I was asked to talk in chapel this week on the topic of Hope. This is what I said.
Why is hope important? Let’s start with the Classical story of Pandora. Pandora, the first woman created in Greek mythology, was given a box that she opened to release all evils onto the earth. All that was left in the box was hope. This story has many interpretations, but my favourite is that, even when things seem to be the worst that they can be, and human sin brings misery all around, there is still hope, and we must hang onto that hope if we are to make things better.
To illustrate what hope means to me, I hope that I can indulge myself and tell you a story about a person who was very special to me. Her name was Terri Bosman, but every boy in the house knew her as Mrs B. She was, for 16 years, the matron in Grafton House, one of the 12 boarding houses at Stowe, where I worked between 2003 and 2010. Earlier this week her memorial service took place, because, in October of last year, she was diagnosed with bowel cancer. Very sadly, the condition did not respond to the treatment, and after a short struggle, Mrs B died on 30th December.
I started as Housemaster in Grafton in 2003. Mrs B was the matron, who was already close to retirement age (not that anyone was allowed to know this), and in her first couple of years in the house was now facing her third Housemaster. Matrons at Stowe used to live in the boarding houses, and this meant that Terri was ever present in the house, and was a huge part of everyone’s lives in Grafton. Looking back, I wonder what she hoped for from me when I arrived, as her new boss (not that Terri ever had a boss!). She was definitely old school. For example, she shared my compulsion to see tidy rooms in the house, and took great pleasure in bagging up anyone’s untidy clothes in a black bin bag, that would appear, out of the window, on the lawn in front of the house. In fact, once, when I was walking down to the house, with a family that was considering Stowe for their son, we had to dodge dirty rugby boots, that were being vigorously relocated by Mrs B from the first floor window. I am afraid that I don’t recall whether that family did send their son to the school!
Terri also had a habit of mixing up names (my wife was always Mal, never Mel), mispronouncing words, and even telling off the wrong person for some misdemeanour in the house. She was a lethal driver, who kept her licence long after her eyes meant that she should have given it up. This was particularly alarming when you think that she drove the boys to their medical appointments! As I have already said, she did not suffer fools, and was not averse to letting a parent know that she was not happy with their son, for something he had done. Standards were high, and you were expected to live up to them all the time.
However, Terri was unbelievably kind, and unremittingly optimistic and full of hope for everyone who was under her care. While a shirt out, or a swear word would bring a quick response from her, there were no grudges, and only a hope that things would be done better the next time. Each year, as a new group of boys joined the house, she would welcome them as if into her own home, and each year, the boys responded to her great care for them. It was no surprise yesterday to see many boys and parents from across the years of her time in the house returning to give thanks for a very special life. She was famous for providing cups of tea, percy pigs (if you haven’t come across them, they are a great little sweet!), and dinners. In my first year in the house, I wasn’t brave enough to tell Terri when my wife was cooking dinner for me at home, so I regularly ended up eating two dinners a night. Her hospitality was legendary, and her kindness was unending.
The short reading today is one that our Chaplain is particularly fond of, and so was Mrs B. To me it summed her up perfectly. Gentle, humble in heart, and ready to take on the burdens of anyone who came to her. Terri lived and breathed this all important approach to caring for others. She was kind, compassionate and helpful, and even when all the darkest examples of human failing were sometimes evident, she brought hope, encouragement and support.
I am desperately sad that I will never again be able to pop over to see her, to talk about the times that we shared in that house, the boys that we met, the men that they have become. So many of them came back to her memorial service, just to share one last memory of a really special person. So, what of hope? For many of us, Faith can be a challenge, and we sit in chapel unsure at times what the bigger picture really is. So Faith is difficult. But Hope - now that is something that we can all understand and believe in. What do I hope? I hope that Mrs B is somewhere better now. If she is, she will make sure that the whole place gets a good clean, and that nobody is short of food or love. She was a great influence on me, and on many others. I will miss her greatly, but HOPE that her selflessness and kindness might also inspire you.