I suppose it's a strange question, but I sometimes wonder about what "help" really means. On obvious reason for this is that my day job is in customer support, and we often have to determine what course of action is truly the most helpful. We also struggle with trying to feel like our "help" is meaningful and rewarding. More than that, though, it's my personality to want to help people.
The Mystery Men --
The Shoveller: Lucille, God gave me a gift. I shovel well. I shovel very well.
Lucille: Oh, honey, you shovel better than any man I've ever known, but that does not make you a super hero . . . Listen to me. You're a good husband, and a good father. But that's all. Nothing more.
The Shoveller's Son: I believe in you, Daddy!
Lucille: Roland, do not encourage your father.
|Who does want to be a superhero?|
photo by Jeffrey O. Gustafson
Part of the reason that I became an EMT was a desire to feel helpful in what felt like a direct and meaningful way. Supporting clients with their computer use is pretty detached, and writing is about planting seeds on the wind. As an EMT, I would be helping people in ways that were obvious, immediate, and vital.
I never suffered from some of the delusions that get some EMT's in trouble. I'm not a trauma junkie. I'm not in it to save lives. I don't see myself as a battlefield medic. But, even the most minimal view of what we do on the ambulance seems helpful: making sure that people get to the hospital with an open airway and a pulse, hopefully feeling a little less panicked than when they called us.
Being an EMT, though, I get to see a lot of different pictures of being helpful, and it's often thought-provoking.
So here's the scene last night: a house fire on a wooded country road, ~ 23:00. It's a trailer home and there are four people inside.
We respond pretty quickly as an ambulance. On our way to the scene, the first fire unit on scene radios that all four people are safely out of the home, no worse for wear. There aren't even enough fire trucks on the scene to start fighting the fire or truly rescuing people. Basically, the people got out of the building on their own. (We were very relieved they made it so easily!)
The rest of the time, about two hours, was about putting the fire out. With dozens of people there to help. There are something like half a dozen fire trucks on the scene. Our three-person ambulance crew is there. A two-person fire and rescue team from a nearby town is there. A police unit is there. Some neighbors are there. A couple utility crew are there.
At any given time, there were about half a dozen fire fighters actively battling the blaze. Others were in support or taking breaks to drink water. There were never any patients. Three fire fighters asked for their blood pressures to be taken, but no other vitals or full rehab. There were more bottles of water than any of us knew what to do with. The police really had no task, as there were not rubber-neckers, and there was no crime in the fire.
Then, at about 01:00, as we were all pulling out, the Red Cross team arrived to see if any of us needed water and to make sure the occupants of the home were okay.
A lot of people, on hand. Doing a few things, for sure. But mostly just being there. Just in case.
Do I doubt that any of us were being helpful? No. But it does make me realize that being helpful isn't necessarily about doing something.
Blue Raja: Well, there's the Sphinx.
The Shoveller: Yeah, I've heard of this guy. He's a big crime-fighter down east.
Mr. Furious: What's his power?
Blue Raja: Well, he's terribly mysterious.
Mr. Furious: That's it? That's his power? He's mysterious?
Blue Raja: Well, terribly mysterious.
The Shoveller: Yeah, plus he can cut guns in half with his mind.
Sometimes, I think, being helpful is about being present and making yourself available. As humans, it's in our nature to sometimes feel like we're wasting our time or that we should somehow be doing more.
But do you feel led to tell any of the people from the fire last night they weren't being helpful?