This morning I found myself in the company of a lovely group of people, members of a group called Interim. They had invited me along to give them a talk about the U3A (the University of the Third Age).
When I say I “found myself” it gives the impression that I was transported by the Floo Network - Harry Potter style - from my comfortable home, arriving in a surprised
heap in the equally comfortable parish centre at Broadwater. In fact an extremely courteous gentleman called Geoff, clad in shorts and tee-shirt, arrived at my door to whisk me to my destination. He apologised in advance for the fact that he would have to
leave before I actually started talking as he had a prior engagement. I reassured him that I would not take offence.
No, when I say I “found myself”
what I mean is “why me?” I am hardly the World Expert on the subject of the U3A, nor do I have an exalted position as a member of the local branch Committee. What happened was this: a charming woman telephoned me to say that she was the secretary
of this group and they were hoping for someone to speak about the U3A at a future meeting. She was phoning me because mine was the only telephone number which seemed to be displayed prominently on our website. Don’t ask me why this is so, but I have
checked it out and there’s my number on the front page as the contact for the SUN project (regular readers may or may not remember what this was all about.) Try to find a number for a Committee member and you are right out of luck.
I rashly told the sweet lady that I was sure somebody from U3A would be happy to oblige – but when I reported on this to our Chairman, she merely said it was very good
of me to offer. Which is how I “found myself” this morning sharing a coffee with Interim members and hoping my little talk would not send them all to sleep. I’m just the gal who can’t say no...
It was great fun researching my talk. I logged onto the national U3A website and happened across a 13 page document entitled The U3A Story which described how the organisation developed from
its earliest days in 1981 to the present when it can boast over a quarter of a million members. I loved hearing how the first national committee consisted of just four people who had their inaugural meeting in a car travelling between Cambridge and London.
There was ample evidence, too, of the way we U3A-ers have always been a feisty crowd with tales of controversies throughout the ages, mostly because of concerns about “central control”. Now where have we heard that before? Nor did I know that our
very British model of a U3A differs substantially from those in other countries which tend to be affiliated to local universities. The Founding Fathers of the British model felt strongly that our version should be based on self-governing, democratically-run
local groups with convenors, rather than teachers, sharing knowledge and expertise on any and every subject. All based on the principle that Learning is for Life. Amen to that, I say.
Let me tell you a little bit about Interim. It’s a small group set up to offer help and support for the recently bereaved. It meets once a fortnight, sometimes with a speaker, mostly just gathering for companionship and conversation
with other people in similar, life-changing circumstances. As they say in their excellent little leaflet: “ Interim ...is for that ‘in-between’ time, that time between the familiarity of life shared with another and readiness to take up a
different life alone. This is a time of change, of maybe the most difficult adjustment of your life....We share memories with each other, support each other with practical ideas to ease the passage into a new way of living. In the most gentle way possible,
we draw alongside you to walk together in that ‘in-between’ time.”
I am humbled by their inspiring gentleness, compassion and understanding.
And I am very glad that I “found myself” in their company today.