Sunday, 28 February 2010

From the army : flowers

Although most of my posts here are about herbs, I do have another life. The job which pays my wages, thus supporting my family and interests, is mostly training. The subjects I talk about form part of modern society, the part everyone wishes didn’t exist. I teach people to recognise cultures where abuse can thrive, how to complain about health and social care services and, most often, how to cope with bereavement and loss. None of them are fun, but we do spend quite some time laughing when I’m not telling stories to illustrate a point.

Delivering this training started three years ago. At first I limited myself to the East and West Midlands but my responsibilities are national, so I was soon wending my way north, south and east. Last summer, I was working up in Northumberland when I met a counsellor who really enjoyed the short time we spent together. She went home and told her husband his organisation could benefit from my training.

Her husband is responsible for an army welfare service. I’ve never had anything to do with the armed forces. Indeed, the whole concept of war and fighting horrifies me. Just after my eldest son was born, the Falklands War broke out. The eldest son of a neighbour put my husband’s name down as a referee without asking him. The request came in the post on an army headed envelope and I was convinced the Government had introduced conscription without telling anyone. I spent a long day being terrified before the truth emerged.

Although the counsellor told me she was going to talk to her husband, I heard nothing for several months. One autumn morning as I was going to work on the train, I was confronted by the faces of five young men, three of them younger than my own sons, on the front page of the free newspaper. They had all been killed in the same week. It didn’t seem right and I fervently wished I could do something to help.

You could call it coincidence or you could say the universe heard me. The counsellor’s husband rang me that afternoon and we arranged I would travel north to provide a two-hour lunchtime session for unit welfare officers.

Arrangements were taken over by a warrant officer, the counsellor’s husband’s deputy. She was able to come and see me in action in Sheffield when I was delivering a session for local voluntary services.

“It’s really good,” she said. “The content is just what we need, but you mustn’t do anything touchy-feely or they’ll call you a tree-hugger and walk out.”

This left me in somewhat of a dilemma, since most of my training is about feelings and I am a tree-hugger. What could I do?

Of all the training I have delivered over the years, this is probably the session which has scared me the most.

Chris and I travelled north last Monday, hoping to escape recent snowfalls with warmer weather. As we reached Yorkshire, I looked out of the car window to see two hares boxing. Theirs the only presence on a vast, frozen, snow covered field.

I love hares. We usually have a family of three each year on the farm. They will crouch, perfectly still as you approach, only leaping away when you come within stepping distance. This was the first time I had ever seen a couple boxing in real life. The experts say that the pair involved could either be two males fighting for dominance, but was more likely to be a female rejecting the amorous advances of a male.

A fascinating discussion of the symbolism of hares and rabbits can be found in an illustrated online article by Terri Windling. He says, “Whether hovering above us in the arms of a moon goddess or carrying messages from the Netherworld below, whether clever or clownish, hero or rascal, whether portent of good tidings or ill, rabbits and hares have leapt through myths, legends, and folk tales all around the world – forever elusive, refusing to be caught and bound by a single definition.”

The sight of boxing hares brought me great personal joy. Despite my misgivings, both training sessions with army and air force unit welfare officers and community development workers were very well received.

We talked about theories and processes and signposting. The warrant officer provided case studies – compassionate leave for dying parents, marital difficulties and a bomb blast which meant not all the body parts could be returned – and the participants talked about their own experiences and concerns. Many were new in post, many already knew what it was to be the bearer of bad news to families and they all seemed to take something positive away with them.

The snow fell again on Tuesday night in North Yorkshire. As we came to leave the Army Welfare Service building, fog covered the land, leaving little sign of fields and hedges. Training sessions always exhaust me, so I dozed on and off during our four hour journey home.

Reading through the evaluation forms on Thursday afternoon back in my office brought a smile to my face. All the worry and preparation had been worthwhile. When I returned to my desk on Friday, after a brief foray into inner city gloom in search of sandwiches, there was a message on my voicemail from Reception.

“We have something nice for you,” it said.

On a shelf underneath the window was a bouquet of spring flowers. For me. The note read, “Thank you for supporting the Army Welfare Service”.


joanne fox said...

That sounds really interesting and obviously went down with the group. I love hares, by the way, but don't remember ever seeing any boxing - not in real life.

Stella Jones said...

A worthy way to spend your time. I can imagine how hard it must have been for you to approach the subject in a different way. Well done you.
Blessings, Star