From I was 4 till I was 51, my life was constructed around the academic year. Whether as a pupil or as a teacher, I was tied by a year that began as August petered out and ended as June promised never-ending lazy hazy crazy days of summer.
But one of my favourite poems from school was John Keats Ode to Autumn it spoke of autumn being ‘the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’. We can choose to see the beginning of the school year as marking the end of long evenings and the approach of cold and winter – or as a time for gratitude for what has been achieved.
When I look back on my school days, I have great memories of many wonderful teachers. For them and their love of learning I am eternally grateful. Without their inspiration, I would not be the person that I have become.
But I am also grateful for the holidays. I don’t mean that merely in terms of exciting places seen and enjoyed. I am grateful for the summer in a factory and the challenges of inter-railing. I mean the teenage friendships established that have lasted over half a century. I mean the life-lessons learned, the nourishing memories and the important mistakes made.
As I enter into the autumn of my own life, faith enables me to look back with compassion and gratitude on the past. Christ helps me to forgive the mistakes and the crosses – and to see them as lessons in becoming a better disciple of Jesus. Apparent successes are not necessarily blessings – and crosses are often time of grace that stretch us.
As schools look into the new year, don’t just see the hills to be climbed and the long winter months to be endured. Think of the way that your past has been blessed – in term time and in holidays.
Those who look back with gratitude, can face whatever comes with hope. Jesus walks beside you.
Most Rev Donal McKeown DD is Bishop of the Diocese of Derry