Bambi, Swerves, and the BSM Future

Bambi, Swerves, and the BSM Future
  • 2022-23

The first film I saw at the cinema was Bambi. I was four years old. It was the first film I had seen anywhere.

It was also the first film I cried at. I cried at the moment that everyone cries – when the mother is killed by a hunter.

Imagine my horror and disappointment, then, when I learned recently that the author and creator of Bambi, Felix Salten, was himself a fanatical hunter. 

In my very first lesson when I was training to be a teacher, I chose to teach a poem by William Stafford called ‘Travelling Through the Dark’.

In the poem, the narrator finds a deer dead on the edge of a narrow road. ‘To swerve,’ he says, ‘might make more dead’.

He steps out of the car and notices that, though the deer has ‘stiffened already’, she is ‘large in the belly’.

He touches the deer’s side and discovers she is pregnant; this part of her body is still warm, with the baby deer or fawn ‘waiting alive, still, never to be born’.

Stafford writes, ‘I thought hard for us all — my only swerving— then pushed her over the edge into the river.’

The same word ‘swerve’ is used by the Roman poet Lucretius in his De Rerum Naturae (On the Nature of Things) to describe the way very small ‘atoms’ in motion randomly collide, then move away in all directions.

My own life, like everyone else’s, has taken several swerves.

My first swerve was a decision to study literature at university instead of my parents’ preferred choice of politics and law. Then there was my decision to come to Italy when I was twenty-one and spend a year here.

The swerve that followed saw me move to Athens to take up my first teaching appointment, which is where I met the woman who would become my wife.

Other swerves include my return to the UK to pursue a doctorate in modern poetry, and the swerve to work at a school in the UK close to a park full of deer.

According to the writer Helen MacDonald, ‘The correct way’ to respond when encountering a deer on the road, ‘is never to swerve.’

Perhaps the same is true of other obstacles we meet in life.

Three major obstacles have presented themselves since my swerve to come to Milan – all beginning with the letter ‘c’. Firstly, the cancer that afflicted my wife. Secondly Covid, and third, the Comune. 

I have done my best to confront all three, to look them squarely in the eye, and not to swerve, but sadly I confess that I failed to overcome any of these impediments.

I have felt eroded in different ways by each of them.

One of the worst moments I experienced in the last few years was when my elder son called one afternoon. I was in the middle of dealing with issues during the pandemic, answering many emails, and trying my best to work remotely as Principal of the school.

I told my son how busy I was, and asked if I could I call him back. He sounded disappointed but seemed to understand.

I then got distracted and forgot to call him back.

Later I found out that he was at the cemetery, allowed to visit for the first time (because of Covid) my wife’s - his mother’s - grave. He had wanted to call and share the experience with me.

It was another Bambi moment. I cried for one of the few times in my adult life because I knew I had let down my son. I was left feeling wretched and unworthy.

There is a word the ancient Greek dramatists use, anagnorisis, to describe an instant of reckoning. It’s the moment you look at yourself and recognise all of your failings as a human being. This was such a moment for me.

From then on, I vowed always to take a call from my sons, no matter where I was and what I was doing.

We all like to think of our existence as having a sense of shape, rather than being subject to random swerves and collisions.

We like to think we can control the direction in which our lives develop. We long for a sense of order to operate benignly behind everything that we do.

This isn’t always possible, of course. Chance (or perhaps Fate) often leads us into situations we have little power to control.

One of the good things about being part of an organisation is that, with many people acting together, it is easier to shape and direct what happens next. An organisation can generate a collective momentum that is largely immune to the swerves of any individual.

Going forwards at the BSM, therefore, I am confident that the future is strong, because the team is strong.

When he arrives, the new Principal will need to engage with the operational mysteries of the Comune, but I hope that much of the hard work in preparing for the new building will have been done.

And with the continued unswerving dedication of the leadership team and the teachers, with the backing of parents and the Board of Governors, the future looks extremely bright.

In the meantime, it just remains for me to thank you for all your support and your unfailing kindness as I take a final swerve and lead the school for one more year.

Chris Greenhalgh
Principal and CEO


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