“Why We Do It”

Help Yourself by Helping Others

– Rick Sylvia


Elbert Hubbard said “Down in their hearts, wise men know this truth: the only way to help yourself is to help others.”

I believe that statement. I also believe that at the end of one’s life, the sum of their experiences will be measured not in what they accumulated as material possessions, who they knew, where they traveled, what offices they held or what they did for themselves. It will be measured by relationships and how they served others along the way. At the final roll-call, it’s the people that matter.

To that end, as an adult I have volunteered in a number of ways. But all of them, while technically classified as “volunteerism”, felt more like “playtime”. My activities were both needed and fun, but they didn’t make a deep, meaningful impact on people’s lives. That was a void that I wanted to fill.

To fill that void, I had given serious thought about what I could do that would be meaningful, but wouldn’t seem like “work”. It needed to be in an area that I had some interest, in order to have staying power over the years. And, it needed to be in an interesting environment and must also serve as a personal growth experience.

Eventually, after reading many magazine and internet articles on the psychology of being lost in the woods, studying (to some degree) wilderness survival (in case you folks have to come search for me some day, heaven forbid) and books on interesting wilderness rescues, the solution occurred to me. Since I love the outdoors, why not see if there are local volunteer groups that search for lost hikers?

I did an internet search, found TSAR, attended the January meeting, and by February 16th was COQ and out on my first mission. I’m very pleased to report that it was a very, very rewarding experience.

As I pulled into Base (a Fire House), I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was a “know nothing” newbie who was more likely to get in the way than to make a meaningful contribution. I worried that I would slow the process down, or worse, make mistakes that would jeopardize the search and endanger lives.

I signed in, looked around and immediately saw two familiar faces – Derrick and Peter. Alfredo would soon join us. I pulled up a chair, and engaged in a little light conversation, but more than anything, I was just trying to soak in the situation. In the interest of learning, I wanted to do far more listening than talking. And, as the “newbie” I really just wanted to blend in a little and not do or say anything stupid or inappropriate. As Publilius Syrus said, “I often regret that I have spoken; never that I have been silent.”

While others were greeting friends they hadn’t seen since the last search, discussing dogs, equipment and other topics, I noticed that there were 4 “civilians” talking to official looking people who turned out to be the local Police Detectives and the SAR officials running the search. One woman in particular, and a young man, each in turn, turned away from the conversation and looked around the room. These two people had a look about them that in every day life, they would normally be very confidant of themselves, and in control. But today, the look on their faces was adolescent. It was almost infantile, scanning the room, searching the eyes and voices of the SAR members for reassurance and comfort that their friend would be found. I don’t know if they found what they were looking for, but I was beginning to find what I was looking for.

I took a deep breath and a feeling came upon me that I was doing the right thing. This was a way that I could make a difference and touch people’s lives. And, in return, they’d never know anything about me. In a moment of crisis in their lives, I’d be there, doing what I can to share their burden, and put their disrupted lives back in order. Even if the outcome was the worst, they’d at least have closure. And they wouldn’t know anything about me, not even my name. Is there a greater way to serve, than to do it without personal recognition? As Charles Lamb said “The greatest pleasure I know is to do a good action by stealth.”

The beauty of it all is that it doesn’t even matter if I make the find. I’m there, fulfilling my individual role for the greater good. As Kevin put it to me, “I’m finding where they’re not”, which is an important process. But when the overall team makes the find, then by default, I also make the find. Every task is needed and every task is significant. Every minute spent training, or searching, adds significance to the subject’s lives, their friends’ and family’s lives, and therefore, my life.

Soon, we were assigned to a task and were sent out into the field. Before the day was done, we’d do three tasks in all. At the end of the day, my fears of being “in the way” were completely unfounded. All three TSAR members, and the FTLs we were assigned to, all made me feel very much needed and a part of the team. When “things” happened, they all kept in mind that I was new, and took the time to tell me what was happening, why it was happening, and taught me a number of new things. But more importantly, I had the feeling that they were doing it willingly and happily. I wasn’t just a “COQ” – I was a searcher. I wasn’t a “newbie” – I just didn’t have the same level of experience as they did. I wasn’t “in the way” – I was a member of a team out on tasks. In short, I felt both needed and wanted.

In the end, the subject wasn’t found and the search has been suspended. I can only imagine how great it will feel when I’m on a mission and a Find is made. While I wish that the outcome would have been different, I nonetheless left with a feeling of significance. I had done something important that day – something much bigger and better than catching up on chores, or getting in a little personal recreation. I touched lives. No matter what life continues to throw at the friends and family of the subject, they’ll always know that unpaid but caring individuals took time out of their own busy lives, to search for someone they’ve never met and knew nothing about. They’ll always know that people, nameless and mostly faceless people, responded to their need, without asking for anything in return. But, we do get something in return – something deep down inside of us – don’t we?

What better way is there to serve, and find personal significance, than that?

One thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve– Albert Schweitzer

Oh, yeah… and the Red Cross Spaghetti was awesome!