Life is not all about the here and now. Although, as we all know, the ability to live in the present, to take life as it is and not to hanker after how it ‘should’ be, or how it seems to be for celebrities who airbrush their life for social media, is one of the things that is likely to keep a person happy and healthy.
As a happy coincidence, I think the life of a busy boarding school allows young people (as well as adults) to live lives of real engagement and to do so often at a pell mell pace so that, before you know where you are, the here and now is another successful term in the bank and the glory of long school holidays awaits. And this time of year, that’s particularly true: a nine-and-a-half-week term (squeezed in after a late Easter and before the second week of July) is closely followed by a nine-week summer holiday… which for me this year continues rather longer!
Busyness is a good thing. But so too is the ability to enjoy the quiet time: reading, writing, playing your favourite sport, relaxing on the beach, travelling, soaking up those hours of utter boredom in airports, in cars and on trains. Most of life is made up of a balance between this busyness and the blissful rest. But imagine if life were ordered differently and all the joys came in one single and complete passage of time followed similarly by all the other, less joyful times. David Eagleman in his book, Sum: Forty tales from the afterlives, does just that, and in one of my favourite pieces from the book, he runs exactly that mind experiment about a version of the afterlife:
“You take all your pain at once, all twenty-seven intense hours of it. Bones break, cars crash, skin is cut, babies are born. Once you make it through, you’re agony-free for the rest of your afterlife. But that doesn’t mean it’s always pleasant. You spend six days clipping your nails. Fifteen months looking for lost items. Eighteen months waiting in line. Two years of boredom: staring out of a bus window, sitting in an airport terminal. One year reading books. Your eyes hurt and you itch because you can’t take a shower until it’s your time to take your marathon two-hundred-day shower.”
I like this experiment because it reminds me that, not unlike Forrest Gump with his box of chocolates, I must accept the bad days alongside the good days. And at Bryanston we have a range of people who encourage us all to keep sight of the bigger picture, from the teachers in the Philosophy department (secreted in the RS department) and the Sports department, to those in Music, Drama, Physics and Classics, and of course the incomparable Chaplain.
We all know that we shall miss Andrew Haviland with his entirely personal (and all the stronger for it) ministry at Bryanston over the last 11 years. But it’s time for him to move on and not least so that he and his family can spend the right amount of time together as Jo’s job keeps her at least half the week in Surrey. We have gained so much from all Andrew has done for us and we are deeply grateful to him for keeping us clearly focused on both the here and now of love and service as well as the deeper, bigger, more spiritual picture of other people and the big wide world.
Jo Davis, currently Chaplain at Milton Abbey, joins Bryanston as Chaplain in September. She has big shoes to fill and a sizeable personality to follow. I’m not going to be here to see her do so, but both Andrew and I are delighted with her appointment, will be supporting her from afar, and commend her to you as someone to cherish as she settles with her husband Stuart and their two young daughters into Woodlands and the school. A powerful teacher and a truly engaging preacher, she will be a strong presence at Bryanston, developing the spiritual work of Andrew and his powerful pastoral work too. I know she will keep her (and our) eyes firmly fixed on the bigger picture – the emotional and spiritual wellbeing of the Bryanston family. Andrew and I are delighted to be handing that legacy, the mission which a Head and Chaplain share so intuitively, of cherishing a loving and vibrant school, both to Jo and to my own successor, Mark Mortimer.
See you on Speech Day! After which I’ll be off for that two-hundred-day shower…