Spent a pleasant evening yesterday watching Alan Bennett's play "The History Boys" in Cardiff. The film gave me a great nostalgic trip a few weeks ago - the play less so.
And yet, the final line of the play carried with it a poignancy and a sense of urgent futility that struck me as one of the most beautiful lines I have ever heard from the stage.
After all the "success" of the eight boys achieving their Oxbridge places from their hapless northern grammar school, after their seventh term studies and shenanigans, after their teachers present foibles and future failings are made abundantly clear, after the boys' own ordinary ways forward are revealed, the newly deceased Hector emerges behind them in their grieving reverie to encourage them onwards:
"Pass it on, boys," he urges, "pass it on!" Curtain down.
As I say, I found this to be a stunning end. For in that group of lads, all fail. The communicators (teacher Irwin, journalist Scripps) are portrayed as passing things on - but words and not beauty, self and mockery without self-mockery that makes either tolerable. The one who loves beauty in the abstract - Posner - is seen as lost in his own little world, communicating nothing. The one who chases beauty in the concrete at school (Dakin) now chases unlovely money. The rest vary from the worthy to the warped - but principally are forgettable. Which Hector was not.
Pass it on. To whom? How? It seems they found education was just for exams after all. Irwin won; Hector lost.
And I sat there, thinking of all the teachers I enjoyed at school. Robin Taylor, Jack Longstaff, David Ramm, Lynn Martindale, Graeme Slack, Alan Petford, Mme Lindley, Tim Heavisides, a myriad more. All those at university who made me stand up for myself, like Henry Mayr Harting and Roger Highfield. Those at Wycliffe like Tom Wright, David Wenham and Alister McGrath who made my brain think theologically. And in my life I find myself to be a deeply flawed human being treading in the footsteps of deeply flawed human beings, handling the precious gifts of a faith that is more valuable than I know how to say.
All the gifts those guys gave me at school, university and theological college - skills and visions and imaginings and the like - now fill my life as I hear Hector's words as Jesus' charge to me:
Pass it on, boy, pass it on.