JOURNAL ENTRY September 27 1981: Learning from literature
I finished reading Jerome K. Jerome’s “The Passing of the Third Floor Back” this evening.
As a boy I saw a film based on this short story. Conrad Veidt took the part of the Stranger. I remember it made a great impression on me that has endured over the years, in much the same way as Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” was to make an impact on me a few years later.
I suppose it is natural to identify Jesus with the figure of the Stranger. One associates the rounded back with the weight of the cross which Mankind forces him to carry.
In the book it was enough just for the eyes to meet those of the Stranger for the Better Self to be revealed, provided that the Better Self had not already been slain by one’s own hand.
Christians believe that the operation of the Holy Spirit keeps our Better Self alive and always before us, pestering us if needs be, but never leaving us – the “Hound of Heaven”.
The idea of meeting Christ face to face is a wildly exciting yet frightening thought. I am reminded of Newman’s “Dream of Gerontius”, in which the brief meeting of eyes is followed by the agonized cry of “Take me away!”.
Occasionally one meets a person who exudes an aura of holiness. The reaction even then, I find, is to be filled with a sense of unworthiness. A period in Purgatory would seem to be necessary before the “great confrontation”.
To see beauty and goodness in others was the great ability of the Stranger. The marvelous fact is that if you tell someone that they are essentially good and beautiful they respond by becoming so in time. I find this a difficult lesson to put into practice.