Metro Nashville Police Officer Eric Mumaw drowned in the frigid dark waters of the Cumberland River in the early hours of last Thursday morning while attempting to save a life — someone whose life, upon examination, would seem less valuable than his.
On Feb 2 a 4 a.m. phone call to 911 alerted police that Juli Glisson, having a history of being suicidal, was in a car parked at the Peeler Park boat ramp. Within minutes Mumaw and two other officers arrived and spotted Glisson inside the car at the edge of the river. For several minutes they tried to persuade the distressed woman to voluntarily exit her car. Suddenly Glisson thrust her car in gear, causing the officers to lose their balance. The momentum and weight of the car pushed the officers further down into the water. Officer Mumaw strived to pull Glisson from her car. Juli Glisson survived and made it to shore. Eric Mumaw did not surface.
On Friday Glisson was charged with vehicular homicide. But this is not her first criminal offense. Glisson, who was drunk during Thursday’s incident, was on probation for a 2016 DUI conviction. She was first arrested for DUI in 2003 but plea-bargained a guilty plea to reckless driving. Between 2008 and 2010 Glisson was arrested multiple times during traffic stops. Court records show that in 2008 she pleaded guilty to vandalism and to assault in 2010. During a crash in 2010 Glisson fled the scene after a passenger in the other car was injured. In 2015 she was pulled over for drunk driving. In 2016 she pleaded guilty to DUI which resulted in her current probation.
Eric Mumaw died saving the life of a miserable person who has made life miserable for others and who has jeopardized the lives of countless others while driving drunk. Mumaw died trying to save the life of someone who seems bent on self-destruction. He gave his life for someone who has given little life to others. It’s a bad trade by any measure. Right?
When upholding the law means lifting up grace
But Officer Eric Mumaw never vowed to protect only the lives of good people or save the lives only of people who deserve it. Sometimes police work is not about justice but about mercy and grace. In theology law and grace are usually at odds, but in law enforcement we occasionally see grace endowment.
It is undeserved grace that makes Victor Hugo’s epic story, Les Miserables, so stunning and moving. A recently released convict, Jean Valjean is shown hospitality by the bishop, only to respond to the holy man’s compassion with thievery and assault. But it is upon being captured by the French police and brought back with the stolen silver to the church and to face the injured bishop that Valjean experiences grace that defies not only justice but our sense of reason. It is grace that leaves Valjean overwhelmed and speechless; it is grace that makes him a changed man, that takes him from being a recipient of mercy to a dispenser of mercy.
In the film Saving Private Ryan many lives are risked and lost to bring back Private James Francis Ryan safely from the battlefield. It wasn’t a mission the group of soldiers accepted because of Ryan’s goodness or his exceptional worthiness. They didn’t know him; none had met him. Loyalty and sacrifice don’t ask a lot of questions before moving into position. Eric Mumaw didn’t questions; he just acted out of instinct, training, and character.
Which person will I be?
Juli Glisson will likely do time in prison, and rightfully so. That is justice for her crimes. What remains to be seen is how she will ultimately respond to grace, what she will do with the gift of her life returned to her through the sacrifice of another. That was the silent question posed to Valjean and Ryan — how will you now spend the currency of grace you have received?
But that really is a question for all of us– we who have been the frequent recipients of forgiveness, generosity, and compassion. How will we respond to our unearned and undeserved gifts of grace? Will we be not only an awakened and grateful receiver of grace, but a generous sender of it as well?
Ramon Presson, PhD, is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Franklin (www.ramonpressontherapy.com) and the author of several books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.