Story type: Essay
What is the happiest time of a man’s life? Not the attainment of his ambitions, but when the attainment is just in sight. Every man and woman must have something to live for, otherwise they become discontented or dull. People wonder at the present unrest among the working classes. But to me this unrest is inevitable to the conditions in which they live. They have no ideal to light up their drudgery with glory. They cannot express themselves in the dull labour which is their daily task. They just have to go on and on doing the same monotonous jobs, not in order to enjoy life, but just in order to live at all. Their “rut” is well-nigh unendurable. Of what good, for example, is education, an appreciation of art and beauty, any of those things, in fact, which are the only things which make life splendid and worth living, if all one is asked to do, day in, day out, is to clean some lift in the morning and pull it up and down all the rest of the day! To me the wonder of the working classes is, not that they are restless, but that they are not all mad! Were they doing their tasks for themselves, I can imagine even the dullest work might become interesting, because it would lead, if well done, to development and self-expression. But to do these mechanical labours solely and entirely for other people, and to know that you must keep on doing them or starve, well, it seems to me a man needs for his own sanity everything outside his work to make life worth living. The man who is working for himself, no matter how dreary his occupation may be, is rarely restless. He has ambition; there is competition to keep his enthusiasms alive, he feels that, however lowly his labour may be, it belongs to him, and its success is his success, too. But can anyone imagine what a life must be, we will say, cleaning other people’s windows for a wage which just enables him to live? I can imagine it, and, in putting myself in that position, I cast envious eyes on the freedom of tramps! It seems to me that, until the world wakes up to the necessity of enabling work-people to fill their leisure hours with those amusements and pleasures, of the intellect as well as of the body, which are the reward of wealth, there will always be a growing spirit or revolution in the world. I could endure almost any drudgery for eight hours provided during the rest of the day I could enjoy those things for which my spirit craved. But to do that same drudgery, day in, day out, with nothing but a Mean Street to come home to, nothing but a “pub” to give me social joy, while people who appear to live entirely for enjoying themselves bespatter me with mud from their magnificent motor-cars as they drive past me with, metaphorically speaking, their noses in the air, I think I, too, should turn Bolshevik, not because I would approve of Bolshevism, or even understand what it meant, but because it would seem to give me something to live for. Except for the appalling suffering, the death, the disease, the sad “Good-byes” of those who loved one another, I am beginning to realise that the world was a finer place in war time. It mingled the classes as they have never been mingled before, for the untold benefit of every class, it brought out that spirit of kindness and self-sacrifice which was the most really Christian thing that the world has seen on such a large scale since the beginning of Christianity; it seemed to give a meaning to life, and to make even the meanest drudgery done for the Great Cause a drudgery which lost all its soul-numbing attributes–that horrible sense of the drudgery of drudgery which is sometimes more terrible to contemplate than death. Religion ought to give to life some, if not all this noble meaning. But, alas! it doesn’t. I sometimes think that only those who are persecuted for their beliefs know what real religion is. The Established Church doesn’t, anyway. The world of workers is demanding a faith, but the Church only gives it admonition, or a charming address by a bishop on the absolute necessity of going to church. The clergy never seem to ask themselves what the people are going to receive in the way of rendering their daily toil more worth while when they do go to church. But the people have answered it with tragic definiteness. They stay away! Or perhaps they go to see a football match. Well, who shall blame them, after the kind of work which they have been forced to do during the week? I always think that if only the Church followed the crowd, instead of, metaphorically speaking, banging the big drum outside their churches and begging them to come inside, they would “get hold” of their flock far more effectively. After all, why should religion be so divorced from the joy of life? Death is important, but life is far more so. If the clergy entered into the real life of the people they would benefit themselves through a greater understanding, and the people would benefit by this living example of Christianity in their midst. But so many of the clergy seem to forget the fact that the leisured classes possess, by their wealth alone, the opportunity to create their own happiness. The poor have not this advantage. Their work is, for the most part, deadening. The surroundings in which they live offer them so little joy. They have only the amusements which they can snatch from their hours of freedom to make life worth living at all. And these amusements are the all-important things, it seems to me. If you can enter into the hours of happiness of men and women, they will be willing to follow you along those pathways which lead to a greater appreciation of the Christ ideal. I always think that if the Church devoted itself to the happiness of its “flock” it would do far more real good than merely devoting itself to their reformation. Reformation can only come when a certain amount or inner happiness has been attained.