When I told others that I would be interning at a suicide hotline over the summer, most of them asked “why would you want to do that?” I was attracted to the opportunity because it sounded like one of the most direct ways possible to help a person, and I believe that everyone should have someone that they can talk to if there is no one else in their life available. So I started training for an organization called the Samaritans in Framingham, MA.
I have some confessions to make about the experience:
- Though I was given training, it did not stop my heart from racing a little faster each time the phone rang. I never knew who would be on the other line; it could be a regular caller that just needed to chat about everyday life out of loneliness, or it could be a high-risk caller ready to give up completely. Most of the time it was the former, though there was no way of telling before lifting up that phone.
- I could not help every caller. Sometimes personalities do not mesh well enough, sometimes I would happen to ask the wrong question, and other times the caller was just not ready to tell their story. Yet no volunteer at Samaritans is perfect or a professional; we merely try our best and do end up helping the majority at least feel heard.
- I did not have all of the answers (nor was I allowed or qualified to advise anyone on how to live their own life), though this did not stop callers from asking for advice. While I was trained to direct the conversations toward their pain, I was not there to solve their problems. This was perhaps the hardest part of my work with the Samaritans; though so many unfortunate circumstances may have been happening in their lives, I could only be a witness to their pain.
My summer at the Samaritans opened my eyes to, and made me feel more compassion for, all of the lonely people in the world. Though it was at times a bit scary, it was a gratifying experience; so many thanked me and the organization profusely, and I knew that I was helping others feel a little better every time I answered calls.
Would you ever volunteer for the Samaritans? Why or why not?