Dear members of the Whitefriars College family,
One of my favourite quotes from that great leader and advocate of the oppressed, Martin Luther King Jnr, says “Only in the darkness can you see the stars”. Now, coming from anyone else, this quote could sound a bit too saccharine, a little disingenuous perhaps. However, when delivered by a man who struggled all his life to raise up the downtrodden and lead them on the path to freedom and equality, at immeasurable personal cost, it definitely commands a great deal more credibility. Many in our communities are living through their own dark times. In fact, it could be said that each of us has, in relative terms, had our own moments of difficulty, challenge and even darkness. So where are the stars for us?
Perhaps for me they come in the guise of lessons learnt. Of things I might now do a little differently than before. Things that might make me a better person or more importantly, things which will make me a worthier and more generous contributor to the world I live in. The question, for me and perhaps for you too is, what are those lessons and more importantly how will we apply them to our lives?
Throughout these weeks of isolation, I have felt a greater sense of balance in my life. I am eating a more balanced diet, even having lunch most days! I am exercising more regularly, re-igniting my love of running, especially in the crisp dawn air. I am having dinner every night with my family, playing music more often and reading a bit more widely. Even though my days have been full, I have still managed to find time for these activities and opportunities. Hopefully when I return to school, I will hold on to some of these opportunities and perhaps stop to smell the roses a little more often.
This time away from school has provided many valuable lessons about learning and teaching. Firstly, it has taught us to value even more, the relationship between teacher and student. Learning requires a relationship and even though our Home Learning Program has been very successful for most, I don’t think it is something which would continue to work for most, in the long term. I think we have learnt that good remote learning, is learning where screen time is reduced and curriculum modified. The wellbeing of students has always been important to us, but these times when anxiety has heightened for many, and the mental health of all has been highlighted, reminds me of the need to check in with our students and each other more often. These learnings and many others, are not just ones we should apply only to remote learning, but to the learning which takes place in our classes every day.
I have learnt that there are some things I can’t control in life. This new global reality has reinforced for me that no matter how well I plan and prepare, I can’t foresee every contingency. Sometimes you just have to hand yourself over to the moment, to take a leap of faith, to go with the flow, to realise that you can’t do everything yourself and to just do your best. To hang on to the things that are certain. In my case, the love of family, the support of friends, the commitment and expertise of colleagues and the compassion and mercy of my God.
I think the most important lessons I have learnt during this period, are to do with the strength and value of community. I have witnessed such acts of generosity and kindness. I have witnessed so many in our community, students, staff and parents reach out in a spirit of altruism to each other. Putting their own needs aside and focussing on the needs of others. It is these examples of love and compassion which have inspired me to stop and reflect on my own actions and attitude towards others.
Pope Francis himself tells us that this time of isolation is not God’s judgment on humanity, but God’s call on people to judge what was most important to them and resolve to act accordingly from now on. It is a time, he says, “to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not. It is a time to get our lives back on track with regard to our relationship with each other and with God.”
It is a time to decide to live differently, live better, love more and care for others, he said, and every community is filled with people who can be role models – individuals, “who, even though fearful, have reacted by giving their lives.”
Perhaps it is these lessons which are the stars which will guide us all towards a more positive future.
I leave you this week with blessing from Pope Francis.
May God’s blessing come down upon you as a consoling embrace.
May you bless the world, give health to our bodies and comfort our hearts.
You ask us not to be afraid. Yet our faith is weak, and we are fearful.
But you, Lord, will not leave us at the mercy of the storm.
Mr Mark Murphy