INFECTION, CONTAGION & CURE

Pip’s sister married Joe Gargery the blacksmith, and since their parents and all the other siblings were dead Pip’s sister took him to live with them. Maybe she cared for her much younger brother but it’s hard to tell since she mistreats him a lot and in the story—Great Expectations—we never hear her speak a good word of or to him. She’s a bitter young woman who is forever complaining and bullying both the boy and her husband. Joe is easy-going, a good man in the richest sense of the word and he’s the boy’s dearest friend who makes his life easier and bearable. Pip eagerly looked forward to the day when he would be Joe’s apprentice and Joe shared his feelings because, as Joe was always putting it, he and the boy “was ever the best of friends” and they’d be “having such larks.”
In the meantime Pip helped around the forge, usually covered in soot and cinders, his heavy and clumsy boots taking a beating and his hands becoming rough like his friend Joe’s. This was life and the boy loved it—working with and being around Joe, that is.
It came to pass that for some unknown reason the boy was invited to a Miss Havisham’s big old house (an offer he couldn’t refuse since his sister wouldn’t hear tell of him refusing) and it was there he met a girl of his own age, the very pretty Estella, the adopted daughter of Miss Havisham who was a hater of men since one jilted her hours before the wedding that was to take place on her birthday.
Right from the start Estella treated Pip scandalously and repeatedly reminded him that he was a stupid, clumsy, laboring boy! The girl Pip so badly wanted to impress was heartless and ashamed of him and soon he was ashamed of himself. While playing cards she sneered, “He calls ‘knaves’ Jacks, this boy! And what coarse hands he has! And what thick boots.” Pip confesses to the reader, “I had never thought of being ashamed of my hands before; but I began to consider them a very indifferent pair. Her contempt for me was so strong, that it became infectious and I caught it.”
And the contagion spread!
Outside while he waited like a dog to be fed he had a long look at his hands and boots and admits, “My opinion of these accessories was not favorable. They had never troubled me before, but they troubled me now, as vulgar appendages. I was determined to ask Joe why he had ever taught me to call those picture-cards, Jacks, which ought to be called knaves. I wished Joe had been rather more genteely brought up, and then I should have been so too.”
And the infection deepened.
Later, when the simple and good-hearted man was required to go with him to Miss Havisham’s, Pip was embarrassed at his appearance and his way of speaking. Much later still when Joe showed up at Pip’s London flat—having gone very much out of his way to do his young friend a service—the young man’s first fear, he confesses, is that any of his friends should see him. He finds it difficult to give him a civil much less a warm greeting and when Joe (because Pip is now a gentleman) takes too much trouble in wiping his feet before entering the apartment, Pip’s irritation with the poor man who raised him and now seeks to do him a great service at great cost to himself—his irritation and embarrassment spills over and he virtually drags the man into
the house.
The story is so well written and so true to life, the entire matter is painful to read and it must cut and convict a host of us.
In stark contrast, and in a few words, in 2 Timothy 1:15-18 we have the picture painted of a man called Onesiphorus. Here’s the text: “You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes. May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. On the contrary, when he was in Rome, he searched hard for me until he found me…You know very well in how many ways he helped me
in Ephesus.”
There was Phygelus and Hermogenes and Pip but there was also Onesiphorus!
Many years ago in America I used to visit an assembly as regularly as clockwork and always found it a source of joy and encouragement. The treatment wasn’t lavish or saccharine but there was a genuineness in the warmth and kindness with which
I was treated that couldn’t be mistaken and it led me to say to one of the shepherds there: “I do believe if I ever truly and publicly shamed myself that I would still find a welcome here.” I was immediately and smilingly embraced and assured that it was so.
 It’s wonderful to imagine Onesiphorus searching all over Rome, asking here, there and yonder at the various prisons and official centers how he could find a Jewish man, a jail-bird, called Saul of Tarsus. He refused to be discouraged in his search and when he found Paul, the chains meant absolutely nothing to him. Paul, now in prison for the last time, would have let his mind roam over many things, and from a host of experiences and memories he reaches in and takes out this one that he feels must be included in his final letter. He remembers and thanks God for a man who refused to be ashamed of him.
Such people are the cure for the infection Pip and others catch and spread. Oscar Wilde could never rank high as a fine human and while he could whine and blame others for the trouble he found himself in, he also had it in him to confess, “I ruined myself.” In his De Profundis (written while in Reading jail, argued about and included in a compilation of his writings), which I take to be a true and sincere account even if there’s plenty of self-pity in it) he tells us this: “A great friend of mine—a friend of ten years’ standing—came to see me some time ago, and told me that he did not believe a single word of what was said against me, and wished me to know that he considered me quite innocent, and the victim of a hideous plot. I burst into tears at what he said, and told him that while there was much amongst the definite charges that was quite untrue and transferred to me by revolting malice, still that my life had been full of perverse pleasures, and that unless he accepted that as a fact about me and realized it to the full I could not possibly be friends with him any more, or ever be in his company. It was a terrible shock to him, but we are friends, and I have not got his friendship on false pretenses. I have said to you to speak the truth is a painful thing. To be forced to tell lies is much worse.”
Prison was utter agony for Wilde and being used to life as a dandy and one courted by high-society, the entire experience of a public trial on charges of moral corruption, indecency and of corrupting others made him writhe inside. Understandably many who oohed and aahed over him in his glory days vanished when his sordid behavior
was paraded before the world when in his arrogance he insisted on a public showdown with the Marquis of Queensbury. The courteous and soft treatment he had become used to was in savage contrast to his being roughly shoved here and there in handcuffs along with the common criminals, in and out of dismal rooms and stinking cells. It was in the early days when the nightmare was at its agonizing worst that this happened.
“While there is sorrow there is holy ground. Some day people will realize what that means…When I was brought down from my prison to the Court of Bankruptcy, between two policemen————[here he alludes to a friend he doesn’t name] waited in the long dreary corridor that, before the whole crowd (whom an action so sweet and simple hushed into silence), he might gravely raise his hat to me, as, handcuffed and with bowed head, I passed him by. Men have gone to heaven for smaller things than that. It was in this spirit, and with this mode of love, that the saints knelt down to wash the feet of the poor, or stopped to kiss the leper on the cheek. I have never said one single word to him about what he did. I do not know to the present moment whether he is aware that I was even conscious of his action. It is not a thing for which one can render formal thanks in formal words. I store it in the treasure-house of my heart. I keep it as a secret debt that I am glad to think I can never possibly repay…
When wisdom has been profitless to me, philosophy barren, and the proverbs and phrases of those who have sought to give me consolation as dust and ashes in my mouth, the memory of that little, lovely, silent act of love has unsealed for me all the
wells of pity; made the desert blossom like a rose, and brought me out of the bitterness of lonely exile into harmony with the wounded, broken, and great heart of the world.”
And, Pip? Some time later Pip’s expectations go into a steep decline from which they never really recover and he becomes ill for a long time. A deep sense of guilt hangs over him for the way he has treated the convict Abel Magwitch and especially Joe and
it drives him to despair. In his shame and illness he loses consciousness only to waken in Joe’s house with Joe at the bedside looking after him.
Such people are the cure for one of the world’s awful infections.
To find yourself named (or not named but there) in someone’s final word to the world and to discover that the little you did meant so much, surely that would be a precious thing to know as you come to the end of your own days.
Makes you want to be unashamed, doesn’t it?

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