I watched Tom Brokaw, the American broadcast journalist, on the OWN Network the other night. Among the many things he discussed, he talked about how he always knew journalism was his true calling. How, as a young boy, watching the news with his family in South Dakota, he was transfixed. And even then, he knew it was what he wanted to do.
Clearly he was right, because he is one of the most respected newsmen of our time. Certainly one of my favourites, along with Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley and David Brinkley.
God, now I am dating myself. I’ll bet there are a lot of you out there, who don’t know who I’m talking about. Well, there it is. Would it help if I told you, I was a mere child when they were on the air? It’s true, you know.
Not that it really matters. I’m glad I had the chance to see them in action. I can’t think of anyone I’d stack up against them, now.
But that’s not the point of this story. Destiny is.
You could say it was Tom Brokaw’s destiny to end up not merely reporting the news, but making sense of it, for almost fifty years.
Not that I’m in any way comparing my talent to his, but I have always felt writing is my true calling. I wanted to be a writer from childhood. English was one of my best subjects all through school. I’ve had a very successful career, writing. And I love doing it.
But watching the interview with Brokaw, I thought back to a conversation I had last Thursday, with a new client, for whom I am producing a series of videos. We were in the process of blocking off tentative dates. When she mentioned a particular Tuesday, I told her I volunteer at a hospital on Tuesdays and am, therefore, unavailable. She asked what I did there.
When I mentioned the three areas I’m involved in (surgical waiting room, recovery room, palliative care), she responded, “Whew! Those are all emotionally challenging.”
Can’t say I’ve ever thought of them in that way, but she’s right. They are. And now I wonder if being good in emotionally charged environments is another calling of mine. I have always been drawn to them.
As a fifteen year old in Montreal, I participated in a hospital volunteer program for teenagers. I did it a couple of times a week all summer, and then again, in the fall. I absolutely loved it. Now I’m volunteering again. In areas where patients and family members are all emotional. Frightened, sad, tired, angry, frustrated. You name it. I never know what I’m walking into. Yet, I love it. I really do. Every bit as much as I love my writing.
The more difficult the situation, the more assistance I feel I can provide. Obviously I am not a medical professional, so what I can do is limited.
But I can listen. I can hold a hand. I can put my arm around a pair of shoulders. I can silently hand over a box of tissues. I can do my level best to make sure they get updated with news about their loved ones, in a timely fashion. I can be empathetic. I can be calm, and hope my demeanour helps them to remain calm. I can be as helpful as possible, given the limitations of what I can and cannot say; and can and cannot do. I can show them I care. I can show them I understand what they are going through. I can direct them to those who are professionally qualified to give them the kind of solace, support, advice and information I cannot.
Interestingly enough, it’s not unlike some of the duties I performed when I was a creative director. Advertising is an industry where emotions are usually running wild, although for very different reasons than you’d find in a hospital. But understandable, none the less.
Deadlines are brutal. Unrelentingly so. Day after day. Week after week. Month after month. Year after year. Working nights and weekends is the norm. You get exhausted and run down. Stress becomes like an aphrodisiac. It’s what keeps us going. But it also plays havoc with emotions, emotional stability and relationships. It’s downright lousy on marriages.
Creative people are sensitive. More given to emotional outbursts than, say, accountants. Even on a good day. And by good day, I mean calm day. Which are very few and far between. We’re all insecure, to some degree. Wouldn’t you be if you stared at a blank screen or piece of paper every day and really had no idea how you filled it up? Where the ideas came from? Wouldn’t you be a bit of a wreck if every Tom, Dick and Harry had the right to shit all over your work? Work you slaved over, like it was a baby you’d given birth to.
So in an agency, somebody’s always having a melt down. And somebody else is always cleaning up the mess. Calming folks down. Employing a lot of the same methods and techniques I have to use in the hospital every Tuesday.
Now, then, here is the million dollar question. Do you think it might also have been my calling to be a social worker? Or a couples’ therapist? Or a hairdresser? A manicurist? A divorce lawyer? I have no idea. Just wondering.
Do you ever wonder about what else you might have done? If you weren’t doing what you are doing, that is.