The Randomness of Elephants and Me

May 31, 2016 | Nick Taylor

Tracy Holland, author of this blog – The Randomness of Elephants and Me – works at the Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Foundation for Peace.

The Peace Centre often has elephants; maybe we have more than anywhere else. I usually know when they’re coming but occasionally one manifests unexpectedly – looming over me, shuffling guiltily and trying hard not to overwhelm me. Of course I’m talking about metaphorical elephants – for me, the real thing would be big treat.

I’m not typical of those who work for the Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Foundation for Peace. My colleagues greet elephants warmly and make them welcome and comfortable until they vanish with a contented pachyderm grin, but I struggle to cope with an elephant in the room, I just do the admin. I try; I’ve always tried to acknowledge elephants – giving my condolences to the bereaved and offering tea, but the depth and enormity of the horror that some of our visitors have survived is too much.

Mike Haines, brother of David Haines, visited us for the first time last September. I met him when I went to make coffee. I knew he was coming but guests sometimes stay downstairs. I said hi and smiled. He was chatting to our Survivors Assistance Network team: Donna, Ann and Terry – it was fine, Mike is a lovely man. The elephant was only in my head as they so often are. I wanted to say something so I told him about my new kitten. I said we were thinking about calling him Apocalypse Meow and David laughed. I made him laugh – that’s got to be good. We named our kitten Jericho in the end.

I was first introduced to Wendy Parry when I called in to sign my contract before starting work. I hadn’t given it any thought; I didn’t expect to meet her. Wendy is our founder and a trustee, and one of things she does is manage room hire at the Peace Centre, and brings in a great deal of much needed funds. Expressing condolences to someone when you meet twenty one years after their loss didn’t feel appropriate. Wendy knew; she’s seen it thousands of times, so it was okay. In the past two years I must’ve met so many people who have been through so much, and most of the time I don’t know about any of it because they’re all people just like you and me.

I’ve got upset on two occasions in the nearly-two-years that I’ve worked at the Peace Centre. Once I was shown film of a mother whose son had supposedly gone abroad to study but went to fight for the so called Islamic State and had been killed – I’m not skilled enough to describe that and I don’t want to try – I’m a mum too. The other time was when I was doing some research to help with the refurbishment of the foyer: I found out that after Tim was killed Wendy and Colin put a notice in a shop window asking their friends and neighbours to say hello and not avoid them. It’s strange that my mind selected that as a point of fear given what the Parrys and all the others have endured.

I stand in awe of my marvellous colleagues who cope so effectively with this stuff day after day. I still struggle with invisible elephants, but if I can face them down I’m sure you can too. Next time you encounter someone who is suffering please acknowledge them – hello and a smile or a cup of tea means so much.

Our work is all about unthinkable horrors (for me at least). The effectiveness of our prevention programmes and Survivors Assistance Network is proven. We are one of the leading organisations in our field, but there is so much to do and we need help – your help – and the help of your friends and colleagues. Talking to others about us helps us too because as a charity we’re often ignored. Maybe, in part, that’s because our minds stop us from thinking properly about some things to protect us. I once read that ‘random’ is the most frightening word in our language – it took a while but now I understand. We can’t produce figures showing the life-paths we’ve changed, and it’s impossible to know the atrocities we’ve played a key role in averting. We can’t tell you the happy stories about how our support rebuilds lives because the people we help need peace more than anything. We face this head on so, hopefully, others will never have to. Please donate now – even a small amount makes a difference.

If you run a business there are lots of ways you can help us and boost your team’s morale at little or no cost. We’ll give you a cheery mention in our newsletter too. If you are an employee please speak to your employer about us. Contact Jonathan at jonathan.levy@foundation4peace.org or telephone 01925 581231 for some great ideas.