Hmm, so much for my best intentions to write often.
Jake, my accidental acquaintance, grandson of someone I know through my tennis club, and a young adult with learning difficulties, has found his first employment at the age of 22. He is thrilled and inordinately pleased at his part-time shift work at a local small supermarket.
We met today for the second time to chat about his progress since we first met, about 6 weeks ago. At that time, I was about to present a newly commissioned workshop for the National Connexions Network in London to Connexions Personal Advisers. I was interested to meet Jake, and to hear his experiences.
Jake was wary meeting me the first time, and anxious to be away, promptly, as soon as he had finished his hot chocolate. Since, then, I seem to have acquired the status of a familiar family friend, through chance encounters with his grandmother at my tennis club. He greeted me today eagerly, with a bag of photographs he wanted to share.
Jake’s booming slightly monotone voice can be heard clearly across the cafe. There is little room for privacy, and so the need for familiar places, for people who may look across fondly, and not with irritation or ridicule, becomes an instinctive act of self-preservation.
It was lovely to hear Jake’s experiences, his plans for the week, his very routine way of dealing with things. He has his calendar of work and personal commitments mapped out until the Autumn. A family holiday to mid-Wales in three weeks’ time is very much on his mind, particularly since he has heard there may be otters in the area.
He is a keen photographer, something his family have encouraged and continue to support. His photographs of birds, of woodpeckers, buzzards, swans, and others, are remarkable for the very great skill he displays in waiting and choosing the right moment to take the picture. Actually, they were very good pictures indeed.
What do I understand now, that I did not understand before meeting Jake today?
I guess it is how the world of work, replaces, for some people, the customs, rituals and feelings of the world of school. For someone like Jake, who had a Statement of SEN at high school and failed to achieve academically in any meaningful sense, work has the potential to be liberating, to be enpowering, to be a significant experience and transition point in his life.
It also has absolutely, the power to diminish feelings that are slow to evolve, of autonomy, of independence, of a small sense of confidence in what he is good at, and what he understands.
His account of some difficulties at work was heart-breaking really, despite his matter of fact, loud delivery. The incident trying to check the age of a girl buying alchohol and lotto cards on a Saturday evening, on his late shift, has clearly worried him. He is anxious in case she is so rude to him again, as she walked off, after refusing to show her ID. Jake’s manager could not be found, despite Jake pressing his buzzer for help. The queue at his till became longer, until someone else noticed and opened another till.
His modest description of the stresses he felt was so simply understated. His comment that he really couldn’t sleep after, so matter of fact, uncomplaining, accepting.
It is possible to see how feelings of helplessness and vulnerability at school, over many years, of the fear and threat of bullying, of ridicule, of the impatience and intolerance of others, would surface again in an instant, as the girl at the till refused to co-operate with his polite request.
It is easily possible to relate these feelings, to the stresses and anxieties that prevented, and prevent, sleep.
I wonder whose idea it was, that he might work late-shifts, despite his vulnerability? I wonder who thought he would cope alone, at the till, without support? Or why, at the Job Centre, there is a need to worry him about national insurance and income tax and the hours he works, till he is in such a state of bother, that it occupies his mind constantly?
I ponder all these things, and consider, what are the opportunities that I may have, that may make a difference, if not to Jake, to others like him, for the future? School has equipped Jake so poorly for his present, let alone his future. Connexions – really what have they done for him that has served him well? His employers at the supermarket?
As I think about all this, I think also about our individual and collective responsibility to fellow mankind.
What is my existence for, because it sure to God is not about me?
With my very best wishes,