Heads Connected: A time to reflect

on

Some of the most important experiences in all of our lives are those that bind us. Moments when by design or chance we feel a genuine, profound, even euphoric sense of connection with others. It might be a family occasion or event, a party, a sports match, a concert: people gather with a shared bond or interest and something just clicks and it becomes a memory we cherish forever.

It doesn’t always work, of course. Sometimes the harder we push for it the less it happens: many of us have a list of New Year’s Eves in particular when we might have looked around a noisy room and wanted to be almost anywhere else. Often it happens by chance. And often it is something singular that really allows the connection to flourish: a speech at a wedding that reduces everyone to tears and makes disparate individuals into a single congregation.

In this period of national mourning there is such opportunity for fellowship and unity on a remarkable scale. In all the events at school where we have come together to celebrate the life of Queen Elizabeth, there has been so much we can all share. The Queen commanded extraordinary personal respect, no matter what people thought of her role. She was interwoven with the fabric of our country: not only now, but stretching far back into the past. That her first Prime Minister was Winston Churchill, and that guests at her christening had known the Duke of Wellington, exemplify the ways her life was so bound up with the life of the nation.

In her death something has gone that was always there and always with us. Only people in their late 70s and older have ever known a time without her on the throne, on every coin, every stamp, her profile and initials emblazoned across so much of our national infrastructure. That is part of the shock: that fabric of life has been twisted suddenly out of shape.

And yet it feels vital that in the ways we come together at this time, we don’t try to force it: we don’t interpret unity as sameness. We know that some members of our community will feel a deep sadness, and perhaps a connection with times in their lives of personal loss. Others might not feel connected to what is happening in the same way. They may vehemently disagree with the principle of monarchy. They may feel that there is much suffering and sadness in the world to be mourned. That in turn leads to a sense of alienation: that somehow emotion becomes mandatory; that differing responses are not permitted or welcome.

Over the 70 years of Elizabeth’s reign one of the profound social changes has been a re-engineering of what community means. Systematic issues such as racism, sexism and homophobia persist: but the change in social attitudes in these areas has been immense. Although the struggle continues, we openly endeavour to embrace difference and find strength in it.

The most heartening aspect of national mourning has been the openness: a sense that everyone, whatever their connection to The Queen and their personal feelings, is welcome, but no-one is compelled. The only troubling aspect has been the converse: any sense that organisations and individuals must respond or act in a certain way. Our freedom to make our own choices and be accepted regardless matters: it is at the heart of the progress we have made.

When we met in assembly last week, one aspect of The Queen’s life we honoured in particular was the way she so consciously and steadfastly chose to respond to her circumstances: by dedicating herself with such commitment to duty and to service. We all face unique circumstances, and nearly all of us have more choice in how we respond to them. Our task at school is to defend as an absolute expectation the freedom of our young people to choose the path of their own lives, and to respect the ways in which others do so. We seek to be a community founded on individuality and difference and united by tolerance and compassion. One full of opportunities both to walk an individual path with pride and courage and to join in joyful fellowship.

We send our warmest wishes to all over this weekend and the day of reflection and mourning for an extraordinary life that follows.

Will le Fleming

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