Nelson Mandela


Day after day for the past week, the mornings have been frozen, a rare thing for Victoria. Normally in December the daylight that drips into my office is low, cloudy and gray. A consequence of this particular march of frosty days is that the daylight in my office is crisp and flooding sunshine. The front field is frosty; a week ago when this cold spell started, and the field was covered with a thicker frost, one of our Mexican students who had never seen it before went out and stood in the frost, asking “is this snow?” Yesterday, some snowflakes did dust the ground for a few seconds, leaving behind some patches of white in the shadow of buildings – nothing, though, that would justify the snow day that students passing my office door loudly and optimistically hinted at.

It is exactly a month ago that I listened to our Grade Two students recite John McRae’s poem, “In Flanders Fields.” When children memorize a poem, it often stays with them for decades. Etched into these students’ minds, therefore, will be the images of “larks still bravely singing”, and the poppies blowing “between the crosses, row on row.” Two days ago my wife, Joan and I were visiting these same Grade Two students in their classroom, handing out gingerbread figures, an annual tradition. We disrupted them as they were counting the money they had raised that day for WorldVision, Canada’s leading agency dedicated to improving the lives and futures of the world’s most vulnerable children. Our visit trumped counting the money. Such is the immediacy of gingerbread.

Later today these same students will join the entire rest of the school at our annual Christmas Assembly, a noisy hour of singing and skits that trumpets this message: that a good school bursts at the seams with barely contained energy. We will finish off the assembly with the Twelve Days of Christmas, in which the kindergarten students carry the weight of the most frequent chorus, the partridge in a pear tree.

These themes compose the music of school life: the discovery of snow, the corridors coming to life in the morning, gingerbread and the chaos of celebration. The death of Nelson Mandela is a solemn note amid these themes. In McRae’s poem, the dead buried in Flanders Field say to future generations – they said to my generation, and to the generation in our school –“to you with failing hands we throw the torch; be yours to hold it high.” The torch is the torch of making the world a better place, and we believe that even the smallest hands can lift it.


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