There was nothing unusual about that, except for one thing.
He never arrived.
That day, Mark did not come home either, and he did not respond to increasingly desperate text and voice messages from his wife Maggie.
Mark disappeared without a trace.
As you can imagine, Maggie was at her wit’s end when she asked my wife and me to help look for her husband. But where to begin? Whom to call? And what would we tell their 11-year old daughter?
The police were notified. A missing persons report was filed. Hospitals were called. Again and again. It felt like we were part of some television drama. Except, this wasn’t scripted, and we weren’t acting out scenes. This was raw and real, and our friend was probably in danger.
Once we realized that Mark wasn’t coming back any time soon, we used social media to alert as many friends, colleagues, and family members as possible. The day after Mark disappeared, police forces in several states, church groups, girl scouts, teachers, and the news media were searching for our friend.
As the hours went by, we hoped for the best, and feared the worst. The hardest part was not knowing what was going on, and when and how it would end.
Looking back at this time, I learned a few things I want share with you.
For one, the definition of what’s important in life completely changes when one of your best friends goes missing. All of a sudden, the little things that seemed so annoying, aren’t worth fussing about anymore.
As we were working around the clock to potentially save Mark’s life, I was also struck by the fact that so many people are pursuing things that are utterly trivial. It is the luxury of the careless and carefree. Until the day Mark left, I took that luxury very much for granted.
Third, responses to Mark’s disappearance fell into two categories. One group of people told us they were “hoping and praying.” The other group asked us: “What can we do to help?” Both responses we much needed, and much appreciated!
Following that, I discovered something else. Getting help is not always easy, but if you need it, you have to ask for it. Shamelessly. Of course Mark’s wife felt uncomfortable having to share her husband’s disappearance with the world. But as soon as we started reaching out, people we didn’t even know existed began organizing search parties.
Friends of friends just happened to know police officers in the area where one of Mark’s phones was located. One person was friends with a producer for Dateline NBC. Perhaps we could take the story national! People also started making meals for us, so we could focus on our search. After all, time was ticking.
LOOKING IN THE WRONG PLACES
I also learned that it was very easy to waste precious time taking the right action in the wrong direction. Here’s one example.
By pinging one of Mark’s cell phones, it was possible to locate the tower origin of the last signal his phone received. This turned out to be a rather bad neighborhood of a town in New Jersey. That’s where the police hoped to find Mark and his car. When nothing turned up, we got extremely worried.
Later on we learned that Mark was nowhere near that town, but that somebody had probably stolen one of his phones, and had taken it to that location.
With almost no leads, and no signs of life, imagine our response every time the home phone rang. At times, the uncertainty was unbearable. But throughout this ordeal we kept on believing that our friend would eventually be found, and be reunited with his family. Pessimism was another luxury we couldn’t afford.
AN UNEXPECTED CALL
Mark disappeared on a Wednesday morning. Friday night his wife came back from picking up their daughter, when she noticed that someone had left a message on her phone from an unknown number. When she listened to it, she shrieked. It was Mark. He asked to be picked up at a shopping mall in the area. He was exhausted but alive.
An hour later, Mark was home again, hugging his wife and daughter.
What prompted him to disappear for a few days, only Mark knows. There were a few problems in his life that he didn’t know how to solve, and he needed time to clear his mind and sort things out. He now knows that what he did was an act of desperation, and that he needs professional help (which he is already getting).
Once he was back, he also realized that no matter how bad things seemed, and how lonely he may have felt, he was never alone. He was surrounded by people ready to lend a helping hand.
At this point you may wonder why I am sharing Mark’s story on a blog about freelancing and voice-overs.
THE BIGGER PICTURE
My first reason is personal. Because I love what I do so much, I have a tendency to be obsessed with my work. I spend long hours in a small studio recording in solitude, and when I’m done, I write about it on these pages. Sometimes I even think that what I do has some significance.
Surely, it is a lot of fun, and it pays a few bills, but in the grand scheme of things it’s just a means to an end. All the battles I’ve been fighting on this blog about rates, reputation, and professionalism… those battles could wait until a friend was found.
Professionally speaking, Mark’s story demonstrates that it’s easy to waste time and energy taking action in the wrong direction, hoping and praying for something that is never going to be. I think of the many people who have been talked into a voice-over career who just don’t have what it takes (apart from a credit card). They throw money at online casting sites, and spend hours and hours auditioning for jobs they’ll never get.
No matter how hard you work and how much you invest, you’re not going to find what you’re searching for, if you’re looking in the wrong places.
And finally, I have to talk about the importance of a support system. Whether we realize it or not, all of us are connected in many unexpected ways. Even when things seem dark and hopeless, there are people you may not even know, who care and who can help. Whether you have a problem with your business or it’s something personal… all you need to do is reach out, and ask.
There is a reason why we’re not on this planet by ourselves. Of course that’s both a blessing and a curse.
A journalist once asked a famous theologian why G-d would allow so much evil to happen.
The theologian answered:
“G-d is not in the evil action. G-d is in the loving response.”
Well, the response to Mark’s disappearance was heartwarming, and it gave us hope and the strength to continue our search. But it did more than that.
Somewhere on his lonely journey, Mark felt that something was pulling him back home. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but he knew that he had to return, and that everything would be okay.
You see, what happens to us is something we can’t always control.
The one thing we have control over, is how we respond.
If you were one of “our” responders, I want you to know that you have made a difference, and Mark, his family, and his friends will be eternally grateful for what you did.
You’ve made this place a better world!
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
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