Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Saving Lives

I'm sharing this story I first heard sometime in 1991 care of Br. Ceci Hojilla, FSC during one of the SHARE renewals. I didn't know what it meant to me personally until I found myself in a situation where there was a conflict of interest. I found out soon enough.

Journeys was a program of which I was the main contributor and conceptualizer --- it was originally designed as the "signature" retreat program for the seniors of De La Salle Alabang High School. It was a mishmash of of the structured experiences that were not part of the organizations/retreat programs in which I participated. After the school administration turned us down, I decided to offer it to the alumni of the Discovery program, who had been looking for an outlet for their service aspirations after they had graduated from high school.

Those were strange times --- I wasn't exactly the paragon of virtue and hardly the role model for those students. The hard part of it was, I was already active as a member of SHARE and as one of its movers as part of the Core Group. Needless to say, I was caught in between not one, but two rocks and a hard place. I had to give Journeys up, and without me to keep the group animated, even with the best of leaders I had left behind to keep things going, Journeys collapsed.

These days, my own organization - the Society of Performing Arts-Talents Development Guild, is in the exact same situation as this story is outlined. The biggest question that arises now is --- is the ideal we are sticking to the one that is true?

Once there was a land whose coastline stretched for miles. The people depended on fishing and trade. However, the seas around the land were rough sailing, and there were a lot of reefs where ships could run aground.

In the port, a group of enterprising fishermen decided to get together to help one another during emergencies. They guided ships around the coast to steer clear of the reefs in the harbor, and oftentimes they would help one another sell their catch. They eventually formed a Harbor Safety Club with a small clubhouse for meetings. The “clubhouse” was a makeshift shelter along the beach.

During their meetings, the members concluded that what the place needed was a lighthouse to guide the ships and to serve as a beacon to light passengers from sunken or damaged vessels. But the fishermen were poor; they didn’t have enough resources to build one.

One time, during a heavy storm, a luxury liner bearing many dignitaries and famous people onboard ran into one of the reefs and sank. The Harbor Safety Club members conducted a daring rescue mission – putting their own lives at risk in order to save the passengers. In an operation that spanned two days, in heavy rains, they managed to bring every single passenger to safety.

This feat put the Harbor Safety Club members in the news. One of the people they had saved was a multi-millionaire who led a fund drive among his fellow passengers to raise money for the club and the lighthouse. Money poured into the Club’s coffers – not only were they able to build a lighthouse, they were able to buy better life-saving equipment and built a fleet of more modern boats for their rescue operations. They were also able to move out of their beach shack to a real clubhouse.

The money also helped the members go into business and they also personally prospered. Soon they were having parties at the clubhouse. Members were often giving interviews to the media on the value of saving people’s lives.

Things progressed to a point that many of the club members no longer had time to attend to their work of maintaining harbor safety. Some of the members who experienced some luxury did not want to go back to risking their lives. Eventually a point came where the members could not agree on what they wanted to do.

A big meeting was called and several arguments broke out among the members. Some of the members said that they were forgetting their mission of saving lives. “Too many things are happening at once – let’s remember why we have this club in the first place.”

Some other members, particularly those who have been hobnobbing with the rich and famous, begged to disagree. “But look, we have done so much to raise awareness about harbor safety. People are building better boats, and the lighthouse has managed to save many lives.” Still some others could not decide.

Finally, the members who wanted to continue with their mission got fed up and said, “You can keep the fame and glory for yourselves. We’ll go back to saving people.” So they gave up their memberships and built a small shack on the beach right outside the clubhouse. They called themselves Safety First Club.

One time, a typhoon lashed the coastline while the club was having a party. The Harbor Safety club members stayed inside but the Safety First club members, the ones who put up their shack outside, were busy making plans on what to do for the ships caught in the storm. Their diligence paid off --- a government boat capsized and most of its passengers were in the water. The Safety First club members went on a rescue mission and retrieved all of the passengers.

Again, the media made a big event of this rescue. Donations went to the Safety First Club and once more the members of the club equipped themselves with the latest gear and technology. They also built a clubhouse over their old shack. Little by little, their clubhouse grew to a size comparable to the first one.

In time, business and leisure took over the club’s activities and some of the members realized that they were no longer paying attention to life-saving. Again there was a big meeting and once more there were arguments and accusations being thrown about. People left the Safety First Club and built a small shack beside their clubhouse.

But somehow few learned from what happened before. The chain of events happened again and again and again --- people raised money, built bigger clubhouses, enjoyed prosperity in business. Over the years, clubs came and went.

Nowadays you can see the whole beachfront lined with expensive clubhouses.

Meanwhile, nobody was out there rescuing people and saving lives.

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