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St Peter's School

13 February 2020

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Tomorrow is St Valentine’s Day and my thanks to the committee action group for their fundraising.  Just remember that, alongside all the hearts, cards, chocolates, if you are asking St Valentine for help that he is one of the busier saints and that as well as being the patron saint of happy marriages, love and engaged couples he is also responsible for epilepsy, prayers against fainting, the plague and curiously beekeepers.

We are now almost at the end of the first half of this term, a date which marks the halfway point of the academic year although for those taking examinations next term we are of course significantly beyond the halfway mark.  Looking back over my assemblies this term, I have clearly had the passing of time on my mind and there is certainly truth in Einstein’s theory that time is relative.  That seems to be very much the case at school, in that it always feels that a week quickly becomes a month which becomes a half term and before you know it another year has passed. Which is why I always fond of quoting Ferris Bueller who said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while you might just miss it.”

Mr Bateman spoke in chapel earlier this week of the Buddhist concept of impermanence or Annica. This is a concept which resonates throughout the history of human thought and those of you who study philosophy and theology will be aware of Aristotle’s theory that everything moves or changes except for the Unmoved Mover.  Also, the words of the Greek Philosopher Heraclitus who said that you cannot step into the same river twice as the stream keeps on flowing by and changing.

We also sang in chapel this week a hymn containing that great line, “Time, like an ever-rolling stream, bears all its sons (and daughters) away” and we heard eternal truth relating to impermanence that, “this too shall pass”. This is such a healthy corrective and reminder that, while even the great highs will not last forever, the crashing lows will also pass in time.  I have to say that I very much like the creative tension between change and permanence which is why in my study I have a little statue of Buddha which has been with me everywhere I have lived and worked since I was five years old and often carry a stone in my pocket from my favourite beach in Cornwall.

So, what we do about all this? Are we to see ourselves as puppets in some great cosmological battle, powerless against the tide? This might be the conclusion to draw from Shakespeare’s play, As You Like It. “All the world's a stage and all the men and women merely players.”  Or as Stephen Fry put it more prosaically some time ago, “Are we merely croutons, floating on the bouillabaisse of time?”.

Far better to grab the upside of impermanence in the running of time and turn it to our advantage. Shakespeare again, this time from Twelfth Night, “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them” and also in Hamlet – “there’s a divinity that shapes our ends. Rough hew them how we well.”

I have kept hold of a card from a former pupil which says on the front, “We cannot change the direction of the wind but we can trim your sails”. Life is too short not to be enthusiastic so take control and don’t wait - remembering the words of Andrew Marvell, “But at my back I always hear time’s winged chariot hurrying near”.

Have a great break over half term.  Catch up on some rest and use the opportunity to give yourself a midyear check-up.  Look at where are you in relation to your personal goals, in your physical health and your mental health and take the opportunity to trim your sails for the weeks ahead.