The Couch
A Welcoming Crowd.
Title A Welcoming Crowd.
A Welcoming Crowd.
She'd insisted he come so he decided to take the whole afternoon off work. They'd been going out for over six months and he was vaguely interested in understanding her better although he thought he had a pretty good idea of what kind of girl she was. This 'other' side to her he knew she was a little secretive about, she seemed shy of it. It had been circumspect of her not to talk about religion with him, she'd known that it wouldn't have helped things along, not at the still early stages of something that had been promising and which had now started to blossom into a full flung serious relationship. 'God, what do I need with God?' grumbled Henry's inner monologue as he negotiated a series of back streets that were the quickest way to Princes street from his offices. 'Nobody seems to give a damn about this thing, nobody mentioned it at work...' The streets, however, as he launched onto Lothian Road, held a greater density of bodies than was usual for a weekday, there was certainly something in the air. As he turned onto Princes Street they were lined up along either side of the road. Lisa had kept away from the shops on the passage from her apartment, it seemed rather sacrilegious to be frivolously scampering between stores on the day the Pope was coming to Edinburgh. She'd sat down with a coffee, there'd been plenty of time before he was expected to appear; already she'd seen him getting off the plane at the airport outside town where he was greeted by the Duke of Edinburgh on a television screen. The wind had blown his garments, the priestly flaps around the shoulders - she had no idea what they were called - had, at one point, been blowing around his face. An aid had quickly appeared and tamed the impractical appendages. 'Welcome to Scotland' she had thought. Then the cort├Ęge had been followed by helicopter along the traffic-cleared approach through the suburbs. It was a surprisingly small car he was in, God's representative on earth. Lisa wondered whether the Vatican had wanted to place a subtle stress on economy, there had been a fuss in the press about how much the tax payer was contributing to the visit - a few poultry millions, what was the world coming to? Had religion and what religion represented really become such an impoverished thing in people's minds? Yet as she had watched the car pull into the grounds of Holyrood Palace, the Queen greeting the quite frail form in white, the weird sense that she was a member of a cult with a diminishing membership began to fade and was replaced by a conviction that something important and special really was happening. Lisa had sent a text message saying where she was waiting, Henry was surprised to find himself negotiating streets that were now crowded with people entirely uninterested in shopping. He hadn't seen the television news and had only glanced at a few stories about the visit - some fuss about how much was being spent, one of the Pope's underlings in Rome had made disparaging comments about Britain, calling it a 'Third World country'. He'd felt a stab of anger, what on earth had the pompous old fool been talking about? He'd assumed it had been a spiritual poverty rather than actual poverty he'd been referring to, if the Pontiff's pals were that ignorant of the geo-political order then there really was little hope of taking any of it seriously. Still, the guy had been taken to book, last he'd heard, so probably he shouldn't start getting too cynical, he knew if she whiffed anything of an attitude about him there would be repercussions - spoken or unspoken. Mrs Macphail was standing with some of her friends from church near Boots, they'd been waiting since mid-morning in order to get a good position though the press before the barriers wasn't such that they couldn't have arrived later and nudged their way through if necessary. A reporter was talking to some students and a family nearby about the significance of the visit to them and she listened in with interest to the tongue-tied children and uncertain youths. Dorothy didn't want to be on television and she doubted any of her friends would feel a pull toward the camera. They all knew why they were there and she was sure a good number of people along the course of that street on that special day were as attuned to the significance of the event as they. Nothing much needed to be said, or indeed thought; he was here, the dear man was in their humble city and soon he would pass slowly by looking infinitely dignified and might even make momentary eye contact with her. If he did she would accept it gracefully and not feel special. The weather had turned out well despite a slight wind and there had even been a little sun; God, she knew, did not always arrange things perfectly and that was to be expected. The fuss, a hint of alienated feeling she'd picked up on in the news, that too was only to be expected. The seventy year old Dorothy Macphail was not ignorant of the state of the world and people's souls. Her husband wasn't a believer and neither were any of his family, he had only visited church with her for the necessary rituals of weddings and funerals. She knew the bitter taste left in many people's mouths these days but that was no reason to believe that things would always be that way. There was too much superficiality, escapism - that's what people wanted, but why did it seem to be the only thing that mattered? It was like living on a diet of junk food; in their hearts, Dorothy felt, many people were going without the proper vitamins, therefore there was a kind of sickness. The reporter, Jill Archibald, had finished asking questions for now and wondered what to do while she waited for the Pope Mobile to start its approach toward Princes Street. She'd been told he was currently with the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh and as she groped toward her next course of action she was drawn to picture what they were talking about. "Did you have a pleasant journey your Holiness?" the Queen asked. "Yes your Majesty, very good, it was soon over..." "One makes something of such small blessings at our age.." "Yes, oh yes." "Is it warm enough for you? These rooms can get quite draughty at this time of year.." "Oh yes, fine thank you." What strange relics they were thought the reporter. She had studied sociology and media at university. Then, as she listened in to the news feed to get a sense of the pace and approach of the BBC's coverage of the state visit, she heard that the Queen had been overheard commenting on the size of his car. It was even more dull than she had imagined. Yet her corporation was going all out to capture it, other news confined to the word feed at the bottom of the screen, Sky was probably doing the same. She supposed there were enough believers out there to justify it though she felt distinctly bored and wondered whether she would get any spare time to have a quick look around the city before heading back south, perhaps even fitting some shopping in. Now the Scottish reporter who was observing the sky camera feeds and who obviously knew the layout and history of Edinburgh well was going off on tangents. His barely contained enthusiasm felt close to awe, again and again he commented on how surprising the crowds were and how much this contradicted the claims that there was a general malaise surrounding the visit. She heard that he had left Holyrood Palace and was beginning his journey through central Edinburgh and felt oddly excited. Driving up the hill away from the Palace there was a mere smattering of folk stood watching at the side of the road. Still the Pontiff's hand had begun its action - a slow wave. Two others sat shielded behind glass inside the box, these senior figures from the Scottish Catholic clergy were to spend the whole journey looking silently up at their white robbed leader and would probably feel closer to their God and whatever He meant to them. For now the security staff were confined to the black bullet proof four-by-fours as they had not yet reached the gracious crawl that would be expected by the crowds. He was dignified, that was clear to those watching at home now, those focused at all on what was happening. He flowed, all the fuss around him was there so that he could flow, a vision in white, taken up by the technological maze and now, more directly, a presence for those stood waiting on the streets. She watched his head weaving between sections of crowd, he was a tall man and she felt proud of this fact, there were delicate waves of feeling accompanying the vision of her lover closing in through the expectant throngs. There was a playfulness in her perception and anticipation of him, she knew he was rational, cool, and didn't seem to have much need for religion. Here was a little test for him, she would see how much patience and forbearance he showed and Lisa was already primed to detect the slightest air of cynicism. If he really cared about her he would watch it all with her in mind and try to be as open to things as he could manage. Now Henry's eyes had found her's and he smiled as he approached while also examining her with a barely disguised curiosity - he wasn't sure what she wanted from him this time, so far he'd done well in bed with her, made her laugh and showed a tendency to be romantic when pushed. He did not know what else she wanted; he didn't need God and she wasn't going to persuade him that he did. "Everyone seems quite excited, any news when he's expected?" Henry hugged her and was surprised by how good it felt. "Soon I think, maybe ten minutes or so. I'm not sure what it will feel like when he actually goes past.." "Hope nobody's planning on taking a shot at him, that happened once you know..." Henry had a light in his eyes, she was used to his humour but he'd lost points this time. She remained silent and turned away from him to look down the road. The procession of vehicles reached Princes Street and slowed to a crawl. Benedict, as the camera closed in to try and catch any hint of his emotional or thought processes, projected calm and grace. From his early days he'd progressed through the ritual and observances and they were as real to him as his own body. Yet he hadn't got this far by approaching the patterns of worship, the dogmatic interpretations of scripture, without conviction and unusual focus. If there was much in his mentality that was trivial, habitual, mediocre now there was no sense of it. Perhaps all the usual human stains had been washed away by his years of commitment and now his mind was as white as his vestments. At least at moments like these that is how it appeared. He was an old man yet there was no sign of weariness after travel, no sense of strain through all the pressures so far and the prospect of the demands that the next couple of days would bring. He was good at his job, at least this part of it, that was becoming clear. And it was more than a job. Yet - the camera seemed to ask - what, really, was the nature of this role, after all, after everything. Once religion did what the media now wanted to do - it answered questions and gave the world intelligible form. Somehow as the camera watched what he did started to become clearer. His role, perhaps, was simply to be. Dorothy Macphail had been thinking about desire. Though her speculations did not take high flung intellectual form the general pattern of her thoughts had a respectable weight to them. In a modern city like Edinburgh, standing among the fine architecture and local traces of well run multi-national retail chains it felt clear that human desire had found some degree of harmony. She had read somewhere that a philosopher had once said that desire was endless, unquenchable. Then there were the psychologists and psychoanalysts, she knew a little about what they said, and it seemed to come down to the same thing. Modern life let desire play, it wasn't greatly repressed. Yet a lot of people were still unhappy, often very unhappy. Then she saw his strange looking car approaching. Jill Archibald had been told to get some live responses from the crowd. She approached the family again; the parents seemed to be believers and, before, with the kid's shy asides and their protector's smiles it had made a nice scene when she'd been interviewing them. They were all pressed against the barriers now, the little girl was sitting on her father's shoulders waving a Scotland flag and grinning. Beneath the appreciative murmur that arose from the crowd was an unusual kind of focus, even with some of the children. It took the reporter a little by surprise and she couldn't find it in her to start asking the family questions, they seemed locked on to the approaching car and she could now make out the old man looking extremely calm, one might even have said tranquil. He was happy but more than that he was joyful. It fascinated, the camera turned to her and she described the mood around. Henry had tried to get closer to his girlfriend but ever since his comment she'd been drawing away from him and talking little. The mood of the crowd made it clear the procession was close, they weren't quite at the barriers but his height gave him an advantageous perspective. He brought his camera up to his face and focused in as the specially adapted Mercedes came closer. The man was completely at ease and smiling at everybody; Henry was taken back to childhood and the period when he had believed in Santa Claus. That there was somebody who was entirely beneficent, somehow in tune with some principle of love in the universe and existed merely to further this principle. Even this concept had had a certain resonance with him then that transcended his greed for presents. The emotions behind this concept came into play enough for him to begin to sense something of what Lisa was feeling. He put his hand on her shoulder but he felt little from her, she seemed entirely focused on what was going on yards from where they were standing. Dorothy Macphail had got her glimpse and felt elated watching the Mercedes shift away until her view of it was broken. She'd spoken to one of her friends about how graceful he had appeared; as she'd hoped and expected she'd felt her faith to had been bolstered by the encounter. The tint to everything she perceived that her faith gave her, a background felt and acknowledged, this, that afternoon, had been given a charge that would probably last for years if not her lifetime. Now she felt concern for him and how he would cope over the next few days, he would face a packed schedule. Yet after seeing him she now understood the way energy was emitted rather than absorbed by his presence, he would ride the wave like some kind of spiritual surfer - the image came to her suddenly, she actually saw the Pontiff upon a board riding over a sea of smiling faces. She could tell that even the slightly neurotic reporter nearby had been touched by the simple drive past, she was glowing in a way she hadn't earlier as she interviewed the family again. "I enjoyed it, he looked very distinguished, people seemed genuinely moved by it," Henry said as they broke away to find Starbucks. "Were you moved by it?" Henry wasn't going to pretend, he'd never done that for a woman, it was a standard he'd set for himself. "It was, er, interesting..." "Interesting? Do you only see things on an intellectual level? Don't you have, you know, deeper needs of some kind?" "What do you mean by need?" Lisa's tone irritated Henry. "Well, to love something?" "I love, well, my sister, and my parents, sort of." "That's, well that's just habit isn't it, in a way...." "I resent that a little, it's not 'habit'." She went silent again and went and sat down as Henry ordered drinks and snacks within the busy branch of the coffee chain. He didn't enjoy this new side to his girlfriend. Although he'd accepted things had become more serious between them recently he hadn't expected her to start making demands of this nature. If she couldn't accept him for who he was then things were going to start to fade out, his feelings wouldn't be able keep up, he'd go back to the single life for a while. Already he was remembering how pleasant it could be to do things alone without worrying about what a woman was doing or expecting. Starbucks now seemed like a welcome outpost of sanity in a conflicted world where many individuals grabbed at any symbol of certainty they could to get by. She'd discussed it before with her friends but the decision had been that they wouldn't make the pilgrimage to Glasgow for Mass. Later, however, Dorothy decided she needed to go, after a few phone calls it became evident that she would be alone in this. She sat in front of the television watching the evening news and saw recorded footage of the Pope making an impromptu dash from the drive of the house where he was going to stay the night out to a respectably sized group congregated outside. He moved surprisingly quickly for a man past eighty and with the same focused energy she had sensed earlier. It seemed quite spontaneous and unplanned; she tried to imagine a secular mind watching the moment with sceptical zeal. They might imagine his break from schedule staged, an effort to impress on people how giving and of the people the head of the Church really was. The way everybody was spoon fed with dross, manipulated by advertising, teased by celebrity worship such a detached cynicism might seem natural. Yet it would be a manifestation of the sickness, that inability to perceive depth. Now a baby was being held and blessed. Something was breaking through from heaven, a blessedness.
Ownership Nexus
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Submission Date 03/03/13 - 6:31 PM

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