We have this little weather balloon;
And I release him towards you,
The sun tucked underneath his little arm.
He skuds up three flights of stairs with ease,
Whirring noisily all the way.
Reports filter down to base camp
As his green shoots break through
The crackling ice of your troubled summit.
The cool, clear stream of your voice trickles down the stairs
As it had one month before
Warm. Mischievous. Kind.
We stop short of calling you both down.
No – you stay where you are.
We love you.
We will climb to you.
It had been a bastard of a morning. The usual first-world problems: missing the alarm, running out of milk, The Boy being in particularly uncooperative mood on a decidedly tetchy nursery run. More seriously, weightier issues bore down on me, dragging at my heels by day and worrying my sleep by night. And now, battling through a squally gale at the school gates, I had an unwanted CPD day on mental health to face. I confess to sometimes being that cynical old pro dribbling in the corner: the one who has seen it all, done it all. With over twenty years of teaching under my belt, what could anyone possible tell me about the adolescent mind that could justify discarding another five hours of my dwindling life?
I settled into my seat with folded arms and a face that screamed Expect No Participation and Leave Me Alone. But what was about to follow was going to blow me away.
Our guest speaker waited for the last stragglers to fill the dreaded Front Row, making a few gentle quips with them as he did so. He was a large, comfortable-looking man: checked shirt, smart-casual slacks and polished brogues. His bearded face was large, open and jovial; his initial words engaging, undemanding. The introduction that followed revealed a warm, avuncular disposition and a neat line in self-deprecating humour; and a potted resume of his life sketched a portrait of a contented husband, father, boarding school housemaster and established headteacher. In no time, he had disarmed many of his audience with an easy bloke-down-the-rugby-club rapport, cemented by flashing a picture up on the screen of a contented, middle-class family: good-looking, grown-up kids and happy parents, surrounded by love and with a whole chunk of life to look forward to. There was no hint of self-satisfaction, just the sense of: This is me. This is us. We in a good place.
Except that wasn’t how the story ended.
What this man revealed over the following five minutes had every jaw in the room dropping. He outlined a series of events that were life-changing, overwhelming and devastating. We hardly dared breath, our hearts in our mouths, bones aching for this big man and his family.
The man was Dick Moore, and that story is Dick’s to tell. For reasons I need not go into, the months prior to this day had, for me, been challenging; but Dick’s subsequent strength, optimism; wrapped up in an incredibly poignant story became, personally speaking, a Damascene moment.
During the final ten minutes of that presentation, I reset my compass. I found myself stocktaking the many good things I have in my life: my wonderful wife and family, my home; a career brimming full of engaging kids and funny, kind colleagues – many of whom I am privileged to call my friends. People, in short, who have made me much more the man than I had been some fifteen years before.
That morning, it all connected quickly – a strong thread between this courageous man’s words and my own life. And so my own thoughts continued to close in on those connections that were closer to home: my daughters, so brave themselves and so close to adulthood – girls who had welcomed a new baby brother into their busy lives with so much love and kindness and time; and their little brother’s limitless capacity as an ebullient, life-affirming four-year-old to lift dark thoughts from any troubled mind.
This latter introspection had me reaching for my pen and drafting a poem, which I called Weather Balloon. A few days later, feeling compelled to thank Dick Moore, I sent him a copy, with a brief and probably inadequate note of thanks. This is the poem that opens my post.
A day or so later, I received a reply:
You might find this odd, but I am at 39000 feet en route to Abu Dhabi and I have that familiar prickly feeling behind my eyes. Thank you so very much not just for telling me about your family and your Weather Balloon but also for allowing me to read your poem. I find it, and the thought that my talk might have triggered something positive, extremely moving.
Good luck. It sounds to me as though you are doing precisely the right things.
Very best wishes to you all,
Dick was not the beginning of a second chance for me; yet I think he nailed it. I certainly don’t know if I would be writing these words today were it not for a few hours in the big man’s company. A year or so on, I can only commend him, and the strength of love in adversity, to you.