Who Is the Third Man?


ca. 2003 --- Hand Reaching --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis
ca. 2003 — Hand Reaching — Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

For centuries, drowning sailors pulled from the sea have told stories of a mysterious companion. They speak of another sailor, unknown to them, who appeared beside them in the water. This person stayed at their side, treading water and issuing words of encouragement, until the danger had passed. But rescuers looking to bring these additional sailors to safety never find them. In fact, there’s no evidence that they ever existed. They seem to be ghosts; figments of the imagination that surface when needed.

This phenomenon isn’t just found on the ocean. Mountain climbers, hikers, and others enduring long, difficult, and perilous journeys also regularly report the presence of another person during the most trying of times. They appear from the shadows and then disappear when they are no longer needed. They seem to require neither recognition nor thanks and slip into the mist leaving those behind speaking almost reverently of their presence. Without them, survivors say, they surely would have perished.

These sightings occur so regularly that the spectres have been given a name: the Third Man.

I’ve never been in a situation where I feared for my life; but there are plenty of times I would welcome the third man. I enjoy camping and hiking and even sailing, but I’m not talking about anything to do with being outside. I’m talking about those times when I’m sitting at work, or at home, and I feel things slipping out of my grasp.

We’ve all been in situations where we felt as if we were drowning; overwhelmed by circumstances both within and outside of our control. We’ve felt the grip of fear. We know the sense of panic that accompanies the realization that we’re lost. It’s in those moments that a friendly face is so desperately needed. It’s then that a voice of encouragement becomes priceless. It’s then that having someone beside us to share the burden means the world.

But as much as we each need a third man, it’s more important that we be the third man.

The most important people in our lives are those who are there for us when we need them the most. They are the people who lift us up; who encourage us to hold on and keep fighting when we want to give up. They are the ones who remind us that we have greatness within us and push us to find that little bit of extra gas in the tank. But who are those people? They are us.

Right now – right this very moment, someone you know desperately needs the validation, inspiration, and motivation that only you can provide. Because you know them well enough to say what needs to be said; to push the buttons that need to be pushed. To spur them into action.

We all need a helping hand from time to time. We all need to be that helping hand as well. Will you accept the call when it comes? Will you recognize the need and respond? Not for recognition or compensation or even out of obligation; but because you can.

Are you the third man?

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