Why:

Sunday evening, I drove down some country roads in a neighboring county, ones I thought I hadn’t driven in a long time. But the further I went, things looked familiar, recently familiar. I realized I was there not long ago, on those roads riding shotgun in the big grey pickup truck with the SAR boss, a pack of search dogs in the back, walking those fields hauling gear on one of a growing number of searches in my brief SAR career. It felt good to know I was making progress, slowly but surely covering ground.

The question was asked tonight by the boss in our private Facebook group: why do we do it? Do we know why we are out there, weekend after weekend, morning after morning, training after training?

I absolutely know. In the past (nearly) two years, I’ve written about it a couple times, but I know that in these past months, those reasons have shifted and deepened, extended far beyond anything I contemplated in those first few months.

On the outside, it looks like it might have something to do with my dog. But the further we go, the less it’s about that and the more it becomes about the journey itself.

There are challenges, yes. A physical challenge: the work is demanding-climbing rubble, walking miles and miles and miles through heavy brush, under hot sun or in cold weather, early morning meetups at scenes, pages in the dead of night. The mental challenges of learning new skills: emergency medical response, making harnesses out of webbing, reading human footprints, not getting myself lost in the process of finding those missing (harder than you think!).

But this is spiritual to me. Search and Rescue, obviously, is about finding that which is lost. But it is also about the search itself, the act of being open to something to which you don’t understand. It’s about understanding, or at least getting closer. Every time I have gone out, it has felt like a prayer, one extended Kýrie, eléison. 

My life feels like it has always been about the search: figuring out the right questions to ask, looking for the answers. It’s been about looking for the connection – the place between the questions and the answers, the places of uncertainty, the places where the scars are formed, where the stories are written, the places where the image of God that lies within each of us becomes hidden or revealed based on the choices we make. SAR taught me that The Job That Pays is not terribly different from The Job That Doesn’t Pay -both are about the questions, the answers, the connections. It is about reaching out and taking hold.

In the past three months in SAR, I’ve taken sidetracks, wandered around, backed up and started again. My dog, the tool given to me for this work, no longer wants to find the living. Why I do not know. I can guess, but he can’t confirm. And it’s my job as his handler to take care of him, to act without ego or anger in his best interest. So we have switched to the mystery of the missing dead. He is happier. I am more relaxed. But before you ask the question–will that bother you, not rescue, but recovery? The answer is definitive: NO.

I believe I can do this. I’ve already seen the bodies in The Job That Pays. The sobs of the grieving at the scenes, those I have heard so so many times. I have gone from crime scene to charges to verdict to sentencing, faces becoming familiar in various stages of suffering all along the way.

If it is a difficult and necessary task, and you can do it, you absolutely should.

If this doesn’t make a ton of sense, I kind of apologize. It’s the middle of the night and I’m not sure why I’m not in bed. This post has been forming for a few weeks, taking shape in a few more rides in the pickup truck, a few dozen training sessions, hard decisions and now the question officially posed.

Why do I do SAR? To know. To learn. Because I can. Because I should.

I ask, if you read this, for your continued prayers. Not just for me, but for my teammates, for our pack of humans handling our pack of dogs, so many of whom have seen so much, so many of whom asked so many hard, hard questions to have them answered in ways no one wants to contemplate.

Pray for those who need our services, those whose icons are no longer where they belong, whose questions remain unanswered, whose connections to those beloved remain frayed or broken.

Kýrie, eléison.