Make the most of now
This particular time is a season in which death rises to prominence. Without wishing to take it in too macabre a direction, this was my starting point with the boys in Monday’s assembly. ‘A cheery way to start the new half of term, Mr Butcher!’ I imagine you thinking. But perhaps I can be indulged for a short moment...
As autumn truly sets in – the edges of impending winter incurring into the rhythms of nature; the admonitory deepening of russets and scarlets in the trees’ leaves – the Ancient Celts were all too aware of the threats the oncoming months posed. From their rituals associated with staving off the risk of death (and of Death) at this time of year, the marking of Halloween eventually arrived via the Christianisation of Romano-Britain. (This process commonly appropriated the timing of many of the pagan festivals.) We parents know all too well what an over-commercialised trivialisation of death Halloween has become.
I have always found it unfortunate, therefore, that – approximately 1,300 years later – Remembrance-tide came into existence, and is marked just 11 calendar days later. Quite the contrast in terms of ways of thinking about death. It is a moment we do take, and will be taking, incredibly seriously in ‘the Pilgrims’ year’: a true and proper meditation on the sacrifice of those prepared to give their todays so that we could have our tomorrow. Life affirming. Gratitude inducing.
Experience of death and being confronted to properly thinking about it has been marginalised today compared to its ever-presence through most of history. And I would argue that this is not entirely ‘a good thing’. Much as I would not wish the loss and grief following the death of a loved one on anyone, there is an inevitability to its appearance in one’s life at some point. In acceptance of this, it is worth us remembering that from the marking of death have come some of the most astoundingly beautiful pieces of human artistic creation, as emotions find their expression. The Quiristers and Choristers both gave their own masterful performances of the Duruflé ‘Requiem’ yesterday evening – and an enormous ‘well done’ to all the boys for this – and this is just one such example.
With my assembly, where I took the boys was that, from an appropriate and mature awareness of death (and making it a taboo subject does a disservice to our children), people throughout history have gained a valuable sense of the opportunity within ‘the now’. Carpe diem. From this, we discussed the memento mori that would commonly adorn the desk of those seeking such inspiration in the past. And of course, from medieval manuscripts onwards, death has been portrayed as ‘the great leveller’, the reminder that we are all, at that basest level, equal.
A stretch though it may have been (!), we related this concept back to our previous focal point of self-esteem. Negative comparison to others is one of the surest ways of eroding the prospect of strong self-esteem. Understanding our equality should be the germ of understanding that our worth is no less than that of anyone else: and in the promotion of humility, neither is it greater. In gaining a true sense of their worth, my hope for our boys is that they do become those opportunity-takers, those who make the most of every moment. And as we mark Remembrance next week, I truly hope they think on that.
On a different note, I do hope you all had a restful half term. This is, as seasoned parents will know, a very busy half of term with a great deal going on. We’re looking forward hugely to the PPA Fireworks a week today (and if you don’t yet have your tickets, please do think about coming along to join us for this super school community event), as well as anticipating Remembrance, ISEBs for Year 6, internal exams for Year 8 and – inevitably – the lead up to Christmas! (Always a special time at Pilgrims’…) Most immediately, the wonderful Chamber Choir are performing in The Octagon tonight, ahead of a concert at the Norton Park Hotel on Sunday evening. Already this week, Reception have visited Winchester Mill, Year 1 have visited the Winchester Science Centre and Year 8 have just returned from their geography fieldwork in Swanage… Not that you would, but never let it be said that we don’t cram every ounce of opportunity and experience in at Pilgrims’!