Turning my mind to exactly how I should close the book on a year such as this has been, ending, as it is, in a way that no one at the start could have foreseen or even imagined, I was reminded of a quotation by Susan Sontag:
Time exists in order that everything doesn’t happen all at once…and space exists so that it doesn’t all happen to you.
I am sure I am not the only person to perceive that, in our current situation, time and space seem to have started to lose their powers to keep things separate. A tiny organism, which, under magnification, looks like a space craft, has travelled among us at disorientating speeds and unleashed a drama that has locked the whole of humanity in a frightening embrace. The progress of SARS-CoV-2 has caused the world of our imaginations to shrink, connecting us all – from Wuhan to Oxford – in a shared ordeal that has overturned many of our assumptions. It has tested our mettle but also forged among us new chains of friendship and collaboration across neighbourhoods and continent. We have been confronted with the reality of our mutual dependence on each other and our absolute dependence on the expertise and courage of others, whom we have come to call key workers, and the law-abiding good sense of others, whom we call neighbours and even strangers.
All of this has happened with the surreal suddenness of an adventure with Alice in Wonderland and, when considering what my abiding impression of the term would be, I found the analogy with Alice in Wonderland especially apt. In Lewis Carroll’s story, his heroine is a fearless girl, who treats every encounter, whether wondrous, bizarre or simply terrifying, as an opportunity to satisfy her boundless curiosity. She meets personal challenges head-on and holds fast both to her purpose and her sense of what is right and true, even as the reality around her takes on dream-like or even nightmarish characteristics. As a description of how the girls at OHS have met the challenges of lockdown this term, I could hardly have put it better.
In the last few days, I have had the pleasure of reading the girls’ reports and also their reviews about their experiences of lockdown. Their stories have told me how much they have been through and how well they have pulled through, how much they have learnt and how far their mental horizons have expanded even while their physical radius of activity has shrunk. They have appreciated the inspiration and ingenuity of their teachers, as they have adapted their lessons, form times and assemblies, using every resource to hand including pets, hats, songs, films and quizzes.
In the last few days, we have also greatly enjoyed welcoming the girls back into school – for picnics and lab experiments, workshops and one-to-one sessions. Their smiles have told us how much they have missed the camaraderie of school and how much they are looking forward to picking up the threads of school life in September. The summer holiday has begun. As time stretches ahead and the space to roam and relax beckons, I hope that the uncanny aspects of the pandemic will recede from view and the homespun pleasures of the long vac take their place.
I wish you all a restorative summer break.