21 March 2014

Nothing is so beautiful as spring

It’s the time of year when you look out of the window and see sprouting green wherever your eyes alight. You can see why our ancient ancestors put so much energy into the rites of spring when you feel the joy of the return of green life to a dreary, grey world. It may not have been a cold winter but goodness, it was hard work getting through the Atlantic weather from October to February! On the campus we lost about 60 mature trees over that five-month period, and we got off lightly compared to our Somerset brethren. That we did not miss a single day of school is thanks to our superb support staff, not least Dave Jones, our woodsman of 40 years, who sees all this as part of his job and of ‘the circle of life’. The trees we have lost through the storms will allow new trees to flourish, and on we go.

In a school there is the natural cycle of a whole year-group departing each July and another whole year-group of brand new pupils joining us each September. And the five years spent in Bryanston in between are ones in which we hope every child will flourish, once their roots are properly settled in this new, rich soil. We hope that each will find the things they enjoy doing, discover what he or she is not so good at, learn from their mistakes and develop the continuing direction for their lives beyond Bryanston. Not all of this is easy and adolescence does tend to throw a few spanners in the works every now and again. But, to continue the metaphor of growth, the tender saplings we help to plant carefully in D become, we hope, the developing oaks of A2, through an immersion in the day-to-day activity and full engagement in this remarkably fertile and secure environment.

One of my favourite moments in Aeneid IV is when Aeneas must resist the understandable upset of his lover Dido whom he must leave. Virgil describes Aeneas as ‘like some stalwart oak tree, some veteran of the Alps, assailed by a wintry wind whose veering gusts tear at it, trying to root it up; wildly whistle the branches, the leaves come flocking down from aloft as the bole is battered; but the tree stands firm on its crag, for high as its head is carried into the sky, so deep do its roots go down towards Hades’, (C. D. Lewis). If your roots are firm you will be able to withstand enormous blasts of difficulty in life and not be overturned; be able to make the right choices and stick to them; enjoy the serenity you have won when the storm has passed, and continue to develop healthily: but only if your roots are firmly planted, if your annual growth has been sustained and increased, and if you are confident in yourself.

It’s what I hope for all our children. May they all flourish and be healthy, and in due course be as resilient and successful as stalwart oaks!

7 March 2014

A time to reflect

The Rev'd Andrew Haviland
We welcome the Reverend Andrew Haviland, Chaplain at Bryanston, with his guest blog considering life’s important questions.

“Remember that thou are dust and to dust thou shalt return...”

What a charming thought! Who wants to be reminded of our mortality? These words were said at our Ash Wednesday service which marks the beginning of the period Christians call Lent – 40 days of preparation that ultimately culminate in the glorious festival of Easter. This reminder that our life on this earth will come to an end seems an incongruous thing to do, especially when so much of society is concerned with valuing the individual’s youthful exterior. Just seeing the adverts on TV or in the papers for skin or hair care seems to suggest that we value being young and hanging onto life for as long as we can. There surely is nothing wrong with that as long as we accept that no matter what we will all get older.

Of course these words said in the context of a school seem even more strange: what is the purpose of telling those who have their whole life ahead of them that life will come to an end? Surely we have an obligation to protect young people from their mortality until much later. We need, some may suggest, to wrap them up securely and let them learn and grow without the anxiety that considering one’s mortality brings.

Any school that thought that would be doing its pupils a significant disservice. Young people are surrounded by their mortality much more than we would like to think: grandparents die, at times parents die and occasionally a young person they know might die unexpectedly. At times like this, those who are bereaved and those around them grieve and need support, and being able to talk appropriately about death with all people is essential.

Whatever one’s faith or persuasion, being aware of our limited life on earth is an important thing to consider every now and then; it focuses the mind upon the important questions in life: what am I here for, what is the purpose of my existence and how might I be remembered when I am gone? And while it is important to understand one’s own significance as an individual, it is by considering these questions and realising one’s own role in something bigger and more important even than oneself that leads to true emotional, spiritual and mental well-being.

At Bryanston we encourage all pupils to consider their roles in life, not only to the school community, but also to the world at large; whether by encouraging them to find their talent that will allow them to make a difference to their world, or by giving them occasions, like the recent A2 Charity Day, to appreciate the difference they can make to the lives of others.

We all have a need for spiritual thought and sustenance and, whether we find it through religion or a personal, humanist spirituality, it is what gives meaning and purpose to our lives. During the time of Lent perhaps we can all spend a little time thinking on these questions. While there are no easy answers, talking to each other can’t be a bad thing and, once we have started the thinking, whoever we are and whatever we believe, it might spur us into action.

Whatever you may do this Lent, may it be productive, thoughtful and lead you to a glorious celebration at Easter.