Public examination results for the UK's senior school age pupils are out this week and next. For various reasons, professional and personal, I get to hear about a lot of the results. I think I'm supposed to rejoice with the happy and commiserate with the not-so-happy. I find it all so difficult and do my best to hide from having to act in this way.
My big problem is that to me it has such a hollow ring to it and I'm reminded in particular of three deaths.
Two pupils I have taught (separated by years and location) who were recognised nationally for their intelligence and aptitude were dead within a year of their results (misadventure and natural causes) and a third who'd never been recognised for much but who was a gentle, sensitive soul committed suicide at this time, fearful of what lay beyond the safe envrionment of school.
So excuse me, my dears, if the smile on my face as you tell me how well you have done looks a little fake; it is. I want, like St Philip Neri, to question you as you tell me your plans, I want to say like him: and then what.......? and I want to repeat it and repeat it until you see that something is missing.
You see, my dears, you are living a lie and one I (as a teacher) am partly responsible for propagating. The lie is self-betterment, self-determination, achievement and progress. The lie is that you are climbing a ladder, one rung at a time and you have it in you to reach all the way to the top, and that reaching the top of that ladder is somehow important. The lie is to believe in your results, that they are part of who you are, that they help you become more of who you are. Don't most school assemblies echo this sentiment? And even if you happen to be religious, there is a danger you are turning God into your own little "genie in Cath Kidston bag", something to charm you up the ladder and see to your needs and your goals.
And, my dears, life is so much better than this, the only progress we are celebrating with your results is the fact that you are becoming more likely to end up an overworked apparatchik of the God-less state.
So instead, tell me about your creativity; tell me that you still paint or sew, write poetry or play in a band. Tell me about the work you do with your hands; the things you have made, the creatures you have nurtured. Tell me you see enchantment in the world. Tell me you love life and the more you live it the more you love, even amongst illness and death and difficult things. Tell me you love learning for its own sake, not for qualifications.Tell me you love doing nothing; tell me you can rest and be content. And then perhaps you are finding the God who loves you so much.
And if I see a glimmer of genuine happiness in you, then I too will be happy and the sad stares of those who have died will not haunt me as much as they do.