Head of School’s Notebook — Peace

 

On Wednesday morning, just prior to the opening of classes after the holiday break, the community gathered in Hitchcock Theater. It is the place we go, it seems, when there is something that deserves our collective attention. Sometimes it’s a concert or a speech or even periodically a hypnotist or the famed regurgitator. We hold debates there too, wrestle with the issues that confront our community and the world, sing happy birthday, and acknowledge notable moments and achievements.

We gathered this time to talk about loss. Liam Mundy ’19, home in New York on break from Carnegie Mellon University, passed away just before Christmas. There is little comfort in such moments, when we are confronted with the death of a friend and reminded of the fragileness of life. Grief is not something that can be circumvented. But sharing it can help, especially among those who understand, who know what we are feeling and why.

John Lewis, the remarkable Congressman from Georgia, sent a letter recently acknowledging that he has been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. John Lewis has seen much in his life of service.  He marched into Selma, Alabama in 1965 at the head of a column of civil rights leaders and had his skull fractured by a blow from a billy club. He got up, though, eventually.

Said he in his letter, “I have been in some kind of fight for nearly my entire life.” Aren’t we all? We are fighting to live the life we imagine for ourselves, to meet the goals we set, to love, to laugh, to contribute in some way, to last as long as we can, and to leave some part of us behind. But not everything goes according to plan. Sometimes that’s the good news. Sometimes it’s not. We just wish Liam could keep on fighting. Good-natured as he was, it might seem out of character. But he was a believer for sure, and hopeful perpetually.

Now our fight is with our grief. How do we remember and honor our friend in a world that seems strangely unfamiliar without him in it? That is our charge, together.

On Sunday, January 19th, we will gather again in Liam’s honor, this time in the Katharine Thayer Cate Memorial Chapel. We will sing and cry and laugh for Liam and for us, and will appreciate the parts of him that did not pass from the earth—the parts we keep within us, the ones he gave us.

Every faith system has some ritual surrounding “peace.” In Judaism it is an honorific for one who has died, “Peace be upon him.” Muslims throughout the world greet each other in Arabic, “As-salaam alaikum.” Peace be with you. For Christians it is the passing of the peace that is shared at worship.

So that is how we exited the Theater, by offering each other our peace, and trusting that Liam has found his.

Peace be with us all.