On Being Human
Thor was the kindest, most giving person you could imagine meeting in this modern age. He was always looking for ways to help others, and never expected anything in return. He just valued people, and kindness, and spreading good energy in the world. He thought it was so easy and made such a big difference.
He drove an hour each way to loan someone a sleeping bag so they wouldn’t have to buy one. He always donated his cash on hand, and carried snacks for those asking for help in the street. He always bought girl scout cookies [not such a big sacrifice, I know!] He donated blood regularly [who does that?], and mentored elementary school students on the south side. He donated to as many fundraisers as he came across.
Thor loved physical activity.
He did yoga; he was certified ski patrol and volunteered his time to hang out on the slopes. He trained in Aikido, Jujitsu and Tang So Doo. He competed in triathlons, and guided blind athletes so they could complete as well.
Thor loved the outdoors.
Thor escaped regularly for weekends in Wisconsin and Michigan, just to breathe different air, to be around different energy, to be without traffic or sirens or people for a minute. Thor skied Austria and Colorado, hiked everywhere he went, and once pretended to be Australian in the Everglades. [His accent was spot on. Those retiree New Yorkers were believers!] Thor trained with Tom Brown in New Jersey and Florida – 7+ days without a phone or a shower, and he was happy as can be.
Thor loved people. And he believed the best about them, always, until proven otherwise.
Officer Thor O. Soderberg joined the Chicago Police force 1999. He dove into his time in the Academy. He still had every notebook, every spiral binder and even the famous navy blue sweats when he was killed in the line of duty on July 7, 2010. By that time, he was an instructor at the Academy, assigned to one week on the streets during a summer mobile operation.
Officer Soderberg believed that policing could make the world a better, safer and kinder, place. Although he would never hesitate to use his big voice to become an imposing force, the “serve” was his favorite part of policing, and he worked hard to make it part of what he did every day. He spend most nights on the couch researching ways to enhance his police work – new techniques to diffuse conflict by body language or body positioning, new books on proactive or community policing, websites on how to distinguish between a drunk and someone in diabetic shock (these are frighteningly similar), new equipment that was lighter or safer. As an instructor at the academy, this increased triplefold, as he tried to find ways for his students to speed up their cuffing technique, to increase the safety of their vehicle approach, to manage vehicle stops on foot or from a bicycle. He saw policing as an art and science that required constant improvement, and he saw himself as an officer always in evolution towards being safer, smarter, faster, and more understanding of the general public.
He took extra trail mix to share with colleagues. He made extra sandwiches to share with a homeless man downtown several times a week. He took extra gloves to those living on lower Wacker each winter. He built his own tool to capture dogs in Dan Ryan Woods so he could take them to the shelter on brutally cold winter days. The day before he died, he gave the shoe shine man at the police station $20, just to make sure he had enough money for food that day. He was wearing tennis shoes. Each act small, but kind, honored the humanity of someone we might often look past.
In the winter of 2004, he was called to the Target at 85th and Cottage because a boy had tried to steal a belt. Office Soderberg arrived at the manager’s office to find a dejected 12 year old boy looking at the floor. His tears had dried, but he didn’t look up when Officer Soderberg asked him why he stole the belt. “I needed to keep my pants up,” he said, pulling a frayed length of rope from his pocket. “My rope broke and I didn’t have a way to keep my pants up.” He stood upon request, and it was clear his pants were many sizes too big for him and deeply dirty from daily use. He cried when he said he was sorry but he didn’t know what else to do. As an officer, Thor always said you have to try and know someone’s true heart. Thor believed him, so he talked the manager out of filing charges and bought the belt. He gave the boy every snack in his car, and drove him around until he was able to recognize the back of the house where his mom had rented a room. The boy wasn’t allowed to use the front door, and hadn’t seen his mom in a few days. Officer Soderberg never forgot that boy; this contact card was on his nightstand when he died more than 6 years later. And although he couldn’t fix everything for that boy, hopefully he made that one day better than it might have been.
So each year his widow, Jennifer, asks us to bring that spirit of service alive again by Paying It Forward. Please consider committing a random act of kindness in his memory.
Because he should never be forgotten.