The Spark of Life: December 2017

As we prepare for lunch on the last day of classes, and more precisely at 11:28 in the morning, the sun will be at its lowest position in the sky in the whole year and it will seem to us as if it is standing still, resting for a brief moment before setting out again on its eternal journey to warm our homes and our hearts. The winter solstice has indeed had a very special significance for humans since Neolithic times and it still marks our lives. If scientific books relate it to the longest night in the year, I prefer to think about it as a turning point, as a harbinger of longer days to come and as the beginning of the holidays.

Would you not agree that the winter holidays are full of wonder and delight? The flurry of visits and feasts with family and friends are accompanied by a dizzying array of lights, music and scents bringing with them our most intimate childhood memories, which cannot be easily expressed by words alone. And then, when the clock strikes 12 on that final night of December, we find ourselves peering out on a brand new year, not quite sure whether we are ready to step out and hit the proverbial road again.

As a matter of fact, I find that those first few days in January hold a certain stillness, as if nature itself is waiting to see which direction each of us decides to take. It is also a time when revelry gives way to reflection. In my case, I often think about my grandparents, who both passed in the small hours of a cold New Year’s Day, with only a few years’ interval from each other. I must say that, when I remember them, I am grateful for their love, as I picture them preparing edible snowmen for their progeny with boiled eggs, pitted green olives, strips of roasted red pepper and toothpicks to hold everything together. Citizenship as we understand it at TFS is about many different things, ranging from academic ambition to an international perspective. At this time of year, though, citizenship is about building community and showing gratitude. I do not know how you feel about it, but gratefulness is of particular importance to me personally. Actually, thoughts or deeds showing a blatant lack thereof are one of the very few things in life that can bring tears of sadness and incredulity to my eyes. 

That is precisely why I enjoy seeing certain values being reinforced at our school, most particularly as the holiday season approaches. A few weeks ago, for instance, students and staff of La p’tite école gathered at an assembly to discuss the importance of sharing, a conscious act of giving something in our possession to someone else. This act may be in the form of offering half a cookie to a classmate so that they can both partake in the same enjoyment. Or acknowledging that we have played with a soccer ball long enough and that it is now time to pass it to another boy or girl.

Talking about sport, the inclusion of Grade 3 in the Junior School athletics program has given participants a wonderful avenue for both physical and emotional growth. In the West Campus, we recently had the honour to hear Spencer West, a ME to WE speaker, who told us about how he felt when he lost both of his legs at the age of five due to a genetic disorder as well as when, 26 years later, he managed to summit Mount Kilimanjaro in spite of all the challenges posed by his physical condition. In my view, sport often brings out the best in people, a special combination of team spirit, self-improvement and resilience that we should all consider when we make our New Year’s resolutions.

Kindness and concern for others are also often associated with the holiday spirit. In this context, I am pleased to say that Grade 7 students at the Senior School were introduced in November to a five-month old boy named Kinan, with whom they will interact until the end of the school year. I have no doubt that, as they watch Kinan grow, they will consider him as their own baby, even if he and his parents are part of the Roots of Empathy program. Through regular contact with the boy, our students will gain further social and emotional skills, and they will learn about their own feelings as they develop a sense of empathy and caring. Little Kinan needs no university degree to be the best teacher in the world at his young age!

On a broader scale, our 23 Senior School societies are constructed on the principles of self-improvement and social engagement. Whether they focus on areas such as entrepreneurship, sports coaching or financial literacy, these programs help students grow certain key skill sets. The children’s health and the clean water societies call on them to commit to the well-being of humans and the preservation of the planet. Other examples include world religions, international relations and a society connecting TFS pupils to peers at a school in Nunavut, all of which deepen their intercultural awareness and their appreciation of diversity. Within each of these is the goal of fostering our students as individuals and citizens by facilitating the development of an ethical mindset and the acquisition of so-called soft skills, even if there is nothing soft about them.

In relation to the holiday spirit, there is one last experience that I would like to relate to you. Only a couple of weeks ago, I attended a concert of 16th and 17th century Spanish songs from both sides of the Atlantic, which were performed with much energy and enthusiasm by the Toronto Consort. To my left was a TFS alumna and her husband, now parents at the school. To my right was a lady in her late 70s or early 80s whom I shall never forget. I doubt if she understood the lyrics, as they were sung in the original Spanish, Galician, Nahuatl and Quechua, among others. However, this folk music had clearly broken the barriers of time and language, and it had taken possession of her entire being, body and soul. During the performance, the lady looked at me several times and her eyes were ablaze with an excitement and a joy that she clearly wanted to share with me. What an unexpected spark of life I witnessed! I can assure you that this was the best present I could have received in preparation for the holiday season, and I am grateful for it.

As December draws to a close and a new year is born, may you experience wonder and delight. May you cherish your old-time memories as your most precious treasure. And may you be filled with love and the sheer joy of life. These will be your most useful accoutrements when, after the momentary stillness of the New Year, you step out and start walking on the fresh snow along your path.  

While we wait impatiently for that moment to arrive, let me express to you and your family my sincerest gratitude as well as my very best wishes for the future. We are an incredible community.

Dr. Josep L. González
Head of School