Pebbles

In education, this is often the time of year that people move on to new posts or retirement. This year, in particular, several of my colleagues at Moray House are making way for new people to continue their work. It has been a reflective time, therefore, and a time to connect with friends old and new, and the influencers and mentors who have had such great impact on all of our lives, at gatherings where careers are celebrated and good wishes for the future are shared.

Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata advises that a career is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time, but the wise man knows when it is time to let go and move on. One such wise man who is moving on, at a gathering of friends and colleagues where there was food and sunshine, honeysuckle and wine, recited Norman McCaig’s Small Boy in the context of clearing out his office of the chattels and keepsakes of many years in his role as he prepares to leave.

Small Boy

He picked up a pebble
and threw it into the sea.

And another, and another.
He couldn’t stop.

He wasn’t trying to fill the sea.
He wasn’t trying to empty the beach.

He was just throwing away,
nothing else but.

Like a kitten playing
he was practising for the future

when there’ll be so many things
he’ll want to throw away

if only his fingers will unclench
and let them go.

Small Boy, from The Poems of Norman MacCaig (2009).

I found this deeply moving. It is hard to let go of the evidence and reminders of what we have achieved, especially when at the same time, we are asked to leave the comfort and warmth of the familiar and venture into the cold unknown of whatever is coming next. The four panels that are associated with the University of Edinburgh’s Charteris Land building, where my professional life is situated, include one panel that is now missing from the building. The Canmore Collection has an image of the four panels in place:

The panel on the left, orthogonal to the others on the outer wall that faces St. John’s Street, is now gone, removed after refurbishment of the building around the time that Moray House became part of the University of Edinburgh. All of the panels have significance, but the missing panel represented Community. What is clear to me, and has been made explicit in our recent reflections and retrospectives as colleagues move on, is that the people you work with form a real community, a community of support and kindness, celebration and shared emotions and experiences. It is hard to let go of these things and yet I am excited to be part of a different community that will be working with me after the summer.

The featured image for this article is a photograph of the entrance to the Trafford Centre in Manchester, which bears the words, “Hold fast that which is good”.