Friday 23 May 2014 will be a day forever etched on my memory. Margaret Mizen came in to school to speak to Years Eight and Nine. Unless you’ve lived under a rock since 2008 you’ll know that Margaret’s 16 year old son Jimmy was murdered in 2008, the day after his 16th birthday. Rather than be eaten up by anger and revenge, Margaret, her husband Barry and the rest of their nine children work and campaign for peace.
The lovely Nikki at the Mizen Foundation told me Margaret would aim to get to us at 8.45, so I waited outside the school gates to usher her in to her reserved parking space. 8.45 on the dot she was there. Margaret comes across as a breezy, easy going lady, true relaxed class, who by the time we had left the car park, felt as familiar as anyone on your Christmas card list.
While we waited for the boys to be registered and bought into chapel we were joined by a few other people whom you’d have thought she had known forever. I’d heard of other speakers at other schools indulging in a little diva strop before proceedings, the thought went through my mind “they have had the wrong speakers”.
The boys came in and settled down, I had the joy of introducing Margaret and her talk began. Margaret is softly spoke, she checked she could be heard at the back, which she could and we were off in to an unbelievable experience. In sweet tones throughout Margaret told the chaps all about herself, her background and her family. As she proceeded to talk about the day Jimmy died I noted something, there were over 300 boys aged between 12-14 years old, I looked round, she had them all in the palm of her hand, they were listening attentively and in complete stillness and calm.
As Margaret spoke of Jimmy’s death, recounting the day in detail, I won’t deny a lump came to my throat and I welled up, but I had to get into professional mode as I was at work, I wondered how my colleagues were coping with this. Margaret described in detail of the events that lead to Jimmy dying, when she told us that it all took place in a matter of three minutes I expected to hear an audible reaction, but still a calm silence reigned.
Hearing about Jimmy’s killer Jake roused the boys a little, there was movement in the benches, but that was all. Margaret had said to me she hoped there would be some questions afterwards, our chaps did not disappoint, we had in total 100 minutes from start to finish, we could have filled 100 minutes with questions alone. Before we finished I had the chance to share with the boys some words I heard Barry Mizen say at Flame Congress in 2012 “If I want a more peaceful world, I must be peaceful, if I want a more friendly world, I must be friendly, if I want a more forgiving world, I must forgive”. I was not shy to make it clear to the boys there was emotion in my voice as I said this. As a rule I shy away from such things, emotion has no place in a professional sphere, but for this one occasion I must ask for indulgence.
As the boys left Margaret shook hands with each boy in Year Nine, we had a cup of tea and, during morning break, Margaret bade her leave, not before meeting one or two staff and (to my great joy) breaking her ‘selfie’ duck when I whipped my phone out.
As I walked back into school the feedback began “Sir, wow!” “That was good, really good, and true life too” “Sir we weren’t there, will we get this talk?” “Mrs MIzen knows my aunt Monica” and the talk was the only thing being spoken of in the staffroom during break too. I told my colleagues of the verbal feedback, including being told that “such and sucher member of staff was crying” two colleagues said “Oh no, they didn’t see me did they?” no they didn’t, it was yet another.
What I, and the approximately 350 other people at that talk, witnessed was true Christianity in action. While I was able to tick everything that was there, love, compassion, faith, submission, generosity and, most of all, forgiveness, I noted also what wasn’t there, ego, self need, denigration, arrogance, not a sign of anything outside the teaching of the Church.
The Mizen family are astounding, Margaret Mizen is a saint on earth, and it is my utter sublime privilege to have shared some time with her.