Commonplace

She recalled her earlier certainties. Take what you want, said God: take it and pay for it. She remembered Mrs. Beddows’ caveat: Yes, but who pays? And suddenly she felt that she had found the answer. We all pay, she thought; we all take; we are members one of another. We cannot escape this partnership. This is what it means–to belong to a community; this is what it means, to be a people.

And now she was reconciled to failure, glad of sorrow. She was one with the people round her, who had suffered shame, illness, bereavement, grief and fear. She belonged to them. Those thing which were done for them–that battle against poverty, madness, sickness and old age, the battle which Mrs. Beddows had called local government–was fought for her as well. She was not outside it. What she had taken from life, they all had paid for. What she had still to give, was not her gift alone. She was in debt, to life and to these people; and she knew that she could repay no loan unaided.

[…]

They were no more beautiful, noble or intelligent than they had been before, but in the official group of local authorities she saw the red wrinkled face of Alderman Mrs. Beddows, and Mrs. Beddows caught her glance, looked at her, shook her head, and smiled. In Mrs. Beddows’ smile was encouragement, gentle reproof, and a half-teasing affectionate admiration. Sarah, smiling back, felt all her new-found understanding of and love for the South Riding gathered up in her feeling for that small sturdy figure. She knew at last that she had found what she had been seeking. She saw that gaiety, that kindliness, that valour of the spirit, beckoning her on from a serene old age.

~ Winifred Holtby, South Riding

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