Sunday, 4 May 2014

Tthe Starfish Project

I am beginning to draw back a veil and peer into a  very  painful part of my life: the time I had a breakdown which led to my retirement from teaching five years ago, at the fabulously early age of fifty-eight.  

What I am appreciating now that I no longer have anger and resentment to deal with, is the amazing support certain individuals gave. There was Ray, who suffered alongside me with infinite patience, my daughters, whose love also sustained me, and Carol who made a lovely memory book for me, which I was looking at yesterday, and which prompted this post. Thank you Carol!  (She reads this!) 

Some events around that time were pure grace. Islands of normality in a sea of pain. One such was a Study Visit organised by The League of Commonwealth Teachers to the Western Cape in South Africa.

Alongside the educational engagements, there were trips to a winery, a penguin colony and the Stellenbosch Botanical Gardens - wangled by me, the eternal flower freak.  I may have some photos to post somewhere ... 

Jan Isaac, our party leader, gave me a gift that day, a beaded magnet shaped like a starfish. She knew how I was leaving my profession with a deep sense of failure, and reminded me of the starfish story:

A boy walks along the beach and encounters thousands of stranded starfish. He begins to throw them one by one back into the sea. A passer-by, taking in the enormity of the task remarks:

"That's not going to make much difference"

"It will to HIM ," replies the boy, tossing the next one into the waves. 

Making a difference to one, then another one, then another one. Perhaps as a teacher, I did. I'd certainly like to think so.

The starfish is attached to the fridge, and reminds me that failure isn't always the right word for when the world comes crashing down. Certainly in my case: I have had at least four years paid leave that I wouldn't have had, and good ones at that. What seemed like disaster at the time, now has a very different aspect.

All of the above is preamble to following-up on The Life Of Brian. 

My do-gooding with Gloucester City Mission is a consequence of my precipitate departure from the work force. Helping others is a great way to get over yourself and other assorted calamities, and I would credit the Missioners, and the Salvation Army volunteers too, with playing a large part in my healing. 

When beginning volunteering in any field, I guess you're given advice about not getting  too involved ... But Brian just seems so helpable. So I threw all caution to the winds and set about to make a difference. 

Brian is now working for us using his considerable talents gained as an estate manager before his meltdown. Just a couple of hours a week at minimum wage with meals and advice, resources and opportunities to start his own business. 

I don't know how this intervention will end: as long as Brian isn't adversely affected, it doesn't matter. I guess once you've thrown the starfish back into the sea, the rest is up to him. 


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