Keep Looking Up!

An Excerpt from A Tale of Two Cities

We are so inundated with sad and depressing news I was moved to share something spiritually up-lifting – especially given the time of year. I just finished reading A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. The last (first time) I read it, I was in High School. Needless to say, back then I did not have the wisdom and maturity level to fully appreciate and understand the great work.

I want to share this scene from the end of the novel. It concerns a grown man and a young girl. But unlike so many scenes we have heard about recently between men and girls this one has nothing to do with licentiousness or selfish pleasure. The scene portrayed by Dickens here is the exact opposite. The great author illuminates the capacity of the human spirit to raise above evil and dwell in a place of purity and love despite the worst of circumstances.

In this scene, the character Sydney Carton, through a Christ like act of self-sacrifice, has willingly taken the place of another unselfishly offering his life in the place of Charles Darnay (aka: Evremonde) who was unjustly condemned. The setting is the “reign terror” during the French Revolution. Sydney Carton is standing in a French courtyard in a line before the Guillotine waiting his turn to die. Standing with him in line is another innocent person – a young seamstress who, through no fault of her own, is likewise waiting her turn to make the final journey. On the long ride to the place of execution and while they stand in-line, Carton has been holding the young girls’ hand and comforting her as they await their untimely and unjust end.

Read the following from Dicken’s novel. It is sublime and oh so powerful. I think you will find it worthwhile to fill you mind with thoughts so different and so much richer than the usual entertainments and meditations of our present day.

The ministers of Sainte Guillotine are robed and ready. Crash! – A head is held up, and the knitting-women who scarcely lifted their eyes to look at it a moment ago when it could think and speak, count One.

The second tumbril empties and moves on; the third comes up. Crash! – And the knitting-women, never faltering or pausing in their work, count Two.

The supposed Evremonde descends, and the seamstress is lifted out next after him. He has not relinquished her patient hand in getting out, but still holds it as he promised. He gently places her with her back to the crash engine that constantly whirrs up and falls, and she looks into his face and thanks him.

“But for you, dear stranger, I should not be so composed, for I am naturally a poor little thing, faint of heart; nor should I have been able to raise my thoughts to Him who was put to death, that we might have hope and comfort here to-day. I think you were sent to me by Heaven.”

“Or you to me,” says Sydney Carton. “Keep your eyes upon me, dear child, and mind no other object.”

“I mind nothing while I hold your hand. I shall mind nothing when I let it go, if they are rapid.”

“They will be rapid. Fear not!”

The two stand in the fast-thinning throng of victims, but they speak as if they were alone. Eye to eye, voice to voice, hand to hand, heart to heart, these two children of the Universal Mother, else so wide apart and differing, have come together on the dark highway, to repair home together, and to rest in her bosom.

“Brave and generous friend, will you let me ask you one last question? I am very ignorant, and it troubles me – just a little.”

“Tell me what it is.”

“I have a cousin, an only relative and an orphan, like myself, whom I love very dearly. She is five years younger than I, and she lives in a farmer’s house in the south country. Poverty parted us, and she knows nothing of my fate – for I cannot write – and if I could, how should I tell her! It is better as it is.”

“Yes, yes; better as it is.”

“What I have been thinking as we come along, and what I am still thinking now, as I look into your kind strong face which gives me so much support, is this: -- if the Republic really does good to the poor, and they come to be less hungry, and in all ways to suffer less, she may live a long time: she may even live to be old.”

“What then, my gentle sister?”

“Do you think:” the uncomplaining eyes in which there is so much endurance, fill with tears, and the lips part a little more and tremble: “that it will seem long to me, while I wait for her in the better land where I trust both you and I will be mercifully sheltered?”

“It cannot be, my child; there is no Time there, and no trouble there.”

“You comfort me so much! I am so ignorant. Am I to kiss you now? Is that moment come?”


She kisses his lips; he kisses hers; they solemnly bless each other. The spare hand does not tremble as she releases it; nothing worse than a sweet, bright constancy is in the patient face. She goes next before him – is gone; the knitting-women count Twenty-Two.

“I am the Resurrection and the life, saith the Lord: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.”

The murmuring of many voices, the upturning of many faces, the pressing on of many footsteps in the outskirts of the crowd, so that it swells forward in a mass, like one great heave of water, all flashes away. Twenty-Three.

* * * *

They said of him, about the city that night, that it was the peace-fullest man’s face ever beheld there. Many added that he looked sublime and prophetic.

No matter what your circumstances, no matter how difficult things may seem to you, keep looking up! Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas!!

Robert Kirk

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