The old man with the missal

Modifié le : 2019/07/21

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.