May 31, 2019

Listen to me in silence (Isaiah 41.1).

8.00 am: A communion. We suffer most when unable to comprehend the purpose of either our own or other people’s distress. Apparently meaningless affliction or loss is so hard to bear. Thus, we should never cease to ask: ‘Why?’ While an answer may not be immediately forthcoming, it may yet be discoverable in due time. And in that knowing, we’ll learn of a truth that couldn’t have been revealed in any other way.

A few days ago, the School ‘family’ lost one of its own and best. Phoebe Williams was a second year student and one my personal tutees. In the university’s official announcement about her unexpected passing, posted this morning, I wrote:

The name Phoebe is derived from the Greek, meaning ‘bright one’. And she was so very bright. We knew her at the School, all too briefly, as someone who embodied everything you’d hope for in an art student. Phoebe excelled at whatever she turned her hand to. Her drawing, painting, illustration, and writing exhibited both intelligence and passion in equal measure. She had the capacity to grasp ideas and acquire facilities remarkably quickly, and articulate her intentions with insight and conspicuous maturity. We will miss what she would have become.

She’d lived locally. My family and I had known her ever since she was a baby. Phoebe played in the Penglais School orchestra, along with my sons. Not only was she a talented musician but also an able linguist. Following her A-levels (which were unsurprisingly astonishing), she obtained a place at Cambridge University to undertake Japanese studies. But art called to her (as it has done to many) and, eventually, she came to live among us on the Buarth. Last summer vacation, she and I spent time together getting her practical work up-to-speed, so that she could enter the second year of fine art studies in first gear. And that she did, admirably. She was an inspiration.

As I write, her last Facebook message to me speaks still. It’s so strange that the vestiges of our life – what we made and wrote – endure after we’ve flown away. But it’s entirely right that they do. Our lives go on (in a conditional sense) through such things and, more importantly, the influence for good that we’ve had upon those whom we’d encountered and loved dearly. She lived with such vigour, as though everyday was her last. In this respect, she’s bequeathed a lesson to us all: follow your heart, delight in your abilities, invest them without stinting, and make the most of today, for tomorrow is not guaranteed. ‘Phebe, I’ll miss you so very much – our heady conversations, that beguiling voice, those funky red specs, your lively mind and charming deference, as well as the exemplary determination that you showed as you did battle with even the most obstinate obstacles which life presented.’

9.00 am: I’d time before the Final Exam Board Meeting for fine art later in the morning. The PhD monitoring reports came back into focus. 10.00 am: Off to School, with heavier feet.

11.00 am: The board. The External Examiner had performed his task in a professional and gracious manner, as always. The marks for the undergraduate and postgraduate exhibitions were verified as a fair and accurate judgement on the participating students’ attainment. That’s always heartening to know. As is, too, the level of student satisfaction with their experience at the School. However, we can do better; and, we will. 12.15 pm: I needed to walk alone and in receptive silence, before the remainder of the day’s responsibilities pressed upon me again.

2.00 pm: Mundanity broke-in upon the scene once again. We met with the new co-ordinators of our university’s information deposit for students (Blackboard). All necessary stuff, and the discussion was lively and imaginative. We’d generated a good many good ideas. All we needed next was the time and the assistance to implement some of them. 3.30 pm: Back at homebase, I caught up with emails and postgraduate admin, listed outstanding tasks, and completed mark sheets. 4.30 pm: Done! The sun broke through:

I returned to PhD monitoring reports. With these I’d be preoccupied for the remainder of the afternoon and evening.

Today, as a School, as many, we grieved as one:

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