We tell ourselves stories. Stories about each other, about who we are and what our families and lives are about. These stories are shortcuts. I’ll tell you that I’m the eldest and that my brother is the only Dempsey boy of his generation and that my Dad’s family is sort of Irish. Which is shortcut for I’m the responsible (possibly overlooked) sibling and Ben is the golden balls of our family. B might tell you that I never got in trouble and was good at school and he was the opposite of that, which might be shorthand for I was the favoured child. We’d both be sort of right.
We tell share those stories to show who we are but those stories aren’t the entire picture. Sometimes there are stories we don’t tell others about, they are the stories we show by what we do.
‘Just get on with it’ is the unofficial motto of our family. We are people who get on and do stuff, even if we don’t want to, even if we also bitch and moan about it (ok that’s mostly just me!). I was brought up with the firm conviction that we were pretty lucky to be alive, I’m a working class woman, I can vote, read, support (more or less) myself, I survived childhood and live in the first world. Pretty damn lucky.
Alongside that, there was always the mostly unspoken conviction that if you could help, you should. Most of that happened via church. I grew up watching my mother be a eucharistic minister, a catcheist, a typer of the parish newsletter, a member of the local Justice and Peace group. Now she’s retired, she’s doing it again, the food bank, the homeless organisation she volunteers at, and anything else that comes up. Her take on it is that she has the time, she should do something useful with it.My Granddad was the same. For as long as I can remember, he worked three days a week and was busy for the other two days. He sold the War Cry, was involved in the OAP’s club, which involved days out and also the playgroup. One of the nicest things at his funeral were the flowers the playgroup sent, telling us that he’d be missed.
I’d be missing out half the story if I didn’t point out that faith is a huge part of this attitude. The Salvation Army is the church that Granddad belonged to and Ma grew up in and it’s work has always been about helping those that society don’t help or value.All of this contributed to my decision to make volunteering more, one of my goals for the year. It’s also not an entirely altruistic goal, volunteering can be good for the volunteer too. So I’ve been to allotment work days, I’ve babysat for the nephews and the Baxters, I’ve given out water at and tidied up at the Ealing Half Marathon, I’ve also taken on blog content for the Ealing Dean Allotment Society website.
That sense of living too much in my own head and maybe isolating myself that I talked about last year, I’m more on top of it this year. Although, I don’t subscribe to the ‘busy every minute’ school of life, being busy and having things to do aside from work, has prevented me from spending so much time in my head because I have to use the time for other things!
Have I helped others? I hope so but in addition to that, I’ve increased the number of people that I know where I live, there are people that I talk to more. I’ve also made more of an effort to keep in touch with people. Tom is coming to dinner this week, because the development at the allotments, prompted me to call him, something I’ve been telling myself to do since January and not getting around to doing! Basically, I’ve pulled my head from my backside and looked up a bit more this year. My life is just as difficult as it always was, I’m still sad about the things I’m sad about but I’ve taken the focus off them and put it into other people.
So this is my advice, if you can help, you should, not just for other people but for you too. It’s advice that’s been working for my family for generations!