If Christmas is a time for giving, then my gift to others as a Samaritans volunteer is my time and my complete attention.
I have always felt immensely proud to be a listening volunteer, and *this* Christmas especially. 2020 has challenged us all, exacerbating existing issues and creating new pressures we previously considered unimaginable. Many people who were desperately looking forward to seeing family now face a fresh wave of loneliness and isolation. To be able to provide emotional support during such a tough time is so rewarding, but also humbling too.
While we’re talking, I won’t be checking my mobile phone, and my gaze won’t be drawn to a television screen flickering over your shoulder. I won’t be earwigging a more interesting conversion in another room – it’ll just be you and me, one-to-one, with no distractions.
It doesn’t matter if we’re not the same age, colour, class or religion – all that matters is where you are on your emotional journey. It may be a very long road that you’ve been trundling down for a while or a road you’ve suddenly, this day, this week or this minute found yourself on. And it won’t necessarily be that you want your life to end but that you can’t see a way past your troubles.
So, you can tell me about it – all of it. I’m here to listen. Confidentially, and without any judgment.
“I have absolutely no agenda. I’m not selling anything, I don’t want to persuade you to join a club, a group or to go anywhere. I’m only here to listen.”
It might not matter to you that it’s Christmas Eve, or New Year’s Day. You may have gone beyond caring what day it is, if the date does register at all. And if that’s how you feel you can tell me in as much, or as little detail as you’d like. And don’t worry if you can’t find the words straight away, I’ll wait too.
I have absolutely no agenda. I’m not selling anything, I don’t want to persuade you to join a club, a group or to go anywhere. I’m only here to listen. And believe me, listening is a skill I’ve had to learn.
I thought I could already do it, but it turns out that before becoming a Samaritan I had an annoying tendency to be only half-listening. I’m embarrassed to say it, before I was a listening volunteer, if someone was talking to me, I might have been thinking about my follow-up question, wondering what advice I should give, or, worse, waiting to add in a similar anecdote of my own, surreptitiously turning the conversation to be more about me.
But not anymore – now I know better. I may not be perfect, I’m still only human, but I have discovered real listening. I’m attuned to your words, every single one, to try and understand what they mean to you.
It’s important to say I know I I don’t have the expertise to solve your problems. But what I’m aiming for, quite simply, is to share some basic emotions and, if we’re lucky, a laugh or a deep, powerful connection. People have told me that there’s something very comforting in talking to a complete stranger. I hope that’s true. In fact, I’m relying on it.
“Whoever you may be, know that if I speak to you, I consider it a privilege to talk to you, to hear your thoughts and fears and deepest, most heartfelt anxieties.”
You may have friends or family who you’ve come to believe don’t care, don’t understand what you’re going through, or who you don’t wish to ‘burden’ with your troubles. You may have spoken to professionals who have helped you to a greater or lesser degree. But for whatever reason, if you’ve called us, there’s just you and me.
One of the reasons I decided to become a Samaritan is because I have children. Statistics show that young people are one of the most vulnerable groups and my heart aches to hear it. I truly hope that my children will be able to cope with whatever life throws at them and that, in their darkest hour, they’ll be able to talk to me. But if they can’t, I hope they’ll pick up the phone and talk to a Samaritan. Perhaps that’s why I do it – whenever I can, I want to be present when someone’s child needs a fellow human being to be there for them.
But whoever you may be, know that if I speak to you, I consider it a privilege to talk to you, to hear your thoughts and fears and deepest, most heartfelt anxieties – the story of your life, and the winding road that brought you here. All I want to do is communicate a tiny fraction of that hope by standing beside you, shoulder to shoulder. I hope that things can change, and I want you to know that whatever has gotten worse, can also get much better.
And, if I could manage that, even once, it would be the most precious Christmas gift, ever.
Have a compelling personal story you want to tell? Find out what we’re looking for here, and pitch us on firstname.lastname@example.org