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Renewal
by [?]

There sometimes falls upon me a great hunger of heart, a sad desire to build up and renew something–a broken building it may be, a fading flower, a failing institution, a ruinous character. I feel a great and vivid pity for a thing which sets out to be so bright and beautiful, and lapses into shapeless and uncomely neglect. Sometimes, indeed, it must be a desolate grief, a fruitless sorrow: as when a flower that has stood on one’s table, and cheered the air with its freshness and fragrance, begins to droop, and to grow stained and sordid. Or I see some dying creature, a wounded animal; or even some well-loved friend under the shadow of death, with the hue of health fading, the dear features sharpening for the last change; and then one can only bow, with such resignation as one can muster, before the dreadful law of death, pray that the passage may not be long or dark, and try to dream of the bright secrets that may be waiting on the other side.

But sometimes it is a more fruitful sadness, when one feels that decay can be arrested, that new life can be infused; that a fresh start may be taken, and a life may be beautifully renewed, and be even the brighter, one dares to hope, for a lapse into the dreary ways of bitterness.

This sadness is most apt to beset those who have anything to do with the work of education. One feels sometimes, with a sudden shiver, as when the shadow of a cloud passes over a sunlit garden, that many elements are at work in a small society; that an evil secret is spreading over lives that were peaceful and contented, that suspicion and disunion and misunderstanding are springing up, like poisonous weeds, in the quiet corner that God has given one to dress and keep. Then perhaps one tries to put one’s hand on what is amiss; sometimes one does too much, and in the wrong way; one has not enough faith, one dares not leave enough to God. Or from timidity or diffidence, or from the base desire not to be troubled, from the poor hope that perhaps things will straighten themselves out, one does too little; and that is the worst shadow of all, the shadow of cowardice or sloth.

Sometimes, too, one has the grief of seeing a slow and subtle change passing over the manner and face of one for whom one cares–not the change of languor or physical weakness; that can be pityingly borne; but one sees innocence withering, indifference to things wholesome and fair creeping on, even sometimes a ripe and evil sort of beauty maturing, such as comes of looking at evil unashamed, and seeing its strong seductiveness. One feels instinctively that the door which had been open before between such a soul and one’s own spirit is being slowly and firmly closed, or even, if one attempts to open it, pulled to with a swift motion; and then one may hear sounds within, and even see, in that moment, a rush of gliding forms, that makes one sure that a visitant is there, who has brought with him a wicked company; and then one has to wait in sadness, with now and then a timid knocking, even happy, it may be, if the soul sometimes call fretfully within, to say that it is occupied and cannot come forth.

But sometimes, God be praised, it is the other way. A year ago a man came at his own request to see me. I hardly knew him; but I could see at once that he was in the grip of some hard conflict, which withered his natural bloom. I do not know how all came to be revealed; but in a little while he was speaking with simple frankness and naturalness of all his troubles, and they were many. What was the most touching thing of all was that he spoke as if he were quite alone in his experience, isolated and shut off from his kind, in a peculiar horror of darkness and doubt; as if the thoughts and difficulties at which he stumbled had never strewn a human path before. I said but little to him; and, indeed, there was but little to say. It was enough that he should “cleanse the stuff’d bosom of the perilous stuff that weighs upon the heart.” I tried to make him feel that he was not alone in the matter, and that other feet had trodden the dark path before him. No advice is possible in such cases; “therein the patient must minister to himself”; the solution lies in the mind of the sufferer. He knows what he ought to do; the difficulty is for him sufficiently to desire to do it; yet even to speak frankly of cares and troubles is very often to melt and disperse the morbid mist that gathers round them, which grows in solitude. To state them makes them plain and simple; and, indeed, it is more than that; for I have often noticed that the mere act of formulating one’s difficulties in the hearing of one who sympathises and feels, often brings the solution with it. One finds, like Christian in Doubting Castle, the key which has lain in one’s bosom all the time–the key of Promise; and when one has finished the recital, one is lost in bewilderment that one ever was in any doubt at all.