Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Guest Blogger - Uncle Mike's Reflections

I'm pleased to present the second installment of Uncle Michael's Reflections. He chose a novel 'close to home' rather than a standard best-seller, and I think he found a treasure. Once you read his report, I'm sure you'll agree that it's not the number of copies a book sells, but how it speaks to you, how it reflects the thoughts and emotions of a particular time in our lives.
What that says about me and uber-alpha vampires, I just don't know...

(remember... British accent! You can even imagine a smoking jacket and crystal tumbler of Brandy if that helps)

Reflection Notes & Review

Date: 15th February 2007

Subject: The Listeners by Monica Dickens, First published 1970

Exactly what happened and why in that way?

I discovered this novel on a shelf in the local Samaritans branch where I am listening volunteer. It is a somewhat scruffy, dark blue hardback without a dust jacket. A good 30 years old, it was a slightly foxed, probably ex-library, edition. As well as being well thumbed it had been used more than once as a coaster for coffee and tea mugs. I immediately noticed that it was dedicated to Chad Varah. He was the man who inspired and founded the Samaritan movement in 1953, that now provides a 24/7 emotional support helpline service to around 5 million callers in distress and despair in the UK every year. There are now 170 branches and just short of 20,000 volunteers. Our own branch has 120 volunteers taking around 2,000 calls and e-mails each month. So much for the context, so back to my reflection. I couldn’t resist taking the book home. It will be returned, trust me. It has some 300 pages, based around a fictional Samaritans branch, its callers, its visitors, and almost equally, the lives of the Centre’s volunteers. I eagerly consumed the book in three or four sittings and wrote this reflection note around a week after I finished it.

How did I behave, think and feel?

The novel traces the lives of the collection of callers, face to face and by phone, to the Samaritans centre. These included Jackie, a young man with learning difficulties and the, oh so vulnerable Tim, whose mental health problems led via a rescued suicide bid through hospitalisation to semi-independent living and the touchingly na├»ve loving relationship to a tragic ending. Another was a debt-ridden housewife, weighed down with the guilt of an opportunistically stolen wallet with a pathetically small sum of bills. Equally detailed and sensitive treatment was given to the listening Samaritan volunteers—an assortment of male and female, young and old and their interesting and somewhat tortured lives. The mechanics of listening are so well described, including the pulse quickening jangle of the phone, the desperation of the despairing callers, the volunteers desire to really help, and the bonds between volunteers who choose to spend all night together listening to and offering unconditional emotional support to their anonymous callers. And of course the volunteers own lives were by no means immune to the pains of the human condition that they heard described so painfully every hour.

One paragraph spoke straight to my heart, and captured uncannily accurately, the experience of a busy shared nightshift. “You know why you were there. Could even sometimes begin to grow towards an idea of who you were, as the pretence and defences fell away before the urgent truth of human contact”

Of course, there are seismic differences between the work of Samaritans and the social mores of the late Sixties and those of the early 21st century. That said much more was the same. I found myself frequently nodding in agreement and aching for the callers and the volunteers and recognising the emotional pain so deftly described.

What were the main Learning points?

I am conscious that this reflection says as much about me as it does about the book.

  • What were my motivations in reading this book? What was I looking for? Why would anyone do this work? Why do the volunteers in the novel put themselves through the challenges and disappointments of their chosen voluntary activity? Do I really know why I do it? When thinking about what I’ve taken from this book, I have ended up with many more questions than answers.

So what will I do differently, (is that a SMART goal)?

Now this is difficult. If all I’ve gained from the reading is questions, what to do next is really taxing me. I guess what this book has given to me is reinforcement of the enduring and priceless value of one human being, giving totally non-judgemental listening to another.


Thanks, Unc!

My own follow-up: Monica Dickens, the great granddaughter of Charles Dickens, was born in 1915 in London and died in 1992. A prolific author, she wrote for both adults and children. Check out the Wikipedia link to learn more about her humanitarian efforts.


Amy Ruttan said...

Sounds awesome, thanks again Uncle Mike!

Anonymous said...

Great review, Uncle Mike!

Anonymous said...

Very nice, very nice. I'll have to look her up. Didn't know Dickens had kin who wrote, but now I'm intrigued. Always been a fan of his.
And bravo to you for your volunteer work. You're showing the rest of us slags up!

Vicky said...

Uncle Mike. *sigh*
One day I'll have to convince Wylie to post a voice recording of your reviews.... ohhhh! I just thought of something even better! Maybe a video tape recording - with the jacket, brandy and a fake pipe! Heeehheee!

Yet another wonderful review! Thanks!

Wylie Kinson said...

Great idea, Vicki, but Uncle Michael is more likely to be reading in a hammock by a pool in Bermuda than be in a leather club chair -- and that would TOTALLY blow the image!! :)

Wylie Kinson said...

I didn't know Dickens passed on his talent either, until I did a search on Monica. But I daren't read her lest my Expectations be too Great - ha ha ha! (groan)

Uncle Mike said...

Thank you for your encouraging comments. You are such a supportive community