It’s funny the things you think about when you are stuck at the Hogarth Roundabout waiting to get down Church Street. I reckon that over the past seven years I have spent just over two weeks of my life enjoying the privilege of these contemplative pauses. Today’s pause offered an opportunity to reflect on the tragic death of Miss Naysmith and surprisingly the situation in Libya. They couldn’t be further apart and yet I saw something of a thread.
The death of Miss Naysmith was a shock and a real sadness. Miss Naysmith worshipped regularly with us on Sunday evening for years. I remember many post evensong conversations with her, some challenging and some enlightening. I read with interest the Guardians appreciation on Saturday 14 February. There was much to agree with in the article, however I’m not sure I really recognise the lady who “Grew tomatoes, made chutney and was the perfect archetype of an English village stalwart lady.” The Miss Naysmith I knew and talked to was no Miss Marple, she had far more grit and determination than that and she raged against injustice. Just try and help Miss Naysmith to her feet and you’d soon feel the effects of a powerful right hook. This happened to a young gentleman who was passing the church one summer evening after we had emerged from evensong, he attempted to help her to her feet and paid the price! I told Miss Naysmith off for that incident, suggesting she was lucky he did not press charges for assault. Her response was instructive and important for us all. She was angry at the young man because he had seen her and he had decided what kind of charity was required, he hadn’t asked. In this interaction of charity Miss Naysmith was ignored, she was the passive recipient, in short she was patronised. Do you remember that terrible winter we had, was it 2008 or 2009? I’d offered Miss Naysmith use of the old shed in the Vicarage grounds, she politely refused. The police, for all the right reasons and fearing for her safety, picked her up and she ended up in hospital, refusing to sleep in their beds and eat their food, until a doctor threatened to section her – that really frightened her. I asked her about the incident some weeks later. She was angry because she had not been consulted, it wasn’t her decision, the warm room and food had been imposed. When she fought against this imposition a person in power in the form of a doctor threatened her with the ultimate sanction. Again Miss Naysmith had no part in this act of kindness, she was not consulted, it was imposed and when she objected in the only way she could she was threatened; ‘accept our generosity or pay the price’, she got out of that situation as fast as she could and good for her.
I’m afraid we’re all guilty of deciding what kind of charity people who are less powerful or fortunate than ourselves require. Real charity is a two way conversation not an imperial imposition, however well intentioned. Miss Naysmith taught me a very valuable lesson that evening; the dignity of a human being must be respected and I’m grateful for that.
So what of Libya? What a total and complete mess; a breeding ground for IS and if we’re not careful a springboard for their fascism reaching European soil. I could say the same of Iraq. The thread; imposing our vision of a democratic utopia on others, just as people imposed their vision of charity on Miss Naysmith. The lesson; charity is a dialogue between equals, where we both grow through the experience.
With my prayers