“All shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.”Julian of Norwich
Most parts of the world and most cultures have, if you dig away enough, a culture of isolation that can be found hidden away deep in their societal fabric. The hermit, the anchoress or the solitary is a surprisingly common figure. Simeon Stylites sat atop a column in the Syrian desert for much of his life, while Yoshida Kenkō, wrote while isolated on a hillside. Julian of Norwich was the first English woman to write a book after being walled up in a small church just off modern day King Street. She also lived through the turmoil of the Black Death. Thoreau is often held up as a modern-day hermit and his seminal Walden outlines his attempt to live deliberately. More recently French author and adventurer Sylvain Tesson’s Consolations of the Forest describes a different approach to this self-imposed solitude. Not so very long ago the small Austrian town of Saalfelden was advertising for a hermit. Their 350-year-old hermitage built into the cliff-side above the town is one of the last still in use in Europe. Next week, our community will be in isolation. We will all start something of an eremitic existence as school closes. We will be hermits of sorts.
What is perhaps striking is that almost all of the individuals cited above used their solitude to a creative purpose. Their period of isolation resulted in something that remains important to people today. Normally human existence is seen as communal. We believe that we thrive in company and that being with others is a good thing indeed. Now we are forced to think differently. We are not quite on our own, but we will not be in close community. We will have contact with each other, but it will be via a tablet, a ‘phone or perhaps even a nice letter. We have time to consider our own thoughts, not that of the crowd and I wonder if we will benefit from this time. It could be time spent to good purpose rather than dedicated to the altar of Netflix. If we are to grow as a consequence of this externally issued challenge, then we need to be both purposeful and deliberate in what we do. Happily, we have all the benefits of a modern tech rich society to ensure that lessons and tasks are delivered, and they will start to arrive at nine o’clock on Monday next week. I’m sure that very soon the novelty of being away from friends and no longer having the stimulation of the classroom environment will prove to be a challenge and this is where I hope that our young people will be determined to do their best, to maintain their focus and make the most of a period of time in which they can develop their skills and aptitudes. I hope they will use this as a time to think, to read and to reflect. In the case of Years 11 and 13, it is another “r” that springs to mind – revise.
We may not see great art, profound wisdom or new insights during the coming weeks of school closure.
But who knows? I live in hope, and hope is something that we all should share at a time when we are working together, in isolation, to meet this most serious of challenges.