Thursday, March 26, 2009

Search and Rescue Service: One Beloved Volunteer is Gone

Since I’m not much of a television watcher, I usually try to stay informed about popular shows from family, friends, and the press. Music is something I do thoroughly enjoy; I’ve even produced some benefit concerts with some of my favorite musicians. My oldest daughter and I stayed up late last night watching the ten finalists of “American Idol.” She had recorded it, so we blasted through the commercials and took the extra time to watch a few of the best performances twice. After watching the entire show for the first time, I now understand why it’s habit-forming. I fell asleep wondering who would end up winning the career of their dreams.

As I awoke this morning, the word “idol” was still on my mind. When I looked it up on the web I discovered two things: 1.) The show is also a popular format in several European countries, and 2.) The term itself can be defined as “someone who is adored blindly and excessively.” It is an empowering concept for an entire country and judges to choose the next pop idol. The emerging talents would never have been discovered without this method. As Sheridan suggested last night, “If you make it into the top ten, you’re set.”

There is also another kind of “top ten,” the people I like to write about. I can’t say I adore them blindly or excessively, but they inspire others around them. "American Idol" stars have instant name recognition in pop culture. The examples I’m thinking of today leave a more subtle yet long-lasting impression. I worked with one yesterday at the ski resort.

“Ray” is a man who spends his day making others laugh and reminding us to take life a little less seriously. He can find humor in every situation, and he doesn’t belittle or tease. With no personal reward, he genuinely goes out of his way to make people more comfortable. He made my day brighter by offering extra help as I wrangled a group of small children on the “green” ski runs in a snowstorm. He had ski wax when I needed it, gave me an update on trail conditions, cleaned off the kids’ plates at lunch, shuttled a child with her skis from my group to the next, and slipped the “Miner’s Camp” obstacle course for a smoother ride. Who knows how many other little works Ray did yesterday; these were just the ones that affected me personally. His happiness seems to derive from these small acts, so if polled I’m sure the other instructors would have similar stories. His joyful demeanor permeates the mountain school, and leaves us with a desire to be kinder to each other and to our guests.

Thankfully, there are many people like Ray on this earth for the rest of us to admire and aspire. One of the best lifetime performances in this “top ten” realm, however, was taken too soon. Darren Westerfield was a man whom I knew through his “Young Professionals” post-construction cleaning business; I also knew him as an athletic trainer at the gym where we both belonged and through mutual friends. Darren not only touched lives through his presence, he also volunteered hundreds of hours to his local Search and Rescue program.

Just like Ray, Darren was a light. Every time I saw him or talked to him, he was full of joy and enthusiasm. It didn’t matter what he was doing, he put his heart and soul into each day. He never seemed to be bogged down with the pressures of life. His positive attitude and energy intrigued me as I wondered, “Why so happy all the time, Darren? Don’t you know how hard life is?” Darren’s life was just as difficult as anyone’s. The hardest trial he faced was his first wife Cindy’s battle with ovarian cancer, to which she succumbed in 2003. Darren courageously pulled his three children together and they kept the faith. He later married a lady who was just as bubbly—what a pair.

Darren set an example of joyous living, serving others with a smile, and making anyone in his midst feel comfortable and accepted. He died at age 47, along with his stepson and stepdaughter, in a horrific rollover accident this past summer (2008). A Google search describes the sad details, but Darren’s wish would be to look beyond the tragedy and to share his generosity of spirit. He truly left an impression everywhere he went. I’m sure he wouldn’t ask to be included in my “top ten” list of positive influences for good, but his happiness is unforgettable.

While the talented stars of “American Idol” may become the “objects of blind, obsessive attraction” and on the brink of fame and fortune, Ray and Darren prove there are still people who want to do good for no tangible reward. Ray sows the seeds of happiness each day with his kind acts and smiles. Darren shared his kind heart and spirit to leave a legacy of love and inclusion. I know who might win the “American Idol” contest this time around (guesses, anyone?); the real winners, the long-term beneficiaries, are any of us who have been blessed to know “Ray” or Darren.

Link to Search & Rescue Volunteering in Salt Lake City, UT:

For Search & Rescue Volunteering in other locations: Contact your local county's website, or the sheriff's department.

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