Tuesday 1 November 2022

Saints & Souls

Sometimes a smile can slip through the darkness like a spectre through an open barrow.  Like a wraith through the river.  T'was not always so, such joyful ease.  But what is holy, really, without a sense of fun?  It isn't just demonic things that you find grinning in the dark.  Brighter things smile in secret too.  At the depths of human ingenuity, or divine stewardship.  We've made a secular thing of all this play; jack-o-lanterns, hobgoblins and fay.  Shimmering shades. And yet, still we seek the higher language.  A holy frivolity.  The chance to stand unafraid in the gate, even as darker forms swirl about unseen.  Such things can be noticed if one has vantage.  Watching from the roofs and spires of the city, or perhaps even the sky.  I adore this aspect of human consciousness.  This desire to find fun even in the darker half of the year.  Modern man is not the first to notice the phantasmagoria of autumn.  The harvest of the fall.  Burnt-orange, brown and gold amidst the green.  The forests aflame with the promise of their own rebirth in these days of the dead.  It's funny how a century can pass in the blink of an eye.  Perhaps it's the academic in me.  One spends an entire career studying rhetoric whilst life itself is far more pragmatic.  The strange overcast genius of Poe, Bronte or Machen, yet all the while children are born.  Mocking despondence with their bright-eyed wonder.  I remember walking London's paths during those gas-lit evenings and nineteenth century nights.  Children don't notice shadows the way we adults do.  Pomp and ceremony.  The mummery of our gilded Victoriana.  No, they see a brighter, truer world.  I prefer their modern mischief, as all angels do.  Those hideous workhouses torn to nothing, at least here in the west.  Longer lives, greater health, a wry vitality – even in these darker, occulted months.  Sadly, the poor and destitute still line the streets of my city but far greater numbers have warmth and comfort now.  The youngest among London’s working classes aren't heart-breakingly wan and barefoot.  Warmth and shelter are nothing to be sniffed at, friends.  Believe me.  As the young rush door to door with delirious optimism, dressed in folklore whilst seeking sugared treats – I'm so grateful that this is now the tenor of October's end.  T'was not always so.  Sometimes a change for the better can slip unseen through our history.  Even a trained eye can forget to notice the glory and hope swirling all about in the darkest of days.  I still pray for the homeless, the vulnerable and forgotten.  Indeed there are beggars at the gates of every shining city.  But there is a level of dignity here among the less fortunate, a level of safety and pleasure that wasn't always afforded.  It was fought for, desperately, by the best among the living and the dead.  Basic human rights, for all souls.  The sacred fire of the hearth.  I see it carried in so many hearts these days.  Before, in the old cities, the darker cities, there was virtually no talisman against winter's icy chill.  At least nothing so egalitarian.  Misery began at summers end and found its way into the bones of the city's least fortunate.  But now so many more are safer, warmer, sated with stories.  Preoccupied with the sweet luxuries of dress-up and shadow-play.  This brings such comfort to a historian.  Especially an angel.  It means not everything is endlessly ugly and despondent.  Sometimes we can be playful, with the optimism and wonder of a child.  Shine can exist with shade and light can slip through the darkness like a trick, or a treat.

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