Intimations of Immortality

Volumes of poetry, prose and song have been written over the centuries about the finite nature of life and about beginnings and endings. Nothing it seems lasts forever. Wherever we turn, we can be confronted all too quickly by reminders that we are mere travelers and that, “This too shall pass... “. Of course, most of us become reflective or philosophical at that point and invariably resolve to enjoy and recognize the worth of what we have. That is entirely as it should be for we are at our best as beings when we are in appreciative mode.  Our capacity to value each other, to love, to honor, to respect and to connect is indeed one of the features of our species that truly sets us apart. We are wired and structured to interact.

Living vicariously is not the same as real living so despite the attractions of the virtual world at our fingertips and the overwhelming amount of electronic stimuli that we can seamlessly access nowadays, we need the energy of live human contact, the sharp sense of being around our fellow creatures. Life is not a recording; it's a live performance. Perhaps the greatest gift that we can bestow upon our children is helping them to understand how to conduct themselves when the " curtain goes up" and how to relate positively to other people. The more often we put young people in the company of others, the more we shape and form their relationship skills. Fittingly, more than ever before, no-one is more sought after in the realms of work and life than someone who knows how to relate well to people.

Modern boarding schools are set up to educate young people socially, athletically, artistically, culturally and spiritually, in addition to the academic curriculum. It's not an accident rather an acceptance that real education has never been limited to the classroom. Of course, many parents still struggle with the notion of "letting go" of their children, of "sending them away", or of " missing parts of their lives", but the reality is that they're giving them a special gift. Apart from the obvious menu of superior opportunities, boarding schools can cultivate the independence that teenagers crave and that parents angst over. It's all done in a structured and guided environment so I call it controlled independence. Oxymoron that may sound like, but it is no more so than the relativity of free speech or individual freedom itself.

For most parents, the notion of ‘letting go' is painfully perturbing as the moment approaches; that moment when you are running alongside the ‘two-wheeler’ with the stabilizers off and you know that it is time to release your hold on the back of the seat, but you can’t. Multiply that feeling many times and you have the dilemmas of parenting teens in general. When to intervene? When to stand back? When to let go? How much to let go? When to acknowledge the inevitability of adversity? When to trust? When to put your needs second and theirs first? Nobody has all the answers, but good boarding schools can supply the experiences that will address many.  Boarding schools can actually strengthen family relationships by removing some of the traditional points of friction and replacing them with planned, quality time together. They can allow young people room to grow through a multitude of learning moments, and, of course, they can supply the different voices that wise parents have always tried to enlist in their children’s development.

The great frustration for all of us is that we know that there are no second chances with many of these parenting decisions. Just as a word uttered and heard can never be recalled, we do not have the luxury of experimenting with our children. Life will march on whether we make conscious decisions or no decisions. As the saying goes: “a man cannot step in the same river twice for he is not the same man and it is not the same river”. Time will take care of its passing and nothing goes on forever.

However, if we cannot achieve the immortality that Wordsworth alludes to in the poem borrowed for the title then we can at least aspire to the next best thing. Leaving a legacy in the broadest sense of the term must surely be a goal of most adults. That legacy can take many forms, but, in one of its more attractive guises, it stays in the realm of character and qualities of being that can last a lifetime. Most schools aspire to prepare their students for the next stage of their lives, but some go further; they aspire to prepare them for the tests that life will set for them. They seek to develop the habits and attitudes, the self-belief and the work ethic, the values and virtues, all of which will make up their character. And as another well-known quotation so aptly captures, “…..The applause soon fades away, the spotlight dims, but the character you build is yours forever” Now, that’s as close as we will get to immortality because we invariably hope that that same character will color and shape the lives of so many other fellow-travelers. It is indeed one form of legacy that can live for a very long time.

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