This is my last blog of 2021 and it is a more personal reflection than I am typically comfortable to post, however I would like to tell you a little about how this year has felt for me. I hope it does not seem too self-indulgent.
I am not widely read or very sophisticated in my literary experiences, but I love the power of words to move people. There is a poem by William Butler Yeats that always moves me and it has become increasingly important in a year that has pulled the heart out of my work, our plans and our hopes to even carry on.
“Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”
For the last two decades my dream has been to play a small part in shaping a kinder, more thoughtful and more generous profession. My style is not to stand at the front and shout, and I prefer quiet anonymity as the place for my best work. I have always believed however that to succeed I must spread this dream beneath your feet and ask that we tread softly together. It is one of the reasons that I write, because it means I can place my words here for you to read, while I quietly withdraw, leaving you with my words in peace.
Like lots of people who have taken their own path, I do not consider that I have a job, or even a career; what I have is a chance to make my difference in my way. All was well until the world changed in March 2020. Within a few weeks old certainties became fragile and existential concerns filled our minds. Now we know that hundreds of thousands of people have died, families have been kept apart, and nearly everyone has at sometime felt overwhelmed with feelings of sadness, regret and of visceral loss.
As 2020 became 2021, the long winter gripped my hopes for a year of recovery and shook them from my grasp. I could feel my dreams slipping through my fingers and I observed how my business could freefall from the sky. I have never felt more lost or helpless, or less able to ask for help knowing the world was convulsed by far more dreadful fears than my own.
Dreams however are hard to kill. When we wrap them in hope, our dreams never really leave us.
Back in February 2020, we had started a leadership programme that should have finished in March that year. Thanks to Covid, it had to be postponed and this programme became, for me at least, a hanging symbol of hopes frozen and dreams locked down.
Then, last month, twenty months after it began, we met again to finish what we had started. The words of W B Yeats were with me on the first evening of the reconvened programme. That night we had the privilege to work with the London Mozart Players and in a room where delegates and musicians gathered, we heard the joy of beautiful sounds made just for us. There was a blissful moment when the last note was played and it seemed to borrow the stillness of our listening to glide perfectly into silence. Those of us in the room knew that nothing mattered more in that moment than for our stillness to be the respectful accompaniment for this precious sound; the sound of a single note coming to rest and becoming a gift for us of a small, but perfect memory.
I knew then that my dream was still alive. If a single note in a frantic world of crashing discordant noise could leave such a deep impression and evoke feelings that will last long after the note itself has gone, imagine what caring notes we might leave in the memories of those who hear our words?
We may never have access to heavens’ embroidered cloths, enwrought with golden and silver light, but even when we are poor, we are still more valuable and more important and more influential than we could ever imagine.
In 2021 my business nearly died. Accountants would have declared “nothing to see here,” but my dreams are not on any balance sheet, and I am the luckiest man in the world to work with people who tread softly with me. My words today therefore are for my extraordinary Faculty and for the delegates who literally stayed the course. With all my heart, thank you.
In 2022 we will build again, working for that kinder, more thoughtful and more generous profession once more, one day at a time and grateful for every day.
I hope 2022 may bring you love and safety, kindness and opportunity. May you feel you can unfurl your dreams, and if you are lucky enough to spread your dreams at the feet of others, please ask them to tread softly with you.
Take care. Paul xx