Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas timing

If, like me, you’re working on Christmas Eve and feeling a little hard done by, it’s a good time to consider that it’s actually not all that bad.

This morning, I was reading a host of Twitter posts from disgruntled employees, bleating blithely about having to work on Christmas Eve. I won’t repeat some of the choice language, but you get the idea. Then I came across the following Tweet from @DS_Rosser – a Brighton based Detective Sergeant, who specialises in hostage and crisis negotiations.

It read: “Been up on Beachy Head and it’s proper dark and proper wet. Negotiated with female in distress clinging to the face of the cliff. Female wasn’t engaging with uniformed officers and generally sat in silence. Suicide notes left, goodbye texts typed…. Eventually managed to get her to come away from the edge for some help. As we were walking away she gave me some lovely customer feedback. Feedback that I’ll never forget….she looked at me and said: “You need to work on your technique, seriously…”

It hammered home that there are amazing people out there, who deal with life or death situations on a daily basis. Not just DS Rosser, but the armed forces, nurses and so on. These people are rarely appreciated until they make an impact on your own life.

On the other side, DS Rosser’s straightforward explanation – clinical almost – reveals how he must have to ‘close off’ to such intense situations. Faced with that poor woman literally hanging on to life by her fingertips, called for immense courage and confidence. Feelings rule so many people’s lives, with sadness and loneliness being the ones that too often drag the sufferer into despair.

So what do you say to someone who has chosen to give up on life, has no more words to say and has already written her goodbyes? How do you pull someone away from the brink of suicide? Whatever DS Rosser said, worked – to the extent that she even joked with him afterwards. Perhaps, it wasn’t what he said, but the fact that he gave up his time and took the trouble to listen and to talk.

Loneliness at this time of year can intensify for those who have nobody to talk to and nobody to listen. Surrounded by everyone asking: “So how are you spending Christmas day?” and sharing details of family get-togethers, those who are on their own must feel as if Christmas is a punishment, rather than a time of celebration. It’s a cliché, but as clichés go, it’s a good one: but if you can spare a thought for someone on their own this Christmas, please try and do what you can to help. A few words and little acts of kindness can have an immeasurable impact on a lost soul.

I’m reminded of a Tweet I posted in October, that praised the humble art of letter writing. A retired man was going through his loft and found some old school books. Flicking through, he suddenly remembered one of his favourite teachers. He managed to track down her contact details and, on a whim, sent her a letter, thanking her for all she had done. Because she was one of the most popular teachers at his school, his letter began: “I expect you get this all the time, but…”

Within a few days he received a letter from his teacher, which read: “Dear Willie: I cannot tell you how much your note meant to me. I’m in my 80s and live alone in a small room, lonely like the last leaf of summer, lingering behind. You’ll be interested to know that I taught at the school for 50 years and yours is the first note of appreciation I have ever received. It came on a cold, blue morning and it cheered me as nothing has in many years.”

A simple letter can mean the world to someone who feels undervalued. Time is precious and it’s easy to get dragged into the pre-Christmas sprint. But even a few moments spared to give someone a kind word can lift the lowest of the low. Take a moment to think of someone who will be on their own this Christmas. It may not be the first person you think of – not necessarily a relative or friend. What about that guy that goes in the pub that everyone ridicules? Or the one in Sainsbury’s who everyone thinks is ‘a bit odd’? Or the ‘quiet one’ in the office?

The best Christmas present you can give this year is a little bit of your time to touch someone’s heart. 

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