To Be the Best Humans We Can Be

Tim Wilson - Paso Robles, California
As heard on The Bob Edwards Show, January 20, 2012
Tim Wilson

Policeman Tim Wilson knows the dangers of his job. That’s why he has a letter to his family sealed in an envelope in his locker at work. If something bad does happen to him, Wilson wants his kids to understand why it’s important to strive to be a better person.

Age Group: 30 - 50
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I believe that my actions define my beliefs, not my words.

I wrote a letter to my kids a few years ago. It’s three pages long, and it sums up what I’ve learned in four decades of life. My kids are too young to understand now, but by the time they reach adulthood, they will have heard most of the advice in that letter: live in the moment, do not attach yourself to physical things, treat others the way you would like to be treated, find happiness in the service of others, make the most out of today, follow your dreams, don’t take yourself too seriously, be aware that there are hypocrites and manipulators in the world, et cetera.

I sealed the letter in a plain white envelope, and wrote instructions not to open it unless something horrible happened to me. A “Marvin the Martian” magnet holds it to the side of my musty gray metal locker at work. It is surrounded by police uniforms, spare change, “tribute of mourning” ribbons for my badge (to honor fallen colleagues), pictures of my kids, The Far Side cartoons, poems, scraps of paper with handwritten notes, business cards, dust, and lint—remnants of almost twenty years of serving others.

As a police officer, I’ve seen life snuffed out or irrevocably changed in an instant. I realize that could happen to me at any time. Yet knowing that letter is there in my locker makes me more comfortable with my own mortality. If something does happen to me, my children will get that letter. In it, they will read about my love for them and about the advice that I want to pass on to them when they are old enough to understand it.

Every day, when I open my locker, I see the letter. It reminds me to be careful at work, and to show my children and the people I come into contact with that I truly understand and practice everything I’ve written. If that day comes and my children finally read the letter, I hope that because of my actions, they will take my written beliefs to heart and improve upon my example.

But for me, it’s not enough to write down my beliefs. I try to be the best person I can be every day—even in very difficult circumstances, even with offensive people. I’m more successful some days than others. I curse too much, sometimes I’m cynical, and I don’t go to church as often as I should. I also get depressed, yell at my kids occasionally, and sometimes I’m not as loving or as compassionate as I should be. In fact, I am far from perfect, but I hope my children will eventually realize that perfection is an illusion. What really matters is that, instead of just writing about our beliefs, we all take action to be the best humans we can be.

Sergeant Tim Wilson has been a member of the California Highway Patrol for twenty-three years. He is currently assigned to the San Luis Obispo CHP office. Sergeant Wilson enjoys photography and spending time with his wife and three children.