Over the last couple of years, while working on a grant project in our community that aims to reduce alcohol related crashes among our young people, I've met a lot of good cops. No offense to any of them, but I've met none better than Sergeant Scott Menzies of the Ashland Police Department. From the very first conversation I had with Scott, it became clear to me this was a man committed to keeping my family and the Ashland community safe, especially when it came to protecting us from a senseless tragedy like those that occur at the hands of drunk drivers.
Several months ago I was headed out of our neighborhood as Sgt. Menzies was pulling in. I really didn't have anything specific to talk to him about, but for some reason I drove up to the next road and turned around and went back, hoping to catch him for a few minutes of conversation. He's just one of those guys you know has the potential to make your day, even if it's with just a couple seconds of small talk. This day, I hit the jackpot.
Fortunately, Sgt. Menzies was taking care of business with one of my neighbors, so I didn't have to stalk him on another street and look like a, well, a stalker. I pulled into my own driveway and waited on him to finish. When he did, I went to greet him. What ensued was the most wonderful conversation I've ever had with the man, and one that will ironically keep my heart sad for some time to come.
Sgt. Menzies first told me about a grant his department had secured that allowed them to purchase a go-cart that would simulate the effects of an impaired driver. Scott had worked hard on securing this grant for the department and was clearly excited about the impact it would have on making our community safer.
To read the Richmond Times Dispatch article about the grant and Scott's role in it, click the picture below:
Ashland police Sgt. Scott Menzies demonstrates the department’s new go-kart that can simulate the effects of drunken driving. He is trailed by officer Chip Watts, who is operating a safety remote.
When we finished talking about the grant, we began talking about our families. I didn't know much about Scott's family before that day. I knew a lot after. I found out he had a wife and three young kids, all of them about the age of our boys. He talked about how much they loved doing things together outdoors: camping trips, hikes, bicycling. I told him about my wife Katie's "GOING" outings, where she organized events to get local families to spend time together outdoors. He got excited about being a part of one of the upcoming adventures.
I gained an added layer of appreciation for Sgt. Menzies that day. It became clear to me protecting my family was so important to him because of just how much he loved his.
Sgt. Menzies' family is smaller today than it was that day. His wife, Meg Menzies, was hit by an alleged drunk driver this week while jogging, and died shortly thereafter. All of those outings he glowed about will never be the same.
I went to the funeral home this past week to pay my respects to Sgt. Menzies and his family. When visitors walked into the area where the family was gathered they were greeted by a beautiful picture of the Menzies family. Five beautiful faces lying in a circle on the ground. Each one of their infectious smiles looking up at the camera. Five faces. One family. The way that family was supposed to be.
When I left the funeral home I sat in my truck for a minute and thought of the destructiveness of it all. I thought of how it would feel if my wife was suddenly stolen from our boys, and from me. I reflected on a conversation I had with a friend over Christmas who asked me if I ever got mad at God; was it even OK to get mad at God. I said yes to both.
I've discovered it's pretty easy to give someone else permission to get mad at God when you believe the occasion for you to do so just isn't going to happen, or at least not anytime soon. But as I thought about the Menzies family picture, of the missing face, of the smiles that had been wiped away by waves of sadness and longing, I got mad. I got incredibly mad at God. This was a tragedy that was completely avoidable. Maybe we couldn't beat the incredibly long odds that the paths of a jogger and a drunk driver would cross at just the precise second on just the precise square foot of pavement on an earth filled with hours and space, but God could have. So why didn't he?
One of the beautiful things that has come out of Meg Menzies' sudden death has been the outpouring of love from the community: The Ashland community, the running community, the community of people who are a part of a strong family and can so easily feel the hurt of this one suddenly broken. Today, many of these folks gathered together to run. It was one of Meg Menzies' passions. So I strapped on my tennis shoes and took out on my own run. Partly in support of Meg and Scott and their families. Largely just to think, to deal with my anger.
I've never seen so many runners in Ashland. And this town is FULL of them. Many of them were wearing their Megsmiles banners and signs and t-shirts. All of them waved and said good morning. There was an uncommon spirit of good will in the cold and crisp air.
Out among so many runners, my mind was led to a letter in the bible that Paul wrote to the Corinthians. In it (1 Corinthians 9:25-26), he says, "Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air."
As I've read so many stories from people who knew Meg Menzies well - and I did not - it's become clear to me that she trained for the race of life much like she did for the countless and presitgious running events she participated in, including the Boston Marathon. Meg seemed to understand that although the medals and trophies she received for running were nice, they were perishable. But it's clear to me she drew great strength from her race training and poured it into her children's sunday school classes and other classrooms she taught in. It's clear she was equally determined to treat every person she encountered with love. (Countless people have called her the nicest person they ever met) It's clear she loved being a mother and a wife. It's clear Meg Menzies' eyes were on the ultimate and imperishable prize. One she rightly earned. One she is celebrating today.
By the time I finished my run today, I wasn't much more clear as to why God would take a family's angel before they were ready for her to leave. But one thing was crystal clear. I know what God has done with his newest angel.
Soon after she arrived, God said, Meg, there's a couple of people trying to put together a memorial run for you this Saturday. They have the best of intentions, but they're thinking too small. I want you to coordinate this one. Make it something special.
Well God, I want to tell you, your new angel did good. The number of runners who officially signed up to run in her honor today was at last count over 80,000. Many are agreeing to financially support Scott and his family. Many of them have shared stories about how Meg loved you and shared your love with everyone she came in contact with. The truth is, you're seeing the work of an angel who has been training to be one for as long as many people can remember.
But I guess you knew that - didn't you. You've seen it. And I guess it's quite possible today was an assignment only one angel was capable of pulling off.
Maybe this running community knows some things us non or occasional runners don't. Maybe a long run doesn't always help you get over your anger, but it can certainly bring about some better understanding.
My heart hurts for Sgt. Menzies. He's a good man. I have no doubt he's in the right community of family and friends to walk him and his children through the painful days and years ahead. And where we can't, I have a feeling he's been assigned the perfect angel.