Against all odds, I’ve got a job.
I have applied for work six times in the last few years, and been knocked back five. This is a little galling, as they were all volunteer jobs. Being rejected once as a volunteer is discouraging, twice perplexing, thrice infuriating, the fourth time mystifying, the fifth – well I pretty well talked myself out of the fifth job in a conversation with my potential boss, perhaps avoiding the pain I could feel coming my way. But perseverance prevails, and I have a job! Not a glamorous job, but I like it. Are you ready?…
My job, for two or three hours each Friday, is to shelve returned books at our local library. I was in the library late last year and watched a librarian at work putting books back in their proper spots on the shelves and thought, ‘I could do that!’. I interrupted the librarian from her task, and asked if there was a role for a volunteer. Thankfully she was not intimidated by all my apparatus, the ‘rolling show’, as others had been. I applied through the local council’s volunteer department, organised a Police Check, and, having admitted to my several shortcomings in the application form, wrote a letter explaining how I could do the job. I detailed my long acquaintance with the Dewey Decimal system; the easy access I have on Public Transport; the quietness of my Smart Drive wheelchair motor that would not wake sleeping patrons; the portability of my ventilator; and the gorilla-like length of my arms with which I can easily reach the top shelf without standing up. (I didn’t really say that bit). I rather think that my long record of volunteer-rejection fuelled my letter!
But, there was no reply. November, December, Christmas, New Year, January, home from holidays … still nothing.
January has been my prime month for applying for jobs for the last few years. This annual phenomenon is a clear response to our January holiday. Each year I come home so energised by being away that I am compelled to look for a new project. One January I saw a Lawn Bowls Wheelchair on eBay, and impulsively put in a bid. I was sure this was the Big One, the bright path to nirvana. While I waited for the auction to close I went to the Bowling Club and met some of the experts in white. Mercifully as the gloss began to fade from this vision splendid somebody else put in a higher bid, and so I was saved from a life of drinking beer, in white.
It must have been January buoyancy that eventually gave me courage for a follow up email to the volunteer department. But nothing followed, not even a courteous reply: “Thank you Mr Allen, but… ah… well… no thanks”.
February eased past, then March, and the call came! “Mr Allen, we’d love you to come down.” It’s a great job, my job. The Library is a hive of activity, and there are numerous keen and interesting staff. My gorilla arms are superlative. The only downside to my job is that it reminds me of the job I really wanted. Three of my six applications were for the same job, in three separate years. I wanted, more than anything, to be a hospital chaplain. I had been a chaplain for a couple of years in another town and it was one of the most fulfilling roles I have ever filled. The most fascinating aspect of chaplaincy was a seat on the hospital’s Medical Ethics Advisory Board, a panel of lawyers, doctors, administrators, a university lecturer in ethics, and community representatives that provided the Director of Clinical Governance with advice on thorny problems. We discussed how much it was appropriate to spend on specific, anonymous patients in the light of other needs and budgetary constraints; and once considered the therapeutic use of Thalidomide in our hospital. But the wonderful part of chaplaincy was listening to people talk through difficult times in their lives, acknowledging all they felt, and sometimes having something to offer that lifted their gaze. It was a beautiful job, and sometimes a sad one. As well as services in the Chapel, there were occasional funerals to conduct; once of a much admired member of staff in her thirties who had suddenly fallen down on duty, an aneurysm that ended her life within a month. She lost her speech, but her life seemed transformed by a visit from a retired Bishop who gave her a handmade wooden cross that she rarely let go. The most difficult task I have ever faced was to help a family turn off life support for their father in the very early hours of a winter morning; it was my role to nod to a doctor while I led the family in prayer.
All of that happened in the life I used to live as a fit and healthy, ordinary pastor in a country town. Our world changed completely in 2009 after a Motor Neurone Disease diagnosis, and after some time I felt I had something to offer as a hospital visitor; I now understood deeply the fears and hopes that I had heard so many patients express; and I dearly wanted to sit beside beds again, and listen. But three years in a row the hospital said no. The first time because I was too late for the volunteer induction course that they only ran once a year (the course I regularly helped present in the previous hospital!); and the subsequent two years because my wheelchair was considered a hazard in the wards. I must admit, I still feel angry about it, sorrowful; it seems to me an entirely unfair and futile decision. Without pride, I still feel I would have been good in that role, and it is painful revisiting it now.
But, I’ve got a job. At last! The need to contribute something, somewhere, is strong. I am very mindful of the privilege of living in a country with a disability pension, much though I hate being a pensioner. And there are all sorts of other ways the community offers generous support. Putting a few books away hardly repays that debt; but it’s something. It’s odd really, how much pleasure there is in doing something. I delight in catching the ‘bus to work’; and the satisfaction of coming home again properly worn out by a couple of trolleys of shelving is no less than the happy exhaustion I once felt after a big day digging fence posts on the farm, or pouring concrete when I was a tradesman.
I’ve got a job!
Please note: the web address of Rejoice! has changed. Please visit www.rejoice.live
As always, I’d love to hear from you.