There’s a song I learned when I was a child called ‘Pilgrim’s Song’. It tells the lonely tale of a pilgrim. As I got older, it became synonymous with funerals, much as ‘Blessed Assurance’ and ‘Amazing Grace’. But unlike those songs, it faded away into obscurity, taking with it a word that many generations may never truly understand. Interestingly enough, when I started attending Bishop Anstey High School, that word reared its head again. This time, however, it was in the form of a much-beloved school hymn, ‘Who Would True Valor See?’, each verse ending with the words “to be a pilgrim”.
But what is a pilgrim?
Two Sundays ago, a young charge had to sing two lines of a song to be recorded for school. She enlisted the help of her teacher, but as he didn’t know the song well, my help was sought. The hymn, ‘Who Would True Valor See?’, and the school, my alma mater. Earlier this year, at our school’s 100th anniversary, that song, that same hymn, roused my soul as it did on the first day that I sang it so many years ago. I remember every line, every word as if it were yesterday. Half an hour later, however, the voice note from that young student was lifeless, lacking. In her defense, though, because of the pandemic she had never strode past the walls of that amazing school. She’d never been imbued with the awe, the grit, the drive, the determination of what it is to be a Hilarian. She had yet to stand in the halls and sing the school hymn with her sisters. So how do I get her to feel what I felt that first day and still do? How do I get her to imbibe what she needed to ‘feel’ what she sang?
I decided to tell her a story of a Hilarian who, in the end, by her life, taught me what it was to be a pilgrim. I told her of her selfless gift of a lobe of her liver to her godson, a gift that gave him sixteen years of life and counting, a gift that saw him be the last person at her side before she gained her heavenly passport, a gift wrapped in sacrifice and tied with ribbons of love. That Hilarian was my sister. When I wrote her eulogy I could find no other song more fitting to truly describe her life, than our school hymn. But I shared something else. It is not just because of our school that we become special, but, because of who we are, inside, that makes our school special too. Armed with this I asked her to join me as we sang our school hymn together, proud and yet humbled to be on that journey to becoming a true pilgrim!
“No goblin nor foul fiend
Shall daunt his spirit
He knows he at the end
Shall life inherit
Then fancies fly away
He’ll (I’ll) not fear what men say
He’ll (I’ll) labor night and day
To be a pilgrim!”