He must be 80 years old, his spine broken, weakly leaning against the train seat, his belly serving as a table on which he has secured with one hand a used missal, adorned with some paper clips that group pages. The old man wears a French beret, his neck is surrounded by a neutral scarf of the same color as the beret. At his side, a brand new umbrella and a widow’s basket. Perhaps these are new acquisitions that he is showing for the first time. It’s 6:00 p. m., the storm started up there.
With his free hand, he searches through a bag whose strap strangles a little his chest. A Bic pen comes out, the cap is removed with his teeth, the pen is turned upside down, the cap is pushed in and the pages of the makeshift missal are turned.
He still turns a few more pages, his eyes wrinkle, seem to devour the Word. A young man enters the train, sits next to the old man who quickly looks up at the intruder, immediately resumes his reading without preventing a grimace that could express either irritation or a polite smile whose mechanics have been blocked for a long time.
From my seat, I can observe the missal. The ordinary of the mass is scribbled and the man adds some with his pen, seems to think, then scribbles again. I have the impression that his gesture is useless. He must know by heart what is written there. He is probably a retired missionary, a lonely monk or perhaps an old boy who has taken his faith as his companion. He has only her to talk to, protected, pampered by the Death who awaits him.
Moreover, it may be She who suddenly takes his breath, for the man no longer moves, his eyes closed, his mouth ajar, the missal released from the grip of his fingers. The train stops, the doors open loudly. Like a raven in a horror movie, Death flies away, releasing her grip. The old man wakes up, his eye becomes alert again, looks through the window at the name of the station. Reassured, he slides down on his seat, moistens a finger, turns a few pages, notes something. A pious image falls from the missal, he doesn’t notice it. The young man to his right bends over, picks it up and hands it to him. This time, the old man, surprised, thanked the boy, grabbed the image that he immediately replaced anywhere between the pages of the missal, addressed a real smile that he immediately swallowed, resuming his reading, forgetting the rest of the universe.
As I look at the scene, I tell myself I wouldn’t like to be that happy man. I don’t understand his faith. I, who struggle against my vertigo of existing, is offended by the apparent weakness of this devout soul who analyses with a Bic pencil, the Word of the Gospel distorted by two millennia of forgetfulness, transformed to a vaguely spiritual crossword.
This man, surely, I hope, will have done good deeds all his life. He could have been also an old schmuck, but for the sake of this blog post, let’s pretend he is a man of mission, with a fatherly smile. My judgment towards him is, in reality, only a poor and unnecessary analysis of my condition. It does not concern the life, the gestures of this old soul. I only describe others to better selfishly talk about myself.
I have to get off the train that arrives at the station where I disembark. I’m going to have fun at the company’s Christmas party. I’m tied up, dressed in Sunday clothes. I’m the age of these social rituals. I leave the old man to his prayers. I will probably never see him, will never know what mystery word he may have discovered in his little industrial missal.
Daily life is full of intense stories. This is undoubtedly where faith resides when we do not stop scribbling, in our heads, around the gestures and words of existence.