Michael Bailey, an officer on the Chicago Police Department, was killed Sunday morning, July 18, 2010 shortly after finishing his shift guarding the home of Chicago’s Mayor, Richard M. Daley. He was in front of his house, wiping down his car, when three men in a vehicle pulled up to jack him. He identified himself as an officer. He was still in his uniform. Shots were exchanged. His son, grabbing one of his father’s guns from inside the house, ran to defend.
I’ve been in the house. I imagine his son making the steep descent down those stairs. There are about ten of them if memory works. I imagine him seeing Mr. Bailey’s eyes, his hand on the trigger, the men in the truck, the new car, Mr. Bailey’s retirement gift to himself.
Michael Bailey died that morning, somewhere between a windex bottle, the screams of his son, the flashing lights of an ambulance, and the good efforts of medical professionals whose work couldn’t convince his wounds. Mr. Bailey died the way many people he worked and lived to protect did. He was a powerful man.
He was funeralized in a great way last Friday, July 23, at St. Sabina, and since I figured people would be in the habit of moving on to the next news story, I wanted to type a short reflection. I appreciated with Jody Weis said, how Mayor Daley challenged the city to “Be not afraid” in a rather homeletical fashion, and how Father Mike brought it. I sat there, grateful because I knew Michael Bailey. He was a teacher to me for a short time. I was shocked that he was killed. I was shocked that he was dead. I am shocked.
I heard about his death on the way to my mother’s. My son was in the car. The boy is used to an auditory roundtable that includes the Santita Jackson show, Eight Forty-Eight or whatever’s on Chicago Public Radio, and the last segments of the TJMS show. I heard about Mr. Bailey on public radio. I waited–until we returned home, until I traded child-keeping places with mom, until I left to go to the office–to start dealing with death. At first I wouldn’t believe what I heard. I scanned the news stations on the car radio, even the AM ones my dad used to make us listen to in his old white Ford Econoline. I stopped a police officer across from Kenwood HS to ask whether what I heard was true.
“Officer,” I said, pulling over the Chevy truck, “can I ask you a question?” I was brief. I said I wasn’t sure if the Michael Bailey who was killed was the one I knew. “Did he live over near 75th?” I asked. “Over East.” For some reason his street name wouldn’t come to me. And for a while that bothered me just as much as not knowing and knowing and dealing with it all.
The officer nodded.
I asked another question as if I hadn’t seen her first answer–“how you know him?” she asked.
I was still hoping. He taught me a bit about aikido, I said.
The officer confirmed, “That was him. He was killed.”
I almost started to cry but my voice gave way instead.
She saw me surrender and her eyes just about apologized to me.
I thanked her and pulled off.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Mr. Bailey these last several days. I’ve thought about what I learned from him and how he made me a better person. He helped me see that five minutes was the same whether I stared at a clock or looked the other way. He taught me how to direct my energy, how to love, and how to break a wood board. He taught me how to meditate, how to immediately slow my breathing after running, and how to focus on one thing. He told me once that I could pray while washing the dishes, that I could smile while walking down the street, and that I didn’t have to grip the steering wheel while driving in order to make the car move in my desired direction. He told me to hold it gently.
He taught me other things. And I remember him every time I talk to Alan Frost about martial arts, fighting stances, and when I’ll resume my own training. I hate that he’s dead. I hate that I didn’t call him the last time me and Alan talked about how well aikido would defend against someone using techniques from, say, the seven star praying mantis form. I hate that I hadn’t seen him one last time, that I hadn’t seen his smile and heard the deep low tone that was his voice.
Is there anyone in your life like Mr. Bailey, someone who taught you something, someone who is worth remembering, someone whose efforts you want someone else to recall?
The next time I train, the next time I rush through washing the dishes, the next time I run and catch my breath, his instructions will be in my ears. After all, he was the one person who started me to thinking that my faith inside touched physical matters outside like breathing and loving, cleaning and fighting, and helping people sit down even if they pretended not to want to.
When I relaunch my training in aikido, I will remember how he showed me to breathe. I will judge whatever the new teacher says by what he told me first. I will remember him. I will remember that he loved people. He loved his block. He loved his family. I will remember that Mr. Bailey saw his work as an officer through the lens of compassion, informed by his interesting mix of Christianity and Buddhism. He once told me that his Buddhism helped him practice his Christian faith. I was studying theology at the time. It was an interesting thing to hear. I will remember him the next time I crack a heady book by Miroslav Volf or Howard Thurman or J. I. Packer. I will think of Mr. Bailey when I get angry and need a way to practice my faith of forgiveness.
I will try to smile the way he did, even if it’s only in my mind. I will remember him.
What about you? Offer a small act of remembrance by adding a comment naming the person you wish to remember.