First thought.... I spent today with peer support people from Ambulance and Fireservice at a training day. There was a psychologist bloke talking to us. His presentation style made listening to him harder work than it need to have been. I am sure he is a good counsellor....but as he presented his ideas to these people, I felt he did not really understand where they were at. He kept using illustrations from his counselling work, but their activity in being there for their colleagues is a lot different than people coming for appointments in a counselling room. His suggestions often did not fit their situation and you could see them screwing up their faces as they listened. It reminded me of something that happened to me years ago. I was being supervised by a counsellor and talked to him about issues I was having with someone in one of my chaplaincies. He responded and made suggestions about how I could draw this guy out, and go ever deeper with him. I listened but then pictured my average conversation with this man. I said to my supervisor, "Yes I can see how your approach is good and would be helpful.... if I was sitting in a chair and he had come to me for counselling. But I see this guy while he is driving a forklift and we have shouted conversations while I am riding on the running board! It is very different." The moral of the story I, as a presenter need reminded of again and again, and was reminded of today, is that if you are going to help people by talking to them, you must first listen to where they are so that you can speak into their situation.
The second thought...I came back to Dunedin and attended a church elders' team meeting. There we reflected on people I am, or have been involved with. I came home at about 9:30p.m. and my daughter and son-in-law were watching the movie "Molokia". It is a great true story about Father Damien who lived on an island to care for and support the leper colony there. I looked in on the lounge and watched the part where Father Damien realises that he has contracted leprosy. I had been listening to people all day; we had been reflecting on people I have been involved with and this part of the film nearly brought me to tears. (Though I have watched the film lots of times.) It struck me that just like Father Damien who was there for lepers and contracted leprosy, when we are there for people, we often suffer from the same "illness" they suffer from. I was chaplain when firefighters were angry about industrial strife, and I had to battle with anger in myself. I spend heaps of time listening to the confusions of mental health problems, and their pain becomes my pain. I listen to emergency workers who deal with tragic incidents, and something of the pain of the tragedies rubs off on me. Mostly you deal with it, but just sometimes you feel a sort of emotional tiredness. Tonight is one of those times. The other side of the coin is the privilege I have of being let into other people's life experience and therefore broadening, deepening and enriching my own journey. When I stop and think about it, I get so much more out of life by being there for others. From one perspective, for every year that I live, because others have let me share their lives, I experience much much more than a year's worth of living.