Poppies and Promise

Author: AM Scott

Poppies and promise

“These too are of a burning colour–not orange, not gold, but if pure gold were liquid and could raise a cream, that golden cream might be like the colour of the poppies.”

~ John Steinbeck

This week, while screening for entry at the gate on morning, Rosemary bounced in and thrust a bunch of poppies towards me. “For you,” she said, “they represent our heritage.”  Her kind gesture and powerful statement had me thinking all weekend, about poppies and about promise.

Poppies are curious flowers. Strong statements of simplicity, simultaneously sending signals of strength. They inspire and provoke all manner of writings, poems, statements, speeches, faith messages. Of the plethora, I thought of a few to share with our Bellavista poppies.

“Never be afraid to be a poppy in a field of daffodils.” ~ Michaela DePrince

This week, many of the high schools held their final awards presentation events, their formal farewell to matriculants. Usually, there is opportunity for me to attend these assemblies, but in this year audience parameters were different. Nonetheless,  I received photos, voice notes and messages from parents and the children. Our alumni were publicly acknowledged, each according to their own achievements, for their grit and determination, their exceptional academic attainment in taking top positions in their schools, for their good character. I felt the vicarious pride that loco parentis affords me for “our Bellavista kids”. These young men and women learned to be a poppy in a field of daffodils; all flowers are wonderful, but some are uniquely so.

“I survived, carried on, glad to be like a weed, a wild red poppy, rooted in life.”

~ Marilyn Buck

As good timing would have it, a past pupil, now in Grade Eight at a boys school nearby, popped in to see me late one afternoon last week. He came to share his high school journey, how he actually loved the online learning but was glad to be back at school. He’d made the first rugby team, albeit he never saw a game this season. He scrolled through the school’s learner management system, showing me his marks. His aggregate fell comfortably in the mid-late 80 percentile. In some subjects, he knew exactly what question kept him at 97% and 98% attainment. I hope for great things for the children, each their own, but this blew me away. I asked him what he thought it was that was propelling him to such heights now. Sheepishly, he apologised for not, perhaps, expressing enough appreciation for Bellavista when he was here. His take thereafter was that he had arrived crushed and left equipped and strong, rooted in what Bellavista taught him about himself “and other stuff”. He was careful to explain that he no longer needed the CEA tools, they were simply part of who he is and how he functions. My heart sang!

“Of all the wonderful things in the wonderful universe of God, nothing seems to me more surprising than the planting of a seed in the blank earth and the result thereof. Take that Poppy seed, for instance: it lies in your palm, the merest atom of matter, hardly visible, a speck, a pin’s point in bulk, but within it is imprisoned a spirit of beauty ineffable, which will break its bonds and emerge from the dark ground and blossom in a splendour so dazzling as to baffle all powers of description.”

~ Celia Thaxter

Many of our children are tall poppies a little cut down or crushed. Not by intention, but by a system that is not equipped with the agility to adapt and change to gently raise the child within. As I engage the Grade Sevens of 2020, a year of immense disruption, I remark on their individual growth, grit, and resilience. They have risen to the challenge and are ready for the next. Most have actualised, some are opening those brightly coloured buds. By term end we will have a proud and meaningful final assembly of our own, and they will stand tall and positioned to leave. To them I add,

“When you go for a walk, take seeds with you, poppies, rainbow chard, rocket. Plant them among the weeds in patches of wasteland. See what happens.”

– Tom Hodgkinson

I participate in various case conferences and discussions on each child’s progress and next direction. When we heard school must close and the time frame was indefinite our primary goals as a team were: connection and determination that this pandemic will not disadvantage our children further. So far, we have succeeded, albeit there is much to do ahead. To our staff, I say,

“The man is a success who has lived well, laughed often, and loved much; who has gained the respect of intelligent men and the love of children; who has filled his niche and accomplished his task; who leaves the world better than he found it, whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul; who never lacked appreciation of earth’s beauty or failed to express it; who looked for the best in others and gave the best he had.”

 ~ Robert Louis Stevenson

Last, but not least, I go back to Rosemary’s kind gesture and her deeply insightful comment. I look at our body of teachers, parents and therapists and I see marigolds. I look at the children, and I see poppies, flooding their field. Bellavista School is their heritage. The fact that the school is planted in South Africa, affords them an organisation who can function independently against a policy framework that offers permission to deviate and support a child, in a model such as ours. I say it in this context, as I say it everywhere,

‘#speakSAup.”