Manning the lifeboats

I’ve only once been in any particular difficulty at sea, and that was when we ran aground half an hour into my first day’s sailing. We didn’t have to call the Croatian coastguard, thankfully, since there was a lead boat to our party who were able to come and tow us off the undersea speed bump we had encountered. Calling them the lead boat perhaps implies some blame that we got stuck, and that would be unfair. I think the problems could be summarised as heading off in slightly the wrong direction and then misreading the signals. Ironically our skipper was explaining just what the particular marker meant when we experienced the very hazard it was trying to warn us to avoid.

The weather conditions on our trip (exactly three years ago) were generally gorgeous, as can be seen in the blog mast-head above where we spent that evening unwinding with the aid of some local vino. Few scenes could have been more different from ours than the treacherous conditions off the Cornish coast where a very different rescue attempt was tragically unsuccessful. Seth Lakeman sings a song about the Solomon Browne, the Penlee lifeboat whose crew were all killed trying to save the crew and passengers on the Union Star coaster back in 1981. There’s a good documentary about it all called the Cruel Sea which I saw on the 30th anniversary but is also on Youtube. The heroism shown by the men involved, and so many others in emergency services around the world gives some important perspective when our own jobs seem to be something to complain about.

While some dramatherapists definitely offer a frontline service which on occasion may save lives, my own contribution is a few steps back from that now. I’m currently marking a rather variable batch of essays but the one that has made me exclaim most loudly has been one that suggested the use of a ‘lifeboat exercise’. This seems to be a variation on a balloon debate which I did at school, where participants have to argue the reasons why they should be saved rather than thrown overboard to save the sinking ship/balloon. The trouble was that my student was proposing this exercise for a group of clients suffering from depression. Who might perhaps be suicidal? Who might be volunteering to be thrown overboard? Aarrgh.

Others of my students seem to be discussing health conditions from a degree of personal knowledge which means that even though their lack of proper research is disappointing, I am needing to be rather sensitive about how I criticise them. I know some of my students have experienced personal circumstances which have affected their work, and while marking fairly and failing some of them, I need to be a bit prepared to help pick up the pieces if they come crying to me later. There are times when being a trained therapist is a useful skill for a lecturer.

Sometimes our own difficult experiences can help us to help others. I shared a little in a recent preachers training session about a time many years ago when I found a prayer ministry time to be a very isolating and painful experience. Even now I am upset at the lack of care or consideration shown to me by members of a previous church, and I stressed how even one person asking me if I was ok would have made such a difference. Perhaps it influenced my own journey towards a helping profession, and perhaps sharing the story now will help others learn the importance of taking care when people make themselves vulnerable asking for help or prayer. I guess there’s always some degree of risk when we reach out to help others but the benefits also go both ways. Making a difference for someone else makes a difference for me.

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