In his Weekly Meditation email, the Rev. Daniel R. Heischman, executive director of the National Association of Episcopal Schools (NAES), gave his thoughts on Saint James School's 175th anniversary video, and how the history of the school helped him regain perspective and resolve during a difficult time.
November 13, 2017
The Rev. Daniel R. Heischman
I found myself feeling pretty discouraged at the beginning of last week. After hearing the news of the shootings at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs TX, I felt a sense of wandering in the wilderness: when would these mass shootings end? Do these shootings tell a story of an American culture that is coming apart at the seams? What direction are we heading in as a country?
Then I came across a video from Saint James School in Maryland, produced in celebration of its 175th anniversary. Watching it helped raise my spirits immensely. Hearing young people express great pride in their school, as was the case in the video, one cannot help but feel uplifted. But there was more to the video than that: the story of the school, and all that it had been through, helped me regain perspective and resolve at a crucial time.
The history of Saint James School includes a number of major setbacks. It had to shut down during the Civil War, as the school was located directly in the crossfire between Union and Confederate armies. The process of reopening the school following the war was a major undertaking.
So, too, was the rebuilding of the main classroom, decades later, following a devastating fire. Three years after the fire, the Great Depression hit, and the school's financial foundation collapsed.
Throughout all of these setbacks, two factors seemed to keep the school going. The first was the school's collective memory — it had been through major calamity before, and it had survived. Recalling how much it had been through before helped the school to keep a sense of perspective and strengthen its resolve to continue.
Dan Rather, as are many people, is currently doing a lot of writing and reflecting on the year, 1968. He recalls to us a similar time of deep division and seeming undoing in our country, a year filled with one calamity after another. Yet he reminds us in hope, in a belief that we can endure our current crises, given that we have been in such places before.
The second element that kept Saint James going, through its difficult history, was its understanding of itself — its basic values, and the feeling that what it was doing was not only good, but worth maintaining. It held on to a vision that it simply could not relinquish. In turn, armed with a sense of conviction and confidence in our own values, we can endure numerous challenges and heartbreak, for we have something stronger, more lasting than the roadblocks set in our way.
Memory and conviction; perspective and belief: these are the key ingredients that can help us to hold on during the most difficult and discouraging of times.