The most memorable for me was the last mention of the character Sebastian, a once vivacious youth who through his unexplainable depression eventually spirals into alcoholism and is “lost” somewhere in Europe. His last scenes are gut-wrenching. But toward the end of the series, one of the characters has recently seen him. She delivers the news to the narrator that Sebastian is living at the fringe of a monastic community, still just as pathetic as ever.
“Poor Sebastian!” I said. “It’s too pitiful. How will it end?”Somehow I can’t get that scene out of my head. “Not such a bad way of getting through one’s life...” Up until that sentence I thought it was. But if the Gospel is good news to us bunglers, maybe it is because it can read through the story of our pitiful lives and tag that last sentence on the end. Maybe half the time God doesn’t even need to bother re-writing his own story.
“I think I can tell you exactly, Charles. I’ve seen other like him, and I believe they are very near and dear to God. He’ll live on, half in, half out of the community, a familiar figure pottering round with his broom and his bunch of keys. He’ll be a great favourite with the old fathers, something of a joke to the novices. Everyone will know about his drinking; he’ll disappear for two or three days every month or so, and they’ll all nod and smile and say in their various accents, ‘Old Sebastian’s on the spree again,’ and then he’ll come back disheveled and shamefaced and be more devout for a day or two in the chapel. He’ll probably have little hiding places about the garden where he keeps a bottle and takes a swig now and then on the sly. They’ll bring him forward to act as a guide, whenever they have an English-speaking visitor; and he will be completely charming, so that before they go they’ll ask about him and perhaps be given a hint that he has high connections at home. If he lives long enough, generations of missionaries in all kinds of remote places will think of him as a queer old character who was somehow part of the Hope of their student days, and remember him in their masses. He’ll develop little eccentricities of devotion, intense personal cults of his own; he’ll be found in the chapel at odd times and missed when he’s expected. Then one morning, after one of his drinking bouts, he’ll be picked up at the gate dying, and show by a mere flicker of the eyelid that he is conscious when they give him the last sacraments. It’s not such a bad way of getting through one’s life.”
Maybe he tells the story of my repeated stumbling into the darkness of my head, and then tags on the line at the end: “And it was very good.” Maybe by the time I get to that part of the story, I’ll agree with him. At that point, perhaps, I will learned the Gospel by bungling my way through it.
Maybe it’s not such a bad way of getting through one’s life.