I've said before that I served as a police officer for a number of years in a small city in western Virginia. One evening, while on patrol, I observed a car swerving in the road and, like I had done on many previous occasions, pulled the car over on suspicion of impaired driving. I walked up to the driver-side window and immediately encountered a glassy-eyed, disheveled, middle-aged man who looked as if he were ready to pass out at any moment. His head was swaying from side to side, and as he turned to face me, the most pungent odor of alcohol I had ever smelled hit me square in the nose. I knew conclusively I had stumbled upon a DUI, but, as any good police officer will tell you, I still had to go through the process of gathering all of the evidence for my eventual court case.
The first piece of evidence in any DUI investigation is the perpetrator's own on-scene testimony, so I proceeded to ask the standard question: "Sir, how much have you had to drink this evening?" Now, anyone who has spent even a day in law enforcement knows that the typical answer to this question is, "Officer, I've had two or three beers." Even if the person has had 20 beers, six cases of liquor, and five shots, he still answers, "Two or three beers." I guess drunks think the police are idiots and that an admission of two or three beers will suffice to explain the smell of alcohol and will get them an awe-shucks pat on the arm and a "Have a good evening, sir, and drive safely!" response. Of course, it never does.
However, in this case, the typical answer was not given. In fact, the glassy-eyed, head-swaying, unkempt man shocked me with his candor. He responded, "Officer, I'll be honest. I'm tore up from the floor up!" I'm sure I stood there stunned for a few seconds, and I'm almost certain that I had to contain a belly laugh. His words were as ironically poetic in rhyme, meter, and honesty as they were shockingly hilarious. If only we would've worn body cams and personal recording devices in those days This would have surely been a viral video! And even more so when I asked him to get out of the car. He couldn't stand without assistance. Consequently, the arrest was quick, though somewhat cumbersome. It's pretty difficult to get a 6 foot, 200 lb invalid in the back of a small patrol car.
When the court day came and the judge asked me if the defendant had admitted his guilt on the evening of the incident, I said, "Yes, sir, he said that he was 'tore up from the floor up'," to which the judge responded, "Well, I guess that solves it." He rapped his gavel, and it was all over.
Sure this story is funny, and I love to get laughs with it whenever I can. Nevertheless, it has a serious moral lesson for me as well, and it's probably not what you expect. This drunken man taught me something rather important that evening. Most people lie when they get "in a pinch." Think about the last time your boss found out that you "fudged" the numbers on a report, or think about the time you broke your wife's favorite china bowl or the time you came home later than you should have. Maybe you owned up to your failures, but I suspect that at some point in your life, when presented with "the pinch," you lied or you at least tried to twist the truth to such an extent that you were (in your mind anyway) exonerated. Admittedly, I've "shaded the truth" in the past. We are all tempted by and sometimes fall prey to the temptation to lie. But on one particular evening on a dark road in a small Virginia city, a drunk man looked me in the eyes and told the truth. He had a lot to lose and was facing a hefty criminal charge, but he still chose to do the right thing and demonstrate honesty. He did a lot of things wrong that evening, but he did one thing right--he wasn't a complete failure.
I wish I could remember the man's name, and, more importantly, I wish I could talk to him today. If I could, I would tell him, "Thank you!" I would thank him for showing me victory amidst failure and strength amidst weakness. I would thank him for being real. And I would shake his hand and say, "I respect you because, you know what, in so many ways, I'm tore up from the floor up, too!"