The preciousness of life

I have just returned from the annual UK Boarding Schools Association Heads’ Conference in Bristol – conveniently close to home, although it was a delight to meet two of my new Australian fellow Heads, for whom it was not particularly close, but who had made the effort to come and connect. The opening speaker was Libby Purves, the broadcaster and writer, who has experienced boarding from a number of different perspectives, as parent and child, and whose book ‘Parenting the Boarder’ is an essential read for parents whose children are headed to the great world of boarding school.

At one point in her talk, which was – as you would expect – full of amusing and pithy anecdotes and thoughts on the life of teenagers in general, she mentioned Stephen Spender’s poem, ‘I Think Continually of Those who were Great’, and these words stuck with me:

What is precious is never to forget
The delight of the blood drawn from ancient springs
Breaking through rocks in worlds before our earth;
Never to deny its pleasure in the simple morning light,
Nor its grave evening demand for love;
Never to allow gradually the traffic to smother
With noise and fog the flowering of the spirit.

In the midst of our busy lives we often forget to stop, look up and around, and to value the breadth, and above all depth, of our world and our existence in it. We can find ourselves so caught up in daily activity and so enmeshed in our ‘to do’ lists that we overlook some of the most precious parts of our life. This poem – these words – remind us to stop, take stock, and breathe in the air around us. As we move on in life, we should experience a flowering, a blossoming, an enrichening – not a smothering … but unless we are careful, this is exactly what happens.

So … a simple, mindful task today: stop and breathe. Feel the joy of life. And then teach this to others.


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