Open a book and let Elizabeth speak…..
“During the next twenty minutes he passed through one of the oddest experiences of his life. As he moved up and down before the bars, trying ceaselessly for another sight of that boy, he began to recognise some of the faces that came and went in front of him. One hulking brute of a fellow had the bluest Irish eyes he had ever seen. Another, a boy, with the face of a depraved old man, had a mouth as sensitively cut as Stella’s own. A third, hunchbacked and deformed, had a pock marked face that startled the Abbe by suddenly splitting into a grin. He noticed other eyes, other mouths, other gallant attempts at cheerfulness. Occasionally, when he slipped a coin into a wooden spoon, his eyes would meet the eyes of the poor devil that held it, and he had the sensation that the trivial act was not trivial at all but an actual entering in of himself into the being of the man before him”
(Gentian Hill p 378)
Like many of us, we were taken out for dinner over the festive break and went to a small market town to enjoy it. The town is a pretty and ancient one, the evening cool enough to be seasonal and the Christmas lights added their glamour to the occasion.
As we walked up the charming narrow street soaking up the atmosphere, we passed in a doorway a hump of sleeping bag and blankets, and a man looked up and gave me a cheerful wave as we passed. Not behind bars, but a prisoner none the less; of circumstances, of fate, from a society that had locked him out. In 2020, I am appalled, ashamed and amazed that this is one of the problems that not only has not been eradicated, but sadly is on the rise.
Elizabeth spoke to me through the medium of the random page of the first of her works I pulled off the shelf. Many of her works contain prisoners, their inner turmoil, their crimes and punishment. Prisoner welfare was a cause close to her heart, one that she carried out quietly, consummately away from the public eye, all her life.
One of her favourite quotes was: – “what the dead had
no speech for, when living, they can tell you, being dead: the communication of
the dead is tongued with fire..”
(T. S. Eliot Little Gidding). I have no doubt that Elizabeth would have had similar feelings towards the homeless as my own.
She would also have taken away the gifts of his smile, the total lack of judgement he displayed, the fact that in his destitution, he could look up and be happy for us. She would also have enjoyed the other aspects of the evening just as keenly; companionship and the importance of family, the quiet appreciation of the beauty of starlight over old roofs.
Thank you for the companionship of like minds. We wish all of you a safe, peaceful and happy New Year.