Welcome to Pickering College

Last week we began a new school year, and, as has been the case for generations of Pickering College students, one of the highlights of the week was our Opening Meeting for Worship.  One of the defining qualities of Pickering College is Morning Meeting. It is a time to gather in the collective spirit of community to celebrate our accomplishments, to share our common challenges, to raise questions about our responsibilities and to inspire our actions.  The following are remarks I made at the Pickering College Opening Meeting for Worship on Thursday, September 4, 2014.

I was reading about an old, old story this summer. It is a story from Greek mythology and one I think we have all heard and been told a lesson as a result of the story.

It is the story of a man named Daedalus, who was an artist and craftsman and who was imprisoned by the king on the island of Crete with his son. Since he could not leave the island by land or sea, Daedalus decided to create wings for both himself and his son, who was named Icarus. And because he was an artist and a craftsman, he made beautiful wings, with feathers of various sizes, tied together by string and secured with wax. His wings were shaped like the wings of a bird and when he put them on and began waving them, he found he was able to lift himself off the ground – to fly. So, he made a second pair for his son and then taught him how to fly.

When they were both ready, it was time to make their escape. But Daedalus warned his son not to fly too high, because the heat of the sun would melt the wax. And thus they set off to freedom from their island imprisonment.

Imagine yourself, like Daedalus and Icarus, suddenly able to fly . . . to soar through the air, to feel the freedom, the limitlessness of your potential, to feel the air rushing against your face as you rise and fall with the currents and the thermals. Flight, unaided flight, like the birds, is one of the human race’s greatest and oldest dreams. And imagine young Icarus – a boy probably about the age of many of you – who tastes this incredible feeling of freedom and possibility; imagine how he feels as he soars and wheels in the air.

The story goes that Icarus, overcome by his eagerness, forgets himself and his father’s warning, and flew too high – too close to the sun. And, as a result, the heat of the sun melted the wax that held the feathers together and Icarus lost his wings and his power of flight and fell, down into the sea, where he perished.

And so, for thousands of years we have been taught the lesson of Icarus. And what is that lesson? Well, there have been many: be humble, do not overstep your abilities; do not be overconfident; live within your limits; listen to the wisdom of your parents;  and do not believe you can do what only the gods do.

Important lessons, no doubt.

But what I learned this summer is something more about the legend of Icarus. I learned that his father had a second warning for him, that we do not hear about nearly as often. His father also warned Icarus not to fly too low, too close to the water, because the sea water would clog the wings and ruin their lift.

But we are seldom reminded about the lesson of this part of the myth. As author Seth Godin points out, we have listened to only one side of the myth and “created a culture where we constantly remind one another about the dangers of standing up, standing out, and making a ruckus.”

He points out that “It’s far more dangerous to fly too low than too high, because it feels safe to fly low. We settle for low expectations and small dreams and guarantee ourselves less than we are capable of. By flying too low, we shortchange not only ourselves but also those who depend on us or might benefit from our work. We’re so obsessed with shining brightly that we’ve traded in everything that matters to avoid it.”

That is the message that I want you to take away this morning. As you enter this year – whether in Kindergarten or Grade 12, do not be afraid to fly high, to soar more than you could ever imagine, to shine so brightly that you blind other people with your light.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting you be boastful, or vain or arrogant or filled with pride. You should not make others feel bad about themselves by putting them down while you put yourself up. In fact, it is the opposite: you should be lifting others – their spirits, their belief in themselves – by inspiring them with the heights you are willing to seek. Sail so high you lift others with you; shine so brightly you are a beacon to them.

So – always listen to the wisdom of the world, of the school, of your teachers and your parents, but take some risks, to be ready to fail at times, try new things, to stand up for what you believe in,to  meet new people,  and to extend yourself beyond what you thought possible. That is the lesson, that is the challenge, that is the goal.

Let me close with a final quotation from Godin, who said: “Freedom isn’t the ability to do whatever you want. It is the willingness to do whatever you want.”

As we sit quietly for a few minutes I ask you to consider what you will do this year to be free and to soar high.