In Their Hearts They Remained Perfectible

“A few yards down the trench Jack Firebrace was sitting on the firestep with a cup of tea.  He was regaining his strength after six hours underground.  His thoughts turned towards home.  Eight-and-a-half years earlier, when his wife had given birth to a son, Jack’s life had changed.  As the child grew, Jack noticed in him some quality he valued and which surprised him.  The child was not worn down.  In his innocence there was a kind of hope.  Margaret laughed when jack pointed this out to her.  “He’s only two years old,” she said.  “Of course he’s innocent.”

This was not what Jack had meant, but he could not put into words the effect that watching John had on him.  He saw him as a creature who had come from another universe; but in Jack’s eyes the place from which the boy had come was not just a different but a better world.  His innocence  was not the same thing as ignorance; it was a powerful quality of goodness that was available to all people:  it was perhaps what the prayer book called a means of grace, or a hope of glory.

It seemed to Jack that if an ordinary human being, his own son, no one particular, could have this purity of mind, then perhaps the isolated deeds of virtue at which people marvelled in later life were not really isolated at all; perhaps they were the natural continuation of the innocent goodness that all people brought into the world at their birth.  If this was true, then his fellow-human beings were not the rough, flawed creatures that most of them supposed.  Their failings were not innate, but were the result of where they had gone wrong or been coarsened by their experiences; in their hearts they remained perfectible.

This love Jack felt toward his son redeemed his view of human life and gave substance to his faith in God.  Where his piety had been the reflex of a fearful man, it was transformed into something that expressed his belief in the goodness of humanity.”

-Sebastian Faulks, Birdsong

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