Friendships may change over a lifetime but the value of friendship in colouring our lives never diminishes.
In the absence of friends, life becomes lonely and for some, desperate and unhappy. Too often we hear, as we have recently, of a lone youth with guns shooting up a school in the US causing widespread death and havoc; or a lonely person cyberbullied into suicide; an alcoholic who has lost everything (family, home, teeth, friends, money and self-respect) or increasing numbers of elderly living lonely lives with only contempt or silence from the people they have raised.
Of increasing concern is the surge in the number of people with psychological and intellectual conditions, especially males under 40 years. At a personal level, this is a tragedy where it is the result of self-indulgence in alcohol, drugs, sex or pornography. Co-dependencies indulged in at a time of ongoing cognitive development render the person unable to master the resources needed in young adulthood to establish the kind of supportive friendships that would help a person through difficulty. The whole catastrophe is played out in lifetime dependence on income support from taxpayers and the consequential failure to flourish. Developing into adulthood through service to others offers a stark contrast.
Everybody’s life goes through bad patches – crises that must be dealt with if we are to move on. Even politicians have difficult times. We may not agree with his actions, however when we look at the week Barnaby Joyce has had, some of us can relate. Amidst the turmoil, his friend stood by him and offered accommodation.
Crises pass – eventually – and life moves on. As friendship is important for help in riding out crises, it is incumbent on all of us to continue to be open to new friendships at any age. Skills and resources developed through friendship and service in young adulthood have lifelong implications for personal wellbeing and maturity, as they did for Evan Collins and Tom Tyquin.
Friends to the Final Swim
February 13 would have been my husband’s birthday, had he survived the rare, unkind illness that cut short his life nearly 20 years ago.
In a final act of generosity, Evan Collins donated his body to Queensland University Anatomy Department, so that the medical profession might learn what they could from his misfortune, in the hope of benefiting others. Following completion of studies, his body was cremated. Since then Evan’s ashes rested on a shelf in the cupboard while, from time to time, a suitable date was explored when all the family might come together from their respective parts of the world to be present to choose a suitable way of dispersal.
In a fitting tribute to members past and present, the Broadbeach Surf Club on the Gold Coast offers the “Final Swim” service. One Saturday morning our family was privileged to experience the service for Evan together with his lifelong friend, Tom Tyquin, who passed away three years ago. They were friends in life and are now friends forever in the hereafter.
In honour of the two friends who spent 15 years together at the club most weekends, present club members assembled historical records of their involvement in service – in swims, patrols, administration and leadership; trophies awarded and engraved. Photos not previously seen were included in the slide show that cycled throughout the event, highlighting a more carefree time when young men hitchhiked to and from the coast and stayed the weekend. Camaraderie built over years of service, responsibility, fun and development fostered lifelong loyalties as between Tom and Evan.
Older club members carried the ashes of both men on a surfboard draped with the club flag. At the water’s edge the ashes were transferred to an inflatable motor boat and carried out to sea past the break for what is touchingly recognised by the club as the “Final Swim”. Lifesavers scattered the ashes into the ocean they loved, aided by a hovering helicopter. Their service and “Final Swim” is forever recorded in a plaque in the clubhouse.
Our family is touched by the Club’s respect for loyalty and service of its members.
Healthy friendship such as that experienced by Tom and Evan enhances self-development through intimacy, which involves real openness to another (and to oneself). In true engagement mutuality plays an indispensable part. The struggle for intimacy is about self-disclosure. As the young adult works out to whom he/she can safely disclose, and how much to disclose, a supple sense of self is gained; empathy with other people; willingness to be influenced by an awareness of others, flexibility, creativity and tolerance. All these prove invaluable in relationships and work throughout life.
Friendship and love enhance self-development through intimacy. An ability to listen openly, without judgement, endeared Evan to many of his friends, so much so eight of them honoured him by choosing him to be the best man at their wedding. Another included him as groomsman in the wedding party.
Young adult years as a lifesaver demand co-operation and competition in work and play. Self-awareness and self-assurance are developed as strengths and weaknesses are tested and affirmed. Learning demands flexibility, creativity, teamwork, advocacy, conflict resolution, negotiation and planning. One mate in the club was known as “the stone” (he was a slow swimmer); another preferred the challenge of the boats; while yet another was known as the accountant (a reliable treasurer). Each assessment demonstrated knowledge of self and others, from having been tested in the ocean of service, contribution and competition.
Inspiration and intuition, so important in adult maturity, are resources reinforced in service to mates and the community in patrols and rescues, skills remembered long after the fact. Stories were recounted how people remembered being rescued by a lifesaver, the memory deeply embedded because their life was in peril. Yet the old lifesaver could not remember the incident at all amongst the multitude of rescues carried out – but clearly recalled almost being drowned when snagged on rocks, rescuing someone at risk.
Brian Egan, the founder of Aussie Helpers, recounted openly and honestly how he came to establish and operate the service. As a returned Vietnam veteran suffering PTSD, he had undergone all available help to restore wellbeing, without success. As a last resort, his psychiatrist suggested he help people who were worse off than he was. Since then Aussie Helpers, run entirely by volunteers and donations, has helped thousands of farmer families with food and comfort parcels for themselves and their stock. Regular convoys truck feed to farmers no longer able to afford to feed their stock. It is an amazing story of service borne out of empathy and intuition for the needs of others from someone who had been scraping the bottom of the barrel of life.
And it is a powerful lesson about the value friendships forged in providing service that could readily be taken up by those struggling through their day. Perhaps the struggle presents as an opportunity to reach out to others in need, to reach out to friends old and new, as did Brian Egan. In doing so, the failures, cyber bullying, struggles and isolation that threaten to overpower, diminish in influence, and we become enriched and more mature, standing to benefit as much from our efforts as others may.
For the self-absorbed, self-indulgent youth used to having every need met, the world does not revolve around you. Much can be gained by becoming involved in the service of others in organisations such as lifesaving, Aussie Helpers or defence forces. The lives of Tom and Evan clearly show that by engaging in service, friendships can be forged and character developed at the same time that others are rescued – from the sea or by land. A lot of fun is to be had along the way and memories stored for posterity.
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