that plan, know that there is a reason for it.