I wasn’t at work long before things started to feel a little hectic and I felt the frustration of my job. Then my phone buzzed, and everything changed. It was a request for assistance, and the Search and Rescue team that I volunteer with had been activated. Suddenly the frustrations of my day were set aside, and the only thing that mattered was that a child was missing and a family needed help.
As our team drove out to the search location, I took the time to finish re-arranging my day. The original schedule included a volunteer session with Victim Services. Each session involves reading through assigned files, and then reaching out to victim(s) of a crime. This is not work for the faint of heart. Some files contain grisly details of a crime, and I’m left trying to comprehend how one human being can do such horrifying things to another human being. It’s the task of Victim Services to try and refer victims to available supports, and if needed, guide them through the trial process. Sometimes all you can do is listen and comfort them as they cry.
We had been on the road for over an hour when the phone buzzed again. Another one of our teams already at the location notified us to stand down. The activation ended as abruptly as it had started. We turned around and headed back to the city, and waited for the official news release to find out how the search ended. Hope turned to grief as we heard that the child had been found deceased, and the search had transitioned into a recovery situation.
We returned home and hauled in our gear. Then it was groceries, dog food, and helping my wife get off to work for her night shift. Now I’m sitting here alone, contemplating my day. My news feed is filled with even more strife than it was this morning. It just never ends. It feels so overwhelming, and the tears are flowing.
When tears start up, I usually find that it’s a good time to stop and take stock of what is really going on around me. No, the day did not go as planned. Yes, the dog just threw up in the kitchen. Yes, in addition to replacing the broken kitchen faucet this weekend, I also need to replace a circuit board in the broken/inoperable spa. Reality is that having to deal with a broken faucet and spa means that I have an incredibly privileged life. Every day I come home to a cozy house, full fridge and loving wife. Therefore, an appliance breaking down is not actually an earth shattering event. Despite everything that is going on in the world, my life is incredibly good. Time to dry the tears, clean up the vomit, and give the dog a hug.
Some people wonder why I do such dark volunteer work, and on days like today, I question that too. There are other ways that I could serve my community, that wouldn’t leave me crying at the end of the day. There is no need to volunteer at all actually. Quitting would really clear up my schedule and let me get to work on that to-do list. However, volunteering is part of who I am, and life isn’t complete without it.
Even with my privileged life, I have felt the sting of prejudice against me because I am queer. Keep me privileged category though, because I can “pass” as hetero, and have the luxury of choosing who this information is disclosed to. That said, being queer has had a significant impact on my volunteer work. I used to volunteer with multiple programs at my old church. I also used to volunteer at church summer camp. Growing up my entire community was the church. Friends, clubs, and social events all revolved around church. That all changed once I went public with dating, and then marrying my wife. Because of my same-sex marriage, I am no longer permitted to volunteer and serve in my former church community. (Please do not think that I am bashing a faith based organizations. Regardless of how anyone feels about it, it simply is what it is.) Suddenly the community that I had grown up in was no longer supportive of me. I instantly became an outsider, and am considered “different”. It hurt then, and it still hurts now. Despite that hurt, I still wanted to find new ways to contribute to society, and reach out to help others. I eventually discovered Search and Rescue, which then led to Victim Services.
A big thing with both Search and Rescue, and Victim Services is that being different does not matter. When someone needs help, their age, ethnicity, gender, religious affiliation, and social status is irrelevant. I repeat, it is IRRELEVANT. Everyone shares the same look of hurt in their eyes when they are vulnerable. The anguish felt by a mother when their child is missing does not change with ethnicity. It does not matter if that child is 6 years old or 30 years old. It does not matter if that child is an honour student or a gang member. That mother still loves their child, and is desperate to find them. The more time that I spend with victims and their families, the more I realize that people aren’t all that different from each other. Anguish and pain do not discriminate.
So now I pick myself up, and turn off the news for the night. It’s the end of the day, and I can’t fix the world’s problems. I can’t stop the anger and hatred. All I know is that today I tried to help one family on what is likely the worst day of their lives. Tomorrow another volunteer with Victim Services is likely stepping up to assist the family. No one person can do it all, but we can each do our part to help each other.
So let me challenge everyone out there who is feeling angry, defeated, fearful, hurt and/or persecuted. Go out and do something nice for someone that is different from you. Better yet, find a way to volunteer, and volunteer often. It’s easy to volunteer within your own peer/faith/ethnicity/socio-economic group, so try and do something outside of your normal comfort zone. As you try and make a difference in the life of someone else, you might find that the biggest change will be in you.