Those of us who have been part of Girlguiding over the years know that we make a commitment to be our best and to help those around us. It's surprising how often that floats around my head, as I do my twice-weekly volunteering session with the Samaritans, answering phone calls, emails, texts and seeing people face-to-face who need emotional support in times of distress. We Samaritans are impartial, non-judgemental and there to talk about the person calling, we don't come into that confidential conversation at all, we are just there to listen.
As it gets nearer to Christmas, it's coming up to the shift where I feel I can fulfil that commitment to help the most - the Christmas Eve night into Christmas Day morning shift. Although every volunteer session I do with Samaritans is worthwhile, to me this one seems more so than the others.
People that call in the early hours of Christmas morning are doing so because they feel they have no one else they can talk to, or old memories rear their head that can feel easier to keep at bay at other times of year. All this at a time when every TV advert, festive movie or Christmas number one hit tells us we should be surrounded by loved ones (ideally in a permanent state of matching Christmas jumper merriment!). It is a huge privilege to be there for people, to help them see they are not forgotten and to bridge the gap so they are not alone.
That's what I pick up the phone for- to listen, to empathise, just to be there.
I am reminded time and time again that I am incredibly lucky. I have an amazing support network of family and friends. And I have my Girlguiding 'sisters' - I've been involved in Girlguiding for the past 25 years, and I know that wherever I end up, in whatever emotional state I am in, I have people there for me. As cheesy as it sounds, I have family dressed in Girlguiding uniform all around the world.
As for my own Christmas, it too is unique and joyful. It's hectic and frantic and involves cooking enough food to feed all of the neighbours and their families too - but I relish the hustle and bustle of people coming and going. In truth, it sits in complete contrast to my experience of answering calls in the Samaritans' office only hours earlier and people often point out that it's the kind of day you could probably do with having a good night's sleep before. That's true, but I wouldn't change those 24 hours for the world - I value every second of my time on the line and I value the warmth I am lucky enough to feel when I get home.
Being a Samaritan is one of the best things I've ever done, for me it is social action at its best, addressing a need that requires a human touch and building skills that are relevant to me in all areas of my life. The training is thorough and afterwards you find yourself listening to people in a completely different way. Where once I might have dismissed my Guides' problems as teen angst, now, I listen. I really listen, because I know where that angst can lead to. I know full well that without support any one of us could feel isolated and alone and that that at 2am on Christmas morning there is nowhere to turn.
That's why I'm looking forward to spending Christmas day in a tired, fuzzy-headed-through-lack-of-sleep haze. Because, I know I'll have done my best to provide support. I'll have done what I can to do my good turn.
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