Today was one of those fluctuating days, which I guess is pretty much a normal occurrence for most people. It started off with heartbreak mixed with alarm, descended to upset, then took a real turn for the better.
Heading off out for an early appointment, my heart sank. Directly across from my front door was the same make and colour of car as my ex’s. Curiously, there was a change in my reaction. I still love her, there’s no doubt about that, but when I saw the car, my first response was “Oh no”, followed by relief, when I saw the registration number was different. Is that progress or not? I really don’t know.
On my wander down the seafront to my meeting came the upset. As a car drove slowly by, a pigeon flew leisurely groundwards, no doubt eyeing a crushed bit of takeaway food on there. Something happened, though, that I’d never seen before. The pigeon misjudged the speed of the lone car and was hit. Nothing the driver could do about it.
It struck me, that moment, too, though clearly not as much as that poor bird. I couldn’t help feeling a lump in my throat well up. One moment, you’re there, doing your best to keep your head above water, getting on with life. The next moment, gone for eternity. The overhead gloom seemed very fitting, seemingly joining in with the Monday morning blues.
The tiny plus so far, though, is that it was my ideal walking weather, and my negative thoughts soon dissipated when I arrived for my appointment. I was met warmly by Barbie, someone who helps hold Britain together. A voluntary worker.
It’s a growing industry in Britain in these times of austerity. Forget about the ill thought-out and transparent agenda of the Government’s “Big Society”, which essentially encouraged businesses to dispense with paid employees and take on coerced unemployed ‘volunteers’. It was rightly and embarrassingly shoved to one side soon after its launch.
No, the out and out voluntary sector is something that’s forgotten about by and large yet plays such an essential part in everyday living. From soup kitchens for the homeless to home care for the elderly in their kitchens, almost 20 million British people get on with making other people’s lives that bit better without fuss or reward.
Yes, that’s right. 20 million. That’s the number of people who volunteered at least one day last year. 13 million work voluntarily in their spare time at least once a month, helping over 160,000 organisations survive and serve their communities. That’s an astonishing amount of goodwill that goes unnoticed in this country.
It’s why I felt inspired as soon as I met Barbie. Attractive, smart, down to earth, and clearly motivated to help who she can. She works in the local Citizens Advice Bureau, an organisation I’ve had cause to use this year and before.
If you’re having a tough time paying bills, or getting a raw deal with your local council, or perhaps having trouble with welfare, tax, any consumer issue really, they are the people to go to.
They talk to you confidentially, they advise, they give information, they even accompany you to court if need be. If you’re having problems staying afloat on a practical basis, they are in your corner.
It’s something Barbie has been doing, quietly and happily, for some time, standing in everyone’s corner. What really struck me was her focus on how she wants to meet the needs of anyone who walks through the door. Before talking about what I might bring to the table, or anything about herself, her main thrust was on other people. She wants, and does make a difference, without making a fuss.
I felt comfortable, relaxed, motivated in her company. The thought of helping other people, of using my own abilities to make a difference somewhere, that brought a little joy to me. There’s no doubt that helping someone also helps yourself because you feel that bit better in yourself.
By the meeting’s end, the obligatory form was given for me to fill in and return, the expected hours were discussed, the training outlined, and the start anticipated. It was the best news I’d had all year. Yet again, Barbie had helped someone, though I doubt she knows just by how much. Someone in the depths of depression given a chance. That’s what you call therapy.
I wandered off for my paid job search, happy that at long last I will again be part of the silent backbone of this country again. Shortly the 20 / 13 million voluntary work figures will be boosted by one. Undoubtedly one of the most pleased, too, and the change to me emotionally and confidence-wise was immediate. Thanks to Barbie, my depression changed purely because I will be doing something I’ve been yearning to do my whole life.
Making a difference.