Sunday, November 6, 2011
(Mystery of the Street by Umbo, born Otto
Umbehr, 1902-1980, German photographer)
Today we begin to look at charity, or Agape (ah-gah-pay) in Greek and Caritas in Latin. This is the love that C. S. Lewis describes as “all about giving, not getting.” It is not an emotion. “It is a state not of the feelings but of the will; that state of the will which we have naturally about ourselves, and must learn to have about other people.” It is the highest form of love, selfless, unlimited, and voluntary.
THE BARRANONG ANGEL CASE
You see that bench in front of Meagher’s store?
That’s where the angel landed.
What? An angel?
Yes. It was just near smoko¹ time on a sale day.
Town was quite full. He called us all together.
And was he obeyed?
Oh yes. He got a hearing.
Made his announcement, blessed us and took off
Again, straight up.
He had most glorious wings . . .
What happened then?
There were some tasks he’d set us
Or rather that sort of followed from his message.
And were they carried out?
At first we meant to,
But after a while, when there had been some talk
Most came to think he’d been a bit, well, haughty,
A bit overdone, with those flourishes of wings
And that plummy² accent.
Lot of the women liked that.
But the men who’d knelt, off their own bat, mind you,
They were specially crook³ on him, as I remember.
Did he come again?
Oh yes. The message was important.
The second time, he hired the church hall,
Spoke most politely, called us all by name.
Not much. At first we liked him.
But, after all, he’d singled out the Catholics.
It was their hall. And another thing resented
By different ones, he hadn’t charged admission.
We weren’t all paupers, and any man or angel
With so little regard for local pride, or money,
Ends up distrusted.
Did he give up then?
Oh no. The third time round
He thought he had our measure. Came by car,
Took a room at Morgan’s, didn't say a word
About his message for the first two days
And after that, dropped hints. Quite clever ones.
He made sure, too, that he spoke to all the Baptists.
I’ll bet that worked.
You reckon? Not that I saw.
We didn’t like him pandering to our ways
For a start. Some called it mockery, straight out.
He was an angel, after all. And then
There was the way he kept on coming back
Hustling the people.
And when all’s said and done
He was a stranger. And he talked religion.
Did he keep on trying?
No. Gave us away.
Would it have helped if he’d settled in the district?
Don’t think so, mate. If you follow me, he was
Too keen altogether. He’d have harped on that damn message
All the time — or if he’d stopped, well then
He’d have been despised because he’d given in, like.
He’d just got off on the wrong foot from the start
And you can’t fix that up.
But what — Oh Hell! — what if he’d been, say, born here?
Well, that sort of thing’s a bit above an angel,
Or a bit below. And he’d grow up too well known.
Who’d pay any heed to a neighbor’s boy, I ask you,
Specially if he came out with messages?
Besides, what he told us had to do with love
And people here,
They don’t think that’s quite — manly.
~ Les A. Murray, born 1938, Australian poet and critic
¹smoko – a break from work (Australian slang)
²plummy – rich in tone (informal British)
³crook on – abusive, hostile to (Australian slang)