Morning assemblies at St Mary’s Calne are often taken entirely by the girls, from seating the school to the notices at the end, with words of wisdom in the middle, and I experienced a particularly great and moving assembly on Saturday last week. The subject was Christy Brown, the celebrated author who was born with cerebral palsy in 1932, in the days before treatments and therapies were even thought possible, and who, as he learned how to communicate, detailed his feelings and thoughts in his literary works, and most notably in his autobiography, My Left Foot, which was turned into a critically acclaimed film starring Daniel Day-Lewis. I had heard of the book and the film, but had never found time to read or see them; that very evening, inspired by the girls, and thanks to a request I made to our wonderful school librarian, swiftly fulfilled, I was able to read the book.
I read it in one go. I had to sacrifice some sleep to do so, but it was a sacrifice worth making. The message of the book is both moving and inspirational: it takes you inside the trapped mind of the author, and explores his feelings, his moments of realisation that he was different, his determination to succeed in communicating, and his frustrations. His mother’s influence on his progress is palpable, and the reader cannot fail but to be full of admiration for her. It was an astonishing read.
I discovered as I read that the synopsis given by the girls in their presentation was spot on in its accuracy of the messages communicated by Christy Brown’s life and work. They went further, in fact, and pointed out that his life did not have a particularly happy ending, and thus they reflected the realities of our world, which does not always finish as fairytales do. They emphasised, though, the value of hard work – and it is always good to hear one’s own messages reflected back from those whom one seeks to inspire. What mattered to me, however, was the gift that they had given me. I was the teacher taught, the inspirer inspired, and I gained enormously from their presentation.
As a postscript, I spent Saturday afternoon listening to the Chamber Choir sing David Bednall’s Requiem in Keble College in Oxford, and this was another emotional performance, boosted by the presence of around 20 former girls, who rejoined the choir for this great occasion. As the sounds lifted to the heavens, the sun smiled down upon us. It was a magnificent day, a beautiful day, a day full of hope for the girls and the world in which they and we live. I felt supremely blessed.
Thank you so much for everything, girls!